A few weeks ago, I recommended four podcasts on youth ministry from the White Horse Inn. I didn’t know at that time how many more podcasts they would post on youth and youth ministry-related topics. They ran four more such podcasts, which I highly recommend to youth and family ministers as well as other pastors and church leaders.
Particularly interesting was the last podcast in the series, “Youth Ministry and Youth Culture,” an interview with media ecologist T. David Gordon. A religion professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, Gordon is one of the most savvy and perceptive cultural critics in evangelicalism today.
He has recently published two penetrating books that focus on how contemporary culture is shaping Christian faith and practice in sometimes unsuspected ways: Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal.
One of the things that struck my wife Melinda and me as we were listening to this podcast was Gordon’s reaction to clips from interviews conducted at a ministry conference. Some of the interviewees remarked that teenagers have a short attention span and think in 3-minute segments. So we have to de-emphasize content and the word and emphasize experience and the visual, putting everything into 3-minute segments to keep their attention.
Gordon says that this approach fails to reckon with the established phenomenon of “neuro-plasticity”—the brain’s ability to rewire itself. “People can change. It’s cynical, it seems to me, to say, ‘Well, this person can never think more than three-and-a-half minutes.’ It’s really unjust to say such a thing about a person, because if there are any humans who can pay attention, this person could become one.”
Gordon believes, in short, that it’s unfair to treat the younger generation in such a way as to deprive them of the sort of deep attention to truth that is essential to biblical faithfulness. His comment that, when we dumb things down for younger people, we are being cynical about them and unfair to them, is very poignant.
Gordon, unlike a flood of voices in conservative evangelicalism calling for moving away from age-segregated youth ministry altogether, believes that church ministries specifically for youth can be a golden opportunity to prepare young people for Christian adulthood by training them how to be spiritually mature.
I encourage my readers to listen to this podcast, which can be found here.
Three other White Horse Inn podcasts in the month of June have also discussed youth ministry and youth-related topics:
“Giving Up Gimmicks” (This is a discussion with Brian Cosby, author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture.)
“Taking Every Thought Captive” (This is a more-educational podcast about teaching young people to how to engage in critical thinking.)
They have also provided a study kit to go along with these episodes, which includes resources and material not included in the podcasts.