Relating to Students and Their Culture

I recently read a post that really hit home. And if you’re a fellow travel addict, you’ll probably have some of the same takeaways.

Andy Blanks over at youthministry360.com wrote a post on cultural relevancy and youth ministry. He said:

“You wouldn’t travel to rural Chongqing, China and teach the exact same lesson you would teach in Idaho Falls. While the underlying biblical truths have a universal application, the cultural “vehicle” through which your lesson is communicated would be wholly ineffective.

I believe as youth workers we should approach reaching our students with the same level of cultural awareness that we would take in approaching another people group in another culture…

Whenever I travel internationally, I learn some basic conversational phrases in the native language. When I need something and engage someone in their native language (however clumsily), they are much more inclined to help. It shows that I value their culture. Knowing youth culture says the same thing to your students.”

It’s an excellent point. No matter how young you are as a youth worker or how long you’ve been in youth ministry, teens live and operate in a different culture than you do. And that’s okay. Take a lesson from travel: a (lame to you) attempt at communication can become a (really meaningful to them) exchange with the other party.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been in another country, stumbling through a few phrases I memorized from the back cover of a Lonely Planet. I garble the words and get the tenses wrong. I ask to take the train to Bologna when all I really want is a sandwich and a coffee. Locals stare impassively at me while I turn red, mumble an apology, and finish my lame attempt at communication. Then, they smile, switch to English, and ask, “How can I help you, my friend?”

Making a small effort at crossing over cultural barriers goes a long way. You don’t have to fluent in the other person’s language–you just have to show you’re making an effort to connect in a way that matters. Teens value those attempts and they’ll respond by opening up.

How do you keep up with the ever-shifting youth culture? Is it something you work at or try to pick up as you go?

(Thanks to the guys at youthministry360.com for the post. Their site just officially launched this week with loads of resources for youth workers.)