Youth are watching and learning from our reactions to these voices. Many silently want help in developing discernment concerning the voices of contemporary culture. And, within our spheres of Christian ministry, young people wonder if and how the Bible connects to these voices within their worlds.
As Christian youth workers, we have been given privileged work. Our task is to help others integrate the life found in Scriptures with the life found in the world. We can join with our students in a discovery process, using the clear voice of truth that comes from Scripture, to help us evaluate the voices heard in the culture, observing the resonance and dissonance–the way truth is expressed in culture and the way culture clashes with Scripture.
Consider these Scriptures:
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow or deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His god, pleasing, and perfect will. Romans 12:2
God’s word is fully able to engage the media of today’s culture, and the task can be both daunting and delightful. Youngsters today seem to come wired with headphones. The bass booming from the car next to you at the light vibrates both vehicles. Movie and television screens seem to reshape morality right before your eyes. Newspapers, news channels, and computers bring the entire world directly into your private spaces. Discernment is required!
Truth is truth wherever and whenever it is expressed. We need to discern carefully how well that truth is expressed by constantly returning to God’s word. Through that Word, God is constantly at work in all things.
George Barna, founder of the Barna Research Group, states it this way: “All people have a worldview. A worldview is a mental and spiritual lens through which one interprets reality. It is a filter through which we put things into context and facilitate appropriate responses. A biblical worldview is a means of experiencing and interpreting reality in light of biblical perspective.” (Leading Your Church Forward, Barna Research Group, 2003)
The Holy Spirit has created faith in us–bringing forgiveness, new life, and salvation. Through Word and Sacrament, faith creates in us a Christian worldview, making us aware of how God is working in us to will and to do what He desires. One goal of our teaching should be to help our students test the things of this world–including current events and contemporary media–against God’s truth. Here is one model for teaching biblical truth through today’s entertainment, advertisement, and information media.
A Model for Using Film and News Media for Teaching Biblical Truth
1. Look for “grabbers” in all the material you view or read, television programs as well as newspapers. Train your youth, parents, teachers, and other adults to do the same. Grabbers can be ads or slogans; news in print, televised, or Internet forms; TV shows, situations or stories involving believable and unbelievable people. A grabber communicates emotion, conveys a real sense of real life, is perhaps persuasive, and carries some sort of message (positive or negative); it is often graphic, pithy, or memorable. Effective grabbers may as easily be adult- or child-oriented as youth-oriented.
Ask young people what films they are viewing and arrange to show a clip from such a film during youth group (special permission may be required; check your source carefully to determine your copyright obligations). Choose a clip that is a grabber. Remember that Scripture can either support or confront any message, be it positive or negative (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Can you work from the grabber to a biblical truth? Find Scriptural references that address your chosen film clip or news item.
- Does the material address a real need within your youth group setting?
- Is it “user-friendly” for youth? Is it developmentally appropriate for your intended audience?
3. Plan. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the lesson design? (“At the end of the session, participants will have…”)
- What teaching strategy will I choose to fulfill the design? (An example is “the three Es:” enter, engage, educate.)
- How will this lesson help my youth hear “Jesus”? (How will participants experience God’s acceptance and forgiveness? Will they hear the Law and Gospel clearly based on the Word of God?)
4. Evaluate after each session.
- How did the session feel to you, the presenter? Don’t be afraid to ask your youth, “So, how did this lesson go?” Ask other adults present for their opinions. Learn from feedback.
- Ask again the three questions posed during “Plan.”
- Consider: “Could I have involved someone else, maybe even one of the youth, in the teaching of this lesson?”
In the 2001 LCMS National Youth Gathering inAtlanta, three film clips were very effectively used in front of 31,000 youth by a speaker whose lesson design was to “grab” them in the importance of teenagers taking a stand in today’s world.
- A brief portion of a Harry Potter film (or an excerpt from the most recent book) could be a lead in to discuss the reality of Satan and his evil, and the power of Christ and God’s Word to overcome evil.
- In Blackhawk Down, the quotable and memorable theme cannot be escaped: “No one gets left behind!” What a credo for our Christians communities, classrooms, or youth groups: “No one gets left behind!”
- On Sunday, February 2, 2003, newspapers almost everywhere published photos and stories covering the previous day’sColumbia space shuttle tragedy. One such story was entitled, “Bush Salutes Astronauts, Prays for Shuttle Crew.” (Robert G. Hillman and David Jackson,
Dallas Morning News, 2 February 2003) The end of the column contained this memorable grabber: “The crew of the shuttle
Columbia did not return safely to earth. Yet, we can pray that all are safely at home.” Additionally, Bush previously quoted Isaiah 40:26. One learning from this example is that among the president’s first reactions to crisis are prayer and the searching of Scripture. How about us? In the large and small tragedies of our daily lives, is our first reaction to go to prayer and Scripture? Can we find biblical truths, stories, and passages that can teach and equip us to develop this reflex more fully? Certainly.
In any use of media, use good judgment. First, don’t violate copyright laws. Most televised news, printed material, films, and Web sites are covered by copyrights; obtain permission before showing film clips or copying news articles for distribution in youth group. (For more information, you might visit the Church Copyright Administration Web site at www.churchca.com/covered.html#video.) Second, use only material that your youth and their parents will be comfortable with in youth group; when in doubt, contact parents for permission or choose other material. Third, don’t use media that contradict the message you are seeking to convey; while every piece of media may have something we can learn from, not all will be suitable for use in a Christian setting.
Keep your eye on the entertainment and news media that is touching the lives of your students, and you will discover many opportunities to teach biblical truths. Don’t avoid the various media in your ministry process. Music, film, and news media exert powerful influence on youthful minds and hearts. Learn to use the trends and current events displayed by media as resources for connecting faith with the real world and thereby teaching biblical truths. Develop the ability to see God at work in all things.