When did it happen that we stopped expecting children/youth to adopt the time-tested values and practices of adults and started expecting adults to adapt to the changing fads of youth? In the church this change appears in many ways including our worship.
The following are excerpts from an article in the March issue of TableTalk by Stephen Nicols, professor of theology and church history at Lancaster Bible College:
“Maybe it began earlier than the 1950s and 60s, but those decades seem to mark the rise of the fascination with youth in American culture. The famous line that celebrates all things young, often wrongly attributed to James Dean, declares, “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse behind” … The subtle and no-so-subtle, pulls of the idolization of youth manifest themselves in three areas:
The first is an elevation of youth over aged. This reverses the biblical paradigm. The second is a view of being human that values prettiness (not to be confused with beauty and aesthetics), strength, and human achievement. Think of the captain of the cheerleading squad and the star quarterback. The third is the dominance of the market by the youth demographic. That is to say, in order to be relevant and successful, one must appeal to the youth or to youthful tastes. These manifestations of our youth-driven culture deserve a closer look.
First, the elevation of youth over aged: The trend of exalting youth and sidelining the elderly stems from a deeper problem summed up in the expression, “Newer is better.” We celebrate the new and innovative while looking down on the past and tradition. There is compelling vitality to youth and new ideas, but that does not mean there is no wisdom to be found in the past. It is a sign of hubris to think one can face life without the wisdom of those who have gone before. There is something about being young that makes the young think they are immune to the mistakes and missteps of those who have gone before. We all think too highly of ourselves and our capacities. Simply put, we need the wisdom of the past and of the elderly… The way out of enslavement to this undue celebration of youth is to foster a genuinely diverse community in our homes and in our church. Generation gaps can be awkward and barriers to both sides having genuine and authentic fellowship. But God designed his church in such a way that we need each other.
The second manifestation of our youth-driven culture is a warped view of humanity. Our culture determines a human being’s value based on how he or she looks. Parents, teachers, youth pastors and pastors know how body image can be absolutely devastating to today’s youth. We also know theologically that human dignity, and hence human value, stems from our creation in the image of God. Our youth-obsessed culture uses a flawed metric for determining human worth… We need to help youth see that their value derives from being made in the image of the Creator and of the Redeemer… Overt and subtle images pass before a typical teen’s eyes potentially hundreds of times a week. Add to that the body-image message coming through much of pop music and movies, and you see the challenge. Youth culture needs the church’s help to think biblically about a healthy, God-honoring view of self and others.
The third manifestation of the youth culture has to do with the way the youth demographic drives the market. The economic engine driving much of popular culture, in terms of movies and music at least, is that group with discretionary funds – teens and twenty-somethings. Youth groups and even churches, desiring to be successful, hurry to catch up. The ever insightful Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, (writing on the subject of literature, decried the tendency to allow youth to read only what they like.) Then she went on the attack (stating), “And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.” Some may dismiss O’Connor’s argument as elitist. But she raises a fair point. There are felt needs and there are true needs. Sometimes it takes a few decades to see the difference…
The desire to believe in something persists. Sociologists tell us that contemporary youth culture values authenticity. We reach out to youth culture best by not pandering and by not pretending to be hip – it’s too hard to pull it off anyway. One person’s respect for another grows immensely when one simply speaks and lives the truth in love.”