Archives For contextualization

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!  

Con los terroristas

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.


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: Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…