You most likely already missed the Harlem Shake!

On February 5, 2013 the Harlem Shake went viral.  As of February 14th, in a matter of 9 days, almost 40,000 spinoffs have been uploaded and have been watched over 175 million times. CRAZY!! This is the most unbelievable viral event of all time!  (Facts courtesy of youtube-trends) While there have been many viral videos of note, including, but not limited to, Justin Bieber's Baby, Friday, Call Me MaybeGangum Style, or Ryan Reed's new blog, this was one of the fastest parody pileups of all time.  And the best part is that your parody only has to be 30 seconds long! (Here is our below average offering)


This viral video was made for youth pastors.

With 40,000 videos uploaded and counting, where is yours? All it takes is downloading the song, Harlem Shake, 3-3000 people, a helmet, and let the dance party begin.  I am someone who prides myself for at least trying to have my thumb on the cultural heartbeat.  I have written about how to stay culturally relevant, how to find work arounds to know what music is hip, and I have even made my own Call Me Maybe video.

But the total speed of this viral video has caused me to once again realize what it is that I am supposed to do.  As youth workers we must understand our cultural context, that is for sure!  But we must fully own the reality that we are not hip, cool, relevant, or cutting edge.  At best we can simply mimic cool and funny things in our culture.  At best we are simply a shadow of pop culture.

We DO have what our cultural desperately needs!!  

They need acceptance, love, belonging, grace, identity, friendship, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, connection, and purpose.  This is the church's bread and butter!  We know and serve a God who gives this and so much more.  We create culture at church and with in our student ministries that isn't hip or cool.  But it is a culture that is inviting, that allows space to actually encounter the living God, and that sends them out with real purpose.

Let us not spend so much time and energy in efforts to be hip and stay up on all that is going on at the expense of doing the thing we actually are called to do!  Our less hip youth ministry that actually offers friendship and belonging, where they experience forgiveness and grace, as they explore their faith will never come close the the viral explosion of the Harlem Shake.

So, make your Harlem Shake video.  Post your links in the comments.  Have a good laugh!  But please, please, please, let us die to our desires to be hip, cool, and relevant, and let us bring to the table what popular culture wishes it could, and desperately needs!  

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Partnering godly values with our local values

Earlier this week I shared with you about finding the key to contextualizaion. The key is to discover the core values of your context and discerning the shadow implications of those values if there are any. And just this last week our church did exactly that. f1130f661bb311e2a30c22000a1f9683_7

One of the core values of our context is activism.

Activism in just about every form from recycling, organic farming, raising money for wells in Africa, Toms shoes, anti-bullying, etc, is a high, high value. If you add social justice causes to this activism value, now you are in the sweet spot for one of the strongest values in our context. Because activism and social justice are values that are also similar to values found in the heart of God, partnering with people in our community is something we are trying to live more and more into as a church.

There is a young girl in our area who was captivated by child slavery and compelled to do something about it. At first glance it seems "nice" that this little girl would want to take a stand against child slavery. But because activism is a core value for our context and a huge value for her family, they decided to actually get after and make a difference. She decided to make a lemonade stand and raise $150,000 to free 500 child slaves. And for the past 125 days, this is exactly what she has done. This is how Vivienne describes what she is doing in her own words:

"hiya! thank you for being here! i am vivienne. i am 8. on may 5, 2012, i saw a picture of two boys my age, working in nepal with giant rocks strapped to their little heads. they were slaves. to help each other feel better, they were holding hands. it hurt my heart. i decided to MAKE A STAND. a lemon-aid stand...and a stand against child slavery.

i am at my lemon-aid stand every day--rain or shine (121 days in a row and counting!)--until i raise enough money to free 500 child slaves through: not for sale an organization that wants to end child slavery. i believe that compassion is not compassion without action. that's why i am MAKING A STAND every day. i am vivienne. i am MAKING A STAND. will you please MAKE A STAND with me?"

Vivienne has become a local celebrity and came to the attention of one of our pastors, Jeff Mazzariello. He decided that what Vivienne is working towards is exactly in line with the heart of God and with the expansion of God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. So Jeff invited Vivienne and her family to share their story with our church and to give our church an opportunity to buy some lemonade from Vivienne to support the organization she is working in.

We wanted to be a part of something that brings joy to God's heart:

We decided as a pastoral team to give here $1000. We had no idea that our little church would come through with another $3500 for a grand total of over $4500 towards her goal. The entire morning was so inspirational for us as a church as we get to see all the big and small ways that God works to get his will done. And this morning was inspirational for this family who got to experience God's heart of love, grace and appreciation towards them.

After our time together on Sunday, Vivienne's dad wrote on her blog about their experience here at Marin Covenant Church. He called it A Day Unlike Any Other. You have to read his blog and see what happens when we get over our own version of the Gospel and seek to be cross-cultural missionaries. Missionaries who discern the values and thin places in a culture and share the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that is actually good news.

God is alive and at work! We need to simply get ourselves and our agendas out of the way, and go where he is going! What are the values in your context that you can partner with and celebrate?

Would you consider checking out her site and even MAKE A STAND with her?

The Key to Contextualization

A few weeks ago, my friend Phil and I met with Mark Oestreicher before our Bay Area Youth Forum to help us get our heads around the unique context we find ourselves in and capitalize on those uniqueness so as to have a more effective and relevant student ministry. Key to Contextualization

What MarkO pointed out is the very fine balance between one truth that every context is unique and the other which is that for the most part students are the same everywhere.  This really resonates with me.  We are all humans and we are all made in the image of God.  We all have the same longings and desires.  (N.T. Wright wrote about this in the beginning of this book Simply Christian)  But we all live in different contexts and these different contexts shape our worldview as well as our self view.  Because of this reality, the felt needs to which the Gospel can be shared will very from context to context.  Therefore, the trick is understanding the values of the context in which you live and so that you can capitalize on these values to find the "thin places" where the good news of Jesus meets people where they are at with language and stories that match their context.

This is exactly what the Apostle Paul did throughout Acts.  In Acts 13 Paul finds himself in a Jewish context and uses the rhythm of the synagogue and the story of Moses and David to find common ground with his audience as he shares about Jesus.  In Acts 17 Paul then finds himself in Athens and ditches the Moses talk and uses statues and local poetry to affirm their religious values and then presents Jesus as the revealed God made known to his creation.  (I wrote more about this here.)

The Homework we were given: 

As we were preparing for our forum and for our meeting with MarkO, MarkO gave us some homework to prepare for our time.  What he asked us to do was incredibly simple yet the results have already proven to have great impact on our ministries and have made for rich conversation for us over the last few weeks.  This was the simple assignment:

List 5-8 core values of the context in which you do ministry:

At first we simply brainstormed all the values of our context.  This list soon turned out to be a list of reasons why kids didn't come to youth group the way they had in the past.  They were a list of excuses about kids being busy and parents not valuing their children's spiritual development, etc.  But as we talked we realized that we were missing the mark.

When we reshaped it to think of 5-8 values from negatives that make our job hard to positive values which anyone at Safeway could affirm the juices really started to flow.  We chose our Safeway customer as our generic person to test our values to make sure were really coming up with positive values that our context would embrace.  The truth is that all of us think we are living out of some certain set of positive values and the same is true of the people we rub shoulders with ever day.  And with this new rubric we were able to come up with a great list.

Each value as a shadow side:

After settling in on our list we were able to see how many of these values also had a shadow side, a negative impact that seemed to crush students.  These shadow sides were the impacts that we have noticed working with our students.  But these issues were not values just the negative implications of those values.  And it was in this collection of positive values and the shadow side impact that gave us several ways for our ministries to connect in a culturally appropriate and relevant way.

There were positive values that are in line with the values of God and for those we can easily connect people in our context with our ministries.  And there were some values that have a shadow side that leave our students crushed and broken.  Because we can identify these contextually specific ways our kids are crushed and broken we can find the parts of the gospel story that are culturally appropriate dealing with the true felt needs of our students.

I think that this homework done well can become the foundation for a contextualized ministry that will find greater openness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the expansion of his Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!

The cohort of rookie youth workers I am working with is doing this exact assignment and I recommend that you take a stab at is as well.  I would love to know what you came up with and hopefully we can learn from each other as we strive to be cross-cultural missionaries to the unique culture our students find themselves in.  Below is  your assignment:

Your Homework:

  1. List 5-8 core values of the context in which you do ministry
  2. What is a value or two that you can embrace because they are similar to God's values?
  3. What is the shadow side of these values that the Gospel speaks into?
  4. List the 2-3 values of your ministry
  5. How do these ministry values capitalize on the values of your context or the shadow side of them?
  6. How can you increase the overlap of values of your ministry with your context?