I guess we’re “missing the mark”

I get all kinds of emails and feedback from people about the free resources and articles we provide. Here’s an interesting one to ponder. I can’t say I like this person’s first sentence: “The youth culture window that you guys offer is missing the mark.”

He’s talking about our Youth Culture Window (YCW) articles, featured in the big magnifying glass on the front page of our web site each week.

Let me be the first to verbalize, “Don’t worry David (David writes over 80% of our YCW articles), I think you’re right on the mark! Critics are a dime a dozen. I appreciate your work!”

Here’s this guy’s entire email to us:

The youth culture window that you guys offer is missing the mark. Lets be honest, the majority of the posts deal with sex. This is what our culture as a church thinks is crucial to fight. Violence is also out there. Then comes what about the good stuff going on in culture? It is sad that all you can find in culture is things to complain about. Ultimately, what you are addressing is the symptoms of the larger issues within culture. Please, PLEASE, read Niebuhr’s “Christ & Culture” and see if you can incorporate something more than the “Christ against Culture” attitude.

It’s interesting that he observed that most of our posts have to do with sex. I agree. We simply report what’s going on in today’s youth culture and the media, and that’s pretty sex driven. I wish it wasn’t.

I also find it intriguing that he mentioned how much of this was “bad news.” David and I talk about this frequently as we research current attitudes and trends. We constantly are asking, “Isn’t there something mainstream that’s good that we can report about” And that’s the key– we want to try to focus on attitudes and trends that are predominant across the board, not the exception.

Considering his criticism, I looked at the list of our last few articles released and the subjects they covered.:

The New Form of Phone Sex (1/2/2010)
Beyoncé’s Newest Song “Video Phone”
This article is about Beyonce’s newest song and video which are filled with sexual imagery.

The #1 Hits of 2009 (12/11/2009)
A Review of 2009’s Top Songs and Their Message
This article reviews all the top songs of 2009, whatever their message.

Culture’s Confusion Over Sex (12/4/2009)
And The Impact It’s Making On Teens
Yes, this article is about sex, specifically new research about the confusing messages our students are being inundated with.

Fireflies from Owl City (11/28/2009)
Is That a Christian at the Top of the Charts?
This article is about a new song and artist that is not only popular… he’s clean!

Twilight Goes ‘Emo’ (11/12/2009)
Bella’s Self Destructive Dependence on Edward
This article is about on of the biggest media youth culture phenomenons of the year, the newest film from the Twilight series. The article focuses most of its attention on self destructive behavior.

Do Threesomes Come in Threes? (11/4/2009)
Youth Media Ups the Ante with Sexy Trios
This article focuses on the abundance of recent threesomes in the media, as well as the onslaught of “bi-curious” attitudes and activity portrayed.

“I’m Trying to Talk to You!” (10/30/2009)
Getting the Attention of Teenagers
This article discusses the different communication technologies used for contacting students and their effectiveness.

So… are our YCW articles a misrepresentation?

Thoughts?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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15 Responses to I guess we’re “missing the mark”

  1. Isaac Parra says:

    I agree with Jonathan. Sadly our culture is extremely sex driven. The youth culture windows are very helpful to me as I work with youth at my church. It tells me what they’re listening to, watching, and engaging in. It gives me an ‘in’ with them so we can have conversations about these things and I can encourage them to come to Christ/live lives worthy of God’s call.

  2. Todd says:

    Maybe I’m being too cynical, but this is a “window” into youth culture…right? You and David aren’t endorsing phone sex, threesomes or Beyoncé – you are inviting us to come look through the window with you, to read your thoughts and sometimes to take action.

    As I look out my window tonight all I see is snow and ice, and my thermometer tells me it is 17 degrees. Like the guy who sent the email I don’t like what I see, but what can I do? Close the blinds and pretend it’s not there. Well that could prove to be a dangerous decision for me and my family. And depending on what’s outside my window, that decision could even be fatal.

    And Mr. Emailer, I get what you are saying…Sure there are times when what we see through that window are “good” or “nice”, but let’s be honest…when the “weather” is good, no action needs to be taken. It’s when the forecast is scariest that we need to know about it the most.

    What I appreciate most about what you and David do with the Youth Culture Window is keeping me well informed about trends, dangers and topics that students are facing.

    Please keep it up!!

  3. adam says:

    Dude, I think you’re right on. This is what I’m seeing within culture, for the most part. Oddly enough, in your past couple articles, you’ve highlighted positive too (i.e. Fireflies).

    Proportionately, you’re probably pretty accurate. I just hate reading it because the reality can be depressing…or we can look at it the other way and say that such a need and opportunity are there. From what I’ve read and conversations I’ve had, I think you’re heart and message is totally to look at the opportunity and seize it!

  4. If we look at the media all we see is violence, sex and all the other bad things that is around us; why are we following in their footsteps???

    I have been ministering to thousands of people and youth across the globe and trust me the fact that we talk about these things only makes the youth more interested in taking a look at them.

    There is only one thing that changes peoples lives, setting people free and impacting someones life, and that is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, us being raised up with Him, God living in us and bearing the fruit of God.

    The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation in every area of our lives. If youth needs salvation in a certain area of live, they need the Gospel to be applied in that area of their lives. Let me explain:

    I struggle to get free from alcohol abuse…
    It is because this person does not know that Jesus broke his chains of bondage on the cross. Teach him that he is free. If he believes in the Gospel, it means that he no longer lives, but the Holy Spirit came to live in him and it is now God living in him. So the reason he is in bondage is because he thinks it is the man of sin living in him, but it isn’t, it is God. God is not addicted to alcohol, so you are not addicted to alcohol.

    Either the truth of the cross set’s us free or our faith is in vain…

  5. Henry Link says:

    To Wessel:
    I appreciate your focus and desire for the gospel to be proclaimed. However I believe you are missing the mark with seeing what these guys are trying to do. been in youth ministry for a little over 5 years and have traveled across the country going in and speaking to different youth groups and the heart breaking reality is that the topics these guys address are right on. I dont believe that these guys write these articles to Teens, b/c I probably wouldn’t give most of my teens 90% of them. To me, these articles are tools for us ministers to be used in aiding us when teaching and sharing the gospel. I truly believe that the gospel should the only thing we boast in and present, but even when we look at the life of Jesus, we will find him meeting society where it is, with all its junk, and using it to open up new opportunities to share the good news he came to give (I think of the Samarian Woman.) Paul addressed specific moral issues in Corinth with the Gospel as the central focus. How did he know what was going on there? Through word of mouth, fellow believers that were there and had seen it and written to Paul about it, maybe even picked up the “Empirial Enquirer” in the tabloid section of the local marketplace. Paul was not all knowing and didn’t stay in Corinth his entire ministry, so he had to be kept informed. That, to me, is the goal of these guys’ articles. To keep us informed. To help us address the issues that plague our teenagers everyday from a vantage point rooted and grounded in the gospel, from the truth’s vantage point.

    To David and Jonathan:
    Thank you so much for your ministry. please continue to be our eyes out there where we can’t see. Even when what you see is pretty ugly, continue to share with us and equip us to further the kingdom of God. May God continue to bless you.

  6. David says:

    First, I’d like to thank the reader of Jonathan’s blog for his comments. Seriously. It’s always good to get feedback, even if the feedback is critical. That being said, I will offer a brief response that I hope will be fair and not defensive.

    Besides the first sentence, which Jonathan already addressed in his blog, this person says, “the majority of the posts deal with sex.” Let’s see about that. I went back and tabulated the percentage of articles that deal with the topic of sex, and found that it was less than 20%. That’s far short of the “majority” he found. Granted, it may be a bit arguable about which articles deal with the topic of sex directly and which ones don’t – some articles “mention” sex or use it to illustrate a point, but are about another topic altogether – but even if the percentage is DOUBLED, the total is still well below 40%.

    But let’s forget the numbers for a moment. As one of the other readers commented, none of us like all that we see when we look out our window onto culture today because so much of it is saturated with sex. It’s a bit ironic, but I spent a good portion of my day writing a message…on sex…that I’ll give Saturday night to a group of middle schoolers when I speak in Pennsylvania this coming weekend. When I submitted the message outlines to the camp director a few weeks ago, I included the message on sex. (I actually thought he would ask me to substitute something else in place of the message on sex, but I didn’t hear that from him.) Later, I called him, just to make sure he had read over my notes and seen that I wanted to address sex…with middle schoolers. He told me that he had seen the message in my weekend lineup and welcomed it because of how many students he saw coming through his camp that were dealing with the woes associated with sexual mistakes.

    The critique is that the Youth Culture Window articles talk about sex too much. Perhaps they don’t address it enough.

    Moving on.

    I’ll skip over the accusation of our articles being mere complaining; that’s too subjective to argue. However, one of the crucial purposes of the Youth Culture Window articles has always been to educate our readers about the facets of culture, both good and bad.

    Finally, the individual appeals to Niebuhr’s work entitled Christ and Culture and asks us to read it so we can move beyond the “Christ against Culture” mentality that Niebuhr denounces. First, I’m already familiar with Niebuhr’s work. Second, there is nothing wrong with being “against culture” when culture is clearly wrong, wicked, or sinful. None of us (as believers) are in a position to condemn anyone else, yet all of us (as believers) are obligated to help the younger, or more immature among us. Third, what Niebuhr describes as the best stance on culture, the “reformational” or “transformational” attitude, is precisely the target we aim at in the articles. Almost all of the articles end with a few ideas, strategies, or resources that (hopefully) equip our readers with the ability to engage the elements of culture so that it too can be redeemed.

    Again, I sincerely thank the person who submitted the thoughts, and welcome others to do so, as well. Even though I ultimately disagree with him, his critique showed a high level of thought that is uncharacteristic in most youth ministry circles today. It’s good to see someone thinking so theologically about our students and the culture they wade through each and every day.

    David R. Smith

  7. Kelly Sykes says:

    Hey, although I’m not a church youth counselor, I am a prevention coordinator teaching alcohol, tobacco, and violence prevention working with youth. I stumbled upon this website I think when I was looking up current teen slang vocabulary.

    I have found this website invaluable in helping me keep current with youth culture. And unfortunately, sex and negativity is thrown in the face of all our youth today.

    I think you all do a great job of reporting on what is happening in the world of teens. Even though I am not a youth minister, I would think that it is really important to grasp that info so that you can then help them in their walk with the Lord. And you often have to reach them where they are at…warts and all.

    Keep up the good work!

  8. For what it’s worth, I LOVE your youth culture windows and very frequently post them as links on facebook and pass them on to parents, youth workers, and other youth pastors. Every time, I get thanked by them (usually the parents)for keeping them aware and opening their eyes.

  9. Brian says:

    The Youth Culture Window is excellent! It represents youth culture accurately. Thanks for your ministry and for provided youth workers with so many free resources.

    How could someone complain about a resource that they receive for free?

  10. Matt Furby says:

    I love what Todd said about YCW being a window into our kids’ lives. I appreciate that you guys provide us with information that remains completely invaluable in our ministry to teenagers. Sex is huge in today’s youth culture. And honestly, I was shocked about what David said… that only 20-40% of your articles are on sex? Man, you’re slacking! Pop culture (all media types) is BOMBARDING our kids with sex. They are getting confronted by lies all the time. We need to know what they’re being taught, so we can teach them the truth. There is power when we point out the fallacies of the world and replace them with the truths found in Scripture. How would we do that if we didn’t talk about them? More kids in my group stuggle with sex than with drugs or violence or vandalism or gangs or anything else. Sex is on the brain for our kids. I appreciate every help I can get from you guys. Thanks so much for all you do.

  11. Marg Stahlbaum says:

    Jonathan, I seldom ever respond to emails or newsletters, but I wanted to
    respond to your current blog that I received today about missing the mark. I
    am
    a 50 year old woman that has done youth ministry as a volunteer now for 17
    years. I have children of my own aged 34-15. All of them are involved in some
    sort of ministry within the church. I attend a very small church in Cambridge,
    Ontairo, Canada. Our youth group consists of 12 males (mostly aged 14-17) and
    about 4 females (aged 15-18). I feel that your articles in the past are right
    on the money. Sex is something this is plastered everywhere in our society.
    Students want to know about it; they can sense that something isn’t quite right
    the way it’s portrayed on tv, print ads, music and movies. They just don’t
    know
    what it is. If people at the Source don’t keep up to date with trends, then
    people like myself are not always familiar with what is being talked about and
    shown out there. Because you have talked about things that, at my age, don’t
    experience in an every day conversation with people my age, I have been
    challenged to read more and be current with the language students use and the
    curiosities that they have about it.

    We can’t live with our heads in the sand. We need to stand shoulder to
    shoulder
    with our students and walk with them in this world and help them understand
    what
    the world distorts and what our relationships with each other were intended to
    be. They want the best for themselves. Enough of our students understand what
    it’s like to be hurt by their family through divorce or work commitments, and
    they want something truly pleasing and fulfilling for themselves. They don’t
    want to live with regrets. They want the truth. Thank you for sharing that
    with us so we can walk with them.

    Keep up the great service you are doing to small churches like mine. You offer
    me training that I can’t afford to take at workshops in bigger cities. You
    offer me practical things that are relevant to my own kids, and my students at
    the church.

    Sincerely grateful,

    Marg Stahlbaum

  12. Al Menconi says:

    You know you are right and I want you to know, as a fellow concerned minister, I support everything you do and have done. You don’t need me telling you that, but I just want you to know I appreciate you connecting the dots between the Christian life and the entertainment industry. Keep up the good work. It is important that others begin to understand we are in a war for the hearts and minds of our children.

    We live in the United States of America, but our children live in the United States of Entertainment and the constitution of “their culture” is being written by MTV. It is important that parents and leaders understand that there are two distinct cultures in today’s families.

    To reach their kids, parents must minister to their children as they would a 3rd world nation. Parents must understand the culture, customs and language if so “the natives” would be willing to accept the Truth the parents are sharing. It is so much more than Christ vs. the culture.

    Go for it, you couldn’t be doing a better job. I will pray for you and your ministry every time I receive a blog.

  13. Michelle says:

    I just wanted to be another voice to say “THANKS” for all you do. The resources on your website are great…and the Youth Culture Window is a phenomenal tool that I have used countless times to dialogue with parents about current trends. Sometimes the truth hurts, but as was said above, we can’t bury our heads in the sand. Thank you for your ministry to those of us in youth ministry!

  14. jon forrest says:

    I think I’m maturing because I used to love a good fight over something like this. I thought “let’s put up our dukes and take care of this.” But from my angle now I’m thinking I disagree with the emailer, but I wouldn’t be suprised if he’s helping kids somewhere and no doubt thesource is a huge aid to him. It used to make me so mad when I gave someone something and they complained about it. (“congrats, you won a snicker. ” “Could I have the whatchumacallit”) But I think especially in this case, our boy has some little quirk in his personality about negativity.
    Don’t sweat it. I’m sure Walt Mueller and other people that deal with culture get the same complaint. We didn’t MAKE the culture, we just have to deal with it.
    Personally, I may ask my church to put David on the payroll since he basically teaches my class every other week.
    Btw Connect is worth 15 bucks just for the appendix.

  15. Nate says:

    As the emailer, I figure I should help clarify my statements as I honestly did not expect a reply, as the site is free :). The majority of this response is to David as he was who I was originally addressing, but hopefully this will help clarify my hope and challenge as it was briefly stated in my previous comments.

    1) Sex needs to be addressed. I agree with that as students are bombarded with images and cultures thoughts on this daily (could say hourly or every minute). My point was more than there are other very important issues that youth workers deal with daily such as drugs, depression, cutting, gossip, ect. I would argue that the issues that are more pertinent to be “against” are the ones that our culture (and more importantly the church) have already accepted as acceptable- materialism (and to a much lesser degree violence).

    Really, none of these matter if you can get at the heart of the issues facing teens (which these are all a symptoms of): where we find our value, what is our identity, and what it really means to be created in the image and likeness of God.

    2) I am glad you are familiar with NieBuhr. What makes the work a classic is how Niebuhr does not really give us his view in it of which one is the best. After each he explains positives and negatives with each. This is why I brought this up. In the posts I have read they have primarily used the “Christ against Culture” by presenting a trend and then telling why this is alarming or we should be afraid. They have always ended with suggestions, but if we are only RESPONDING to culture then there is a problem. We need to be creating culture. This might be small, such as in our own circles fostering an environment of safety, or lame jokes, ect. that makes a new culture instead of simply playing off the old.

    How would you do that in your articles? I don’t know, but I wanted to present the challenge. You already have an established audience that could use this help.

    3) I mentioned the negativity. It is great to hear that you guys look for trends that are positive. There are many other neutral trends that maybe we can use to create something new and change the culture like Paul did with the unknown God. Here are a few I have seen in ministry over the last couple years:

    Schools increasingly requiring service work (and non religious service trips to other countries)

    Groups trying to break away from media. In Britain there has been a large rise in Knitting, Cloud watching groups, ect. How great would it be to help ministers capitalize on the growing need for human interaction and slowing down that students are missing.

    Rising age of adulthood and the lack of a “rite of passage”

    Time had an article on the growing groups going to more liturgical churches because of the feel of deep reverence

    These are just a few suggestions. There are hundreds of things out there to write about that might help leaders with students and their culture.

    Ultimately, We do need to know what is going on in culture. Honestly though, the best source is simply developing a relationships with our students and digging into it ourselves as each one of our “Youth cultures” will be different. Mine right now has an eclectic group with varying needs. None of them pay attention to the mainstream media because they are not accepted by the mainstream media.

    What I hoped to do was to challenge you to more than just simple reporting. Anyone can do that. Find the trends, dig to the deeper issue, and help the youth leaders address that. Hopefully, now you understand that while it looked like harsh criticism it was really challenge from another brother to take it to the next level.