Blog by Stephen Ingram, YMA Lead Consultant
In Paul’s letter to the Roman church, in the 12th chapter, we come across this idea of “be not conformed to the world”; others have translated it as being in the world but not of the world. This is a passage that has always bothered me a little. It bothers me, not because of the actual passage, but rather what so many have done with it. For many, the passage has been used like a weapon being wielded against whatever the pop culture flavor of the day offended them the most.
Over the past 50 years the idea of “the world” grouped everything from long hair on men, to every type of music under the sun to what style of clothing you wore The idea became a catch all for anything popular that the wielder did not like. In my book, Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel, I took right the opposite approach.
If I am being honest I am a child of pop culture. I really love the stuff. Whenever I play trivia with friends, I am the guy who knocks it out of the ballpark in the general trivia category. I love to think about trends, styles, new music, television, books and all things that are new and interesting. (Let me take a moment here to apply the disclaimer that I am not a gossip/trash/tabloid connoisseur; I am just an appreciator of “what’s new.)”
In the book I use pop culture as a mirror into the heart of American Christianity. I do so not to condemn pop culture, but rather to simply make the distinction that it is not the standard by which we draw the understand and practice of our faith.
When our student ministry standards are based on ideas of fun, entertainment, being nice and fulfillment then we have defined our standards by the worlds. Being nice is not wrong, having fun is not bad, finding fulfillment is a great thing the problem is that none of them are the standard by which we live our lives as uniquely Christian people.
For too long our standards in student ministry have been compromised by these perceived needs and are consequently too low. These standards have been set by what is successful in the worlds of entertainment, commercialism and consumerism. The problem is not pop culture, but rather how we have aligned ourselves and our understanding of success with the rubrics set by these other institutions. The bar of fun is too low, the bar of entertainment is too low, the bar of consumerism is too low.
I would encourage you that you do not have to feel like you are in competition with pup culture. You are not in competition with it as long as you realize that you are not promoting the same message and are not judging success by the same standards. We are called to be in this wonderful world but are called to live in ways that call this world to be better than it already is.
Stephen Ingram, YMA Lead Consultant
Stephen has been working in youth ministry since 1998 and currently is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL where he has served since 2008. Stephen has worked as a conference speaker, consultant and advisor in both the PC(USA) and Methodist denominations. Stephen has a B.A. from Samford University in Religion and New Testament and a Masters of Divinity from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology with a concentration in Theology.
In his free time Stephen loves to cook, blog and watch Alabama Football and the Atlanta Braves. The real loves of his life are his wife Mary Liz and their two young children Mary Clare and Patrick.
Stephen Ingram, YMA Lead Consultant
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