This is the third post in a series on Walt Mueller’s book, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture. We are picking up on his next theme and that is the reality of a changing world. The world around us is changing and a new way of understanding the world around us is beginning to emerge. He quotes Gerard Kelly saying, “change can be approached in two ways – primarily as threat or primarily as opportunity (41).”
We are living in a time of great opportunity.
We live in a time of great opportunity because the rules have changed. The old ways of doing things have gone and nobody really knows what the new ways are.
Actually they do. We are to enter into relationship and step into their contemporary world. If we want to reach the people of these emerging generations then we must see ourselves as missionaries entering into a mission field that we know little about and take the time and energy to understand and know it.
Mueller says it this way, “The postmodern mission field lies in the halls of our schools, in our churches and even in our own homes! (43)”
So what are we to do? What is our mandate?
“The purpose of our missionary calling is to work as instruments in the hand of God by proclaiming good news so that sinners might be restored to an intimate relationship with God, living under his sovereignty as his disciples in this world and in the world to come (45).”
This is the Great Commission that Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. This is the mission that we seen at the end of John (17:18, 20; 20:21). This is what it means for us to begin acting and living as the “ekklesia” or “called-out ones” of God. This is who we are.
Mueller argues for three steps that need to be taken for us to really engage cross-culturally. But first, why do we need to understand the world around us? Mueller cites some of Pepsi’s marketing boo-boos. When they deployed to China the company kept their US ad slogan, “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation!” When this was translated into Chinese it said, “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Dead!” Or, consider Coors when it expanded to South America. Their slogan from the US was “Turn it Loose!” When they marketed this slogan in spanish the brewery promised its new customers that they would help people “Suffer From Diarrhea!”
These companies failed to understand their audience. So how do we avoid the same mistake?
- We must know the unchanging Word. You see, we must know what we want the emerging generation to know. Do you know God’s word? Do you know the gospel of Jesus “like the back of your back”, as my seven year old son would say? Friends we bemoan a lack of integration of the message of Jesus in the lives of this generation and we neglect to ask the question of whether or not the message is integrated into our own lives!
- Know young people and their rapidly changing culture. We must be like Jesus and “move into the neighborhood” (John 1, The Message). We need to know these generations (and any) at three different levels. First, as individuals. As the old saying goes, if you’ve met on Presbyterian, you’ve met ONE Presbyterian. The same goes for the emerging generations. They each have unique hopes, dreams, gifts, passions, family background, etc…I am becoming fond of the question “What gets you up in the morning?” This question is great because it brings to the front so many things in their lives. Second, developmentally. We need to understand that teens are “becoming”. They are figuring out who they are. They are moving from dependence to independence. We have to know what the right balance is so that we have right expectations, not too high and not too low. Third, we must know their cultural context. In a previous post we talked about the power of the media and its influence. Do you know who the top five bands are today? TV shows? Movies? If not, then you are not speaking their language.
- Take the unchanging Word to young people growing up in a rapidly changing culture. We must do these first two steps and if we have then we will be able to communicate the truth of the gospel in words, images, and language the emerging generations understand. This is the contextualization of the message. Do you realize that before Hudson Taylor most missionaries did not learn native languages, customs, or cultures? They simply sought to take English culture and language and make the target population fall into line? We must not do this with the emerging generation. We must know the message, know the culture, and translate it into their world.
To close I have some questions that Mueller throws out to get us thinking. To be a good student of this cross cultural world within which we live we need to be able to answer these questions from the biblical perspective and from the post-modern perspective:
- Where am I? What is real? What is the nature of this world?
- Who am I? What is my purpose for being on this earth?
- What’s right and what’s wrong? How do we explain the bad things that happen in this world? How can we differentiate between the bad and the good?
- What happens when I die? Is that it? Or is there something else awaiting me when my heart stops beating?
- Is there a cure for the evil and brokenness in the world? Will things get any better? If so, how?
Most of us (yes you adults) can’t answer these and haven’t really thought about them very much. However, we all live these questions in some way shape or form. If we can figure out how people are living them out then we can figure out how to communicate to them the gospel of Jesus.