i have moved home

I am now blogging from here.... hope to see you there ;-)



Any serious discussion of the big issues of human existence such as God, meaning, life and death are seemingly off the list of acceptable discussion points in the conversational life of the hip 21st century person. This makes having and sharing faith a difficult proposition for the believer. Understanding the Japanese concept of superflat is key in understanding the context we find ourselves discussing our faith.
Because my office is located in neighbourhood with a large Asian migrant presence, there are several Japanese animation stores within short walking distance. One of these is located beneath my office. It’s windows are filled with what could be accurately described as toys and figurines from various Japanese Manga comics, Anime movies and TV series. You would think that such a stores predominant clientele would be children. However these stores are child free zones. Almost always the stores are filled with mostly men and some women in their late twenties and early thirties who browse the latest arrivals with a quiet intensity.

As I stop to look into the window of the store I am greeted with a sea of strange plastic creatures looking back at me. Strange super cute cats and dogs, monsters that look like Godzilla’s long lost cousin, futuristic Robots, sexualized School girls with giant eyes, and of course the obligatory Astro-boy figures. As I walk by each day these characters stare at me with their almost creepy smiles and giant eyes. These characters are part of the strange form that Japanese culture has taken since World War Two. The Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has labelled this culture Superflat.

Superflat is world obsessed with cartoons and animation. A culture in which obsessed animation fans (Otaku) live a kind of arrested adolescence into their adulthood; which worships the idea of cute (Kawaii) to the point where even police and the military are portrayed in recruitment advertisements as cute deformed characters. A culture in which more and more young people choose a form of social suicide (Hikikomori) in which they lock themselves in their room only communicating with the outside world through the internet. (Social scientist Tamaki Saito estimates that up to one million Japanese young people now live in such self imposed isolation[1].) A world where more and young people are shunning human relationships; instead choosing to have romantic and sexual relationships with specially designed computer programs featuring their favourite Anime or Manga characters. The reason that Murakami has labelled Japanese popular youth culture superflat, is because it lacks any kind of depth. It’s visually stimulating but spiritually shallow. Japanese young people are presented with a abundance of consumer choices and technological advancements but they are experiencing what Murakami calls “empty happiness”, a sort of cute, cuddly and naïve hell. In a lecture describing the superflat phenomenon the Japanese cultural critic Hiroki Azuma says of Japanese culture “our society is little by little losing the value of "Depth", the value of something behind the visible or perceptible things we are confronted with in our daily lives”[2] Japanese young people are craving spiritual depth, answers to the big questions of life, but instead they walk out their door and are confronted with a super cute, super loud, super stimulating, super bright, but ultimately superflat world.
When I was ministering in a downtown urban church a number of Japanese backpackers started attending our services, asking me all kinds of questions about Christianity in broken English. I began to notice a pattern in their spiritual questioning, a common theme in their existential dilemma. They had grown up in the Japanese post-war economic miracle; they lived in mega cities, which provided them with a kind of constant sensory overload. After High School or University they would decide to go on an adventure, they would come to Australia, hire a car and drive out into the utter desolation of the Australian outback desert, where one can drive for days and see nothing. Deprived of stimulation, outside of their superflat world, they would have a spiritual and existential breakdown. By the time they arrived on our church’s doorstep, the superflat distraction was de-toxed out of their system and the big questions of life, God, human existence and death were now at the forefront of their mind.
Interestingly when I later spoke in Tokyo at a ministry conference, almost all of the Japanese young people I met had come to faith while working or studying overseas. It was almost like the superflat culture of Japan disabled their ability to question reality with any depth. Takashi Murakami blames the superflat culture upon the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of the war, this event has plunged Japan into a kind of post-traumatic stress reaction, in which any serious topic is to be avoided and instead a culture of denial and distraction has grown up. “Japanese are seeking a spiritual peace and an escape from brutal reality through cute things,"[3] notes Tomoyuki Sugiyama the author of Cool Japan.
However superflat culture does not just exist in Japan. In many ways Western culture has become just as superflat. Sure we may not have the garish, cuteness of 21st century Tokyo, but in the West our world view has been flattened. Often I find this flatness as I am forced to introduce myself to people who are not Christians, everything normally goes well until they ask me what I do for a Job, to which I reply “I am a speaker and writer who explores popular culture from a Christian perspective” Most people through politeness then attempt to engage me in conversation about my work, but almost always they are lost, unable to engage in anyway intelligently about issues of faith. I remember one guy, he was intelligent and university educated; we had been chatting about various social and political issues, he then asked me what I did, as I explained, he just froze, his mouth was grabbing for words, but nothing came out, his eyes darted as he searched for some way to continue the conversation but he had no language or ability to discuss spiritual issues. He just stood there mouth ajar, looking lost in more ways than one. As a culture our spiritual muscles have atrophied due to lack of use. We are offered a culture that is a million miles wide in terms of opportunities, freedoms and consumer choice, yet that is spiritually an inch deep. Our spiritual voice is being strangled.
Our culture is spiritually superflat because of three main reasons that I can discern. Firstly, in our culture any serious discussion about the big spiritual and existential issues of life are off the agenda in the public sphere. Secondly, western culture is a spiritually flat culture in which, our need for mystery, transcendence, revelation, and a sense of the other is repressed. And thirdly our culture is a culture in which everything in life is viewed through a lens of suspicion. The combination of these factors present us with never before experienced missional challenges, they also behind the reason so many Christian young adults are choosing to leave active faith. But more on all of that next time......

[1] Saitō, Tamaki. (1998) Shakaiteki Hikikomori (Social Withdrawal). Tokyo: PHP kenkyuujyo.
[2] originally lectured at the MOCA gallery at the Pacific design Center, West Hollywood, on 5 April 2001 http://www.hirokiazuma.com/en/texts/superflat_en2.html
[3] Quoted in the Washington Post Wednesday, June 14, 2006 online edition http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/14/AR2006061401122.html



“Soon, the phrase "a white Christian" may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as "a Swedish Buddhist." Such people can exist, but a slight eccentricity is implied.”
Phillip Jenkins
Many of us have heard that the global centre of Christianity is shifting away from Europe and towards Latin America, Africa and Asia. The global church has become non-Western. Countries like Nigeria and South Korea have become the new hotspots of Christian growth, whilst nations such as France and the Czech Republic have become thoroughly secularized. This has had a flow on effect to the West through migration. Thus some of London’s most successful churches have been planted by missionaries from such places as Ghana, South Korea and Brazil. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has began planting their own congregation in the United States, much to the chagrin of the local and more liberal American Episcopalian Church. It is now not unusual to wander into a medieval Catholic church in the Italian countryside and find a priest from Sierra Leone or the Philippines administering mass to a Tuscan congregation in Italian. European churches that once sent out hundreds of missionaries are facing the irony of being pastored by ministers from the two-thirds world.
However many of us are not as aware how this shift is affecting the make up and shape of the church here in Melbourne. Let me start with a story.
My usual Saturday shopping routine was interrupted by my curiosity. A large crowd had gathered to listen to a group of Chinese people giving a speech and painting children’s faces and handing out pamphlets. Not being able to read or speak Chinese was no hindrance to me realising that this was a Christian group putting on an evangelistic event. The next Saturday the crowd was there again, however they were watching a different kind of evangelistic event. They were watching a meditation display being put on by the Chinese apocalyptic Buddhist sect known as Falun Gong. The unusual thing was that all the Falun Gong members were white European Australians.
Just a weird one off? I don’t think so. Let’s start a walking tour of the neighborhood in which I grew up. Something unusual has happened at the church I walked past on my way home from school as a boy. The traditional congregation has dwindled in numbers and a new worshipping community is moving in, the Mar Thoma Church. Well before you ask who? They are one of the only churches who in their liturgy use Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The Mar Thoma church or Indian Orthodox Church is one of the most fascinating cultural groups in Christendom. They claim their heritage back to the mission activities of St Thomas, the apostle of the ‘stick his fingers in Jesus’ side’ fame. The legend goes that St Thomas traveled to India to convert the Cochin Jewish community of India. Jews in India I hear you ask, well they claim their heritage back to King Solomon’s time when the Jews established a trading hub in India.
So let’s recap. We have a church for white Europeans struggling in the heart of the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne’s bible belt and yet we have congregations being planted by Indian Christians who are descended from converted Jews.
Still not convinced that something is going on? Let’s keep walking through my teenage haunts. The church I grew up in has been slowly bleeding members from its congregation for years, but has recently begun to rent its hall out to a growing and energetic Indonesian congregation. The Church across the road from the shop where I bought milk has a shrinking white congregation, yet the building is now rented by a growing Korean congregation. The church next to the library I used to do my study in has the same story - a shrinking white congregation reenergized by an influx of African migrants and the old Baptist church nearest my house is now home to a large and growing Chinese church with multiple congregations. All of a sudden the idea of white European Christians crossing the sea to do mission has been turned on its head.
So what does this mean for us as leaders? Does it just mean that the traditional ‘after church lunch’ will now offer Tikka Masala and Rice Paper Rolls, instead of just the chicken casserole Mrs Witherington’s been cooking for the last 49 years? Well in case you have little or no spiritual conversations with unchurched people. We are not that popular. One of the biggest challenges facing the church in the West is the phenomenon known as Post-Christianity. Meaning that a large percentage of unchurched people in the West are not going to come to church no matter how funky or friendly we make our church services. They see that Christianity, through its current and historical abuses of power, has negated its message and thus written itself off as a serious life choice. Most Aussies are either apathetic about Christianity or antagonistic towards the faith. These are the people who read the Da Vinci Code knowing that it was most likely highly historically suspect. They didn’t care that it was a load of rubbish. People dug the book because it confirmed to them their suspicion that Christian was a religion of powerful, European, white, corrupt men.
But when the person doing mission in Australia to cynical post-Christian, secular Aussies is a non-European a glitch is infected into the politically correct machine. Maybe, just maybe the best people to Evangelize the next generation of postmodern, individualist Aussie consumers are actually, at this moment sitting somewhere in a dusty refugee camp in Darfur, or in a slum in Rio, Manila or New Delhi with a bible in one hand and a postcard of Australia in the other.



Things have changed again! Put away the Matrix DVD, snuff out the candles and eject the U2 CD that you were just about to use for the Youth Service, just as Pastors were getting used to those wacky Gen X’s with their dysfunctions, piercings and depressing music, Generation Y has arrived, and they are very, very, very different. Demographers are calling them ‘echo boomers’ - they are like Baby Boomers on steroids - really, really strong steroids….I’m talking like Soviet Union era Weightlifting team steroids. They are motivated, clear about their goals and posses tremendous self-confidence. A leader of a major Youth ministry movement shared with me how much more he preferred Gen Y’s to Gen X’s. He found Gen X too introspective and cynical. This baby boomer leader felt that the Gen Y generation with their ‘can do’ attitude would usher in a golden era for the church. As he ranted excitedly I sat quietly and thought to myself, “He has forgotten one major problem.” Generation Y is highly unlikely to see a life following Jesus as a viable option.

Something is different with Generation Y. In fact they are so different that I have had to invent terms and phrases to communicate exactly how their faith works;

Now!ism” > When living in the moment becomes the whole focus of life. Seeking happiness coupled with a miniscule attention span, means that programs that last more than just a few moments become subverted by the individual. Unless benefits or change are seen instantaneously the project will be dropped for the next best thing. The long-term tasks of Mission and Discipleship are rendered totally ineffective by the mindset of ‘Now!ism’.

“The All consuming Monster of Disposable Experience” >
The consumer world of the 21st century is not just about amassing products and services but also experiences. Young people accrue experiences in order to establish their place in the social hierarchy and to pursue meaning and happiness. Too often leaders underestimate the ability of young people to turn meaningful spiritual encounters and seemingly effective Christian events into another experience to consume and dispose of. It’s easy to attract a crowd of Gen Y’s to an event; it’s another thing to have them live transformed lives.

“Pagan Envy” >
In a hedonistic culture where Big Brother is king, many Christian young people see pleasure as the only route to fulfillment and happiness. Thus many young Gen Y leaders confess ‘off the record’ how hard it is to share their faith with friends who have the lifestyle they secretly wish for.

“New-Atheism” > For the last 15 years church experts have been heralding the death of atheism and the resurgence of interest in spirituality. Many churches have rebranded, remissionalized and restructured to attract ‘spiritual seekers’. However for Y’s, atheism is back! Generation Y has come of age in a time of incredible economic boom in the West. They have lived their formative years in a sea of saturation advertising that has dramatically raised their expectations of life. Even the events of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism have not been able to dent their almost mystical faith in the economy and the inevitable good life. Who needs God when society promises you a virtual cornucopia of sexual, social, travel, and consumer experiences to lavish you with pleasure?

This is the point where we just want answers to make it all better, but it’s probably best you sit with this stuff for a while. But let me reassure you, yes there are some answers! Do I have time to tell you what they are here? No…I didn’t even get to share my other terms; Multi-Selves”, “Jesus Resentment”, “HappyWorld™”, “Girlconomy”, and“Achievable Heaven….. oh well, maybe next time. But between now and then let’s open our eyes to see what’s really going on, what is influencing our young people, and how in turn we too are being influenced.



I am lounging back in my chair as I sip my coffee with my friend and fellow follower of Jesus. Our lunch is taking place in one of Melbourne’s hip inner city latte zones. We are discussing ministry over some Moroccan food. In this cool neighborhood, we do not look out of place, no way! These two pastors look the part! We look nothing like the Ned Flanders clichéd image that most non-Christians have of Christians. We have managed to achieve that level of careful dressing so as to be stylish without really trying. “Yeah, these two men of God feel right at home in this cool world.”

But then everything goes wrong. One of the hip natives of this land of cool plants himself next to us and orders lunch. No stress, our cultural signals will not give away our status as believers in Jesus. Everything is going well until my friend drops the J-BOMB. My friend looks at me earnestly caught up in our train of discussion and asks me, “What would it take for people in Australia today to have a real encounter with Jesus?” Our café neighbor’s head snaps around like a cobra poised to attack. He looks at us in shock as if we have just flushed his grandfather’s war medals down the toilet. In one swift movement he picks up his lunch and coffee and moves four tables away. Our self perceived ‘coolness’ was evaporated within seconds by our public ‘outing’ as Christians.

‘Cool!’ Never before has a word been so used but so hard to define. Most of us use this word on a daily basis, we try to be ‘cool,’ yet we cannot define this slippery adjective. The first real social explosion of ‘cool’ into the public’s consciousness can be traced back to Norman Mailer’s 1957 article, ‘The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster' published in Harpers Bazaar.

Mailer described the dilemma facing young people of the mid-twentieth century, who looked at a culture that promised them a suburban paradise only to deliver the holocaust, the constant threat of nuclear war and a bleak and soul-less materialism. Mailer loudly proclaimed that the only answer for young people was to become ‘hip.’

Mailer largely borrowed his ideas from the Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. The Beat writers saw that the answer to society’s problems was to
learn from those who were on the margins of American culture. They lived amongst and copied the lifestyles of small time criminals, the mentally ill, bohemians and homosexuals. Most of all Mailer saw that the answer lay in imitating the life and spirit of African-Americans. For some time white American artists and thinkers had admired African-American culture, which they had discovered through the Jazz subculture. Mailer wrote that the answer to resisting the dominant modernist culture was to learn from the African-American’s idea of ‘Hip’ and ‘Cool’. To be ‘cool’ was to live on the edge of culture - to reject it by living in its shadows avoiding convention and conformity.

Instead of living out the narrow life-script offered by society, Mailer saw that by being cool humans could re-embrace a deep, primal need for quest and adventure. Many responded to Mailer’s rallying call and the Beatnik movement began permanently etching the idea of cool into the public’s mind.

However by the late 1960’s Big Business realized the potential that the cultural idea of ‘cool’ offered in the selling of products. The Fashion industry began exploiting the desire of people to be ‘cool’ by encouraging people to differentiate themselves from others by their clothing choices. Advertisers cunningly turned the Volkswagen from a Hitler inspired vehicle for taking your little fascist to the Hitler youth rally, into the love-bug car of choice for hippies. Slowly over the last 30 years the idea of ‘cool’ has shifted from something which rebelled against the dominant consumer culture to something which fuelled it. Advertisers had discovered that billions of dollars can be made by exploiting people’s desire for individuality and offering them a chance to commit faux rebellion by make ‘cool’ consumer choices.

Today the original meaning of ‘cool’ has been totally subverted. The ‘cool’ fringe dwellers lauded by Mailer have become the servants of the dominant consumer culture. MTV does not offer us
the reality of contemporary African- American life, rather suburban teenagers are bombarded by music videos filled with the cultural cliché of the Gangster rapper. Rappers ‘blinged up’ portraying a tough and rebellious ‘cool’ image, but who are actually on the payroll of giant corporations, selling everything in their video clips from mobile phones, to opulent jewellery and bottled water. The marginalized homosexual of the Beat generation’s day has been reborn on television in the guise of lifestyle editors telling straight men how to shop and make the right consumer choices. Mailer’s anti–consumerist dream is in tatters. The desire of millions of citizens of planet earth to be cool has become the oil that lubricates the engine of the global economy.

The church in the West and particularly here in Australia has taken the mission to become ‘cool’ to heart. Churches are re-branding; ministers, worship leaders and youth pastors are dressing cooler, and youth services are attempting new levels of ‘coolness.’ If you don’t like that particular flavour of ‘cool,’ many emerging churches can offer you a kind of bohemian ‘cool’ in order to suit your taste.

However there is a problem with churches and individuals attempting to become ‘cool’ as a missional strategy. When we try to become ‘cool’, we only make an attempt to re-dress the superficial to put on a new coat of paint. Sure it will probably mean our churches might attract a whole host of Christians who are looking for a ‘cooler’ expression of church, but we will fail to address some of the core reasons why Christianity is struggling to impact post-Christian culture.
One can’t help but wonder that behind the attempts to be ‘cool’, there is not really a desire for church growth and mission, but rather a deep rooted feeling many Christians have that we are social misfits. We know that at the moment Christianity in the ‘cool’ game is ‘out’. This makes us feel socially alienated, we feel left out and unappreciated. Young Christian people particularily feel socially rejected by a culture that tells them that their self-worth is in being ‘cool,’ hence the massive movement to rebrand ourselves, our churches and our ministries.

When it comes to the pursuit of ‘cool’, a cautionary tale can be found in the 'branded' airline called Song. The airline was launched in the US to much fanfare due to it's revolutionary and cutting edge use of ‘cool’ imagery and branding. The airline used the latest cabin entertainment technology, evocative and stylish advertising and ‘hip’, attractive and bubbly staff. On the surface the airline looked the coolest around, yet Song forgot that it is not just about looking good in a competitive post 9/11 US domestic airline business. People wanted ulitmately to get from A to B safely.

The airline was a failure and was subsumed into another carriers fleet. Today's hot brand is tommorow's style embarrassment. Maybe we need to learn from Song airline’s mistakes and concentrate on our core business. The terribly uncool business of preaching good news to the poor, of releasing the prisoners, of helping the blind to see, of freeing the oppressed and announcing through our word and action that God is now acting to bring about his plans to redeem the earth. Maybe cynical, suspcious, post-christian, unchurched people don’t want us to be cool, maybe they want us to do what Jesus commanded us. Then maybe they will listen.

Recently I had a time where I felt that I was very far from God. During this wilderness I was invited to speak at a large church’s youth service. The young people put on a pretty ‘cool’ service. The kids moshed, jumped and breakdanced while a DJ mixed for the punked-up
worship, and video and multimedia images were used to create just the right atmosphere. I got up to speak and did my usual ‘cool’ preaching schtick dropping references to T.V, music and popular culture. When it comes to preaching up a storm for the kids, I thought I did pretty well. This was as cool as Church could get. However the darkness that had been hanging over my life still hovered above me.

As I headed for my car I was stopped by a man in an electric wheelchair. He wanted to talk to me and although I wanted to just get home, I sat down to listen to him. Due to an accident in his youth he had acquired a brain injury that had robbed him of the use of much of his body. Through his grey beard he spoke to me in a stammered speech that was almost inaudible. For 20 minutes we sat there as he shared with me how he viewed his life as a miracle of God. He could have spent his whole life in a coma, but he felt that he had been saved by Jesus and he was desperatley thankful to have the life he had. As he spoke, I inexplicably felt my own darkness lift. I thanked him for minstering to me. As I got into my car I watched him drive off slowly in his wheelchair down a deserted alley-way covered in trash and graffiti. This man, according to the harsh and marginlising standards of our culture was not cool. He was old, poor and disabled, everything we deeply fear. Tears streamed down my face as I realised that I followed a magnificently uncool God who looks not at how cool we are, but at the beauty in our hearts.

COMMENTARY: Myspace and Meaning

The New Media Environment has changed the landscape in which we do ministry and the way in which young people view themselves and those who are communicating the gospel to them.

I am looking at a random personal webpage on the
Myspace Network. In case you do not have teenage children, Myspace is a giant internet based social network of young people. The young man’s webpage I have chosen to look at is fairly typical. Smack bang in the middle of his Myspace page is a picture of him and his girlfriend. There is nothing that unusual in a 24 year old male romantically displaying a picture of his special lady. However this photo is different. The first thing that hits me is just how big the picture is, it dwarfs everything else on his page. Ok I lie; the thing that hits me about the picture is the question, “How did such an ordinary looking guy get a girlfriend who looks like THAT?” Looking at the smug expression on the guys face and noticing the way that he holds his girlfriend like a trophy, I realize that this picture is not about romance, it is about social status.

"I realize that this picture is not about romance, it is about social status."

Next is a picture of his brand new BMW sedan, this is followed by a picture of his hip looking apartment. As I scroll down his page I find at least ten other pictures of this guy at nightclubs and parties with a variety of people who are cool or attractive or a combination of both. The page is a thinly disguised attempt by this young man to show that he is a social success.Despite what Myspaces’ millions of users will tell you, the network is not about catching up with friends, or blogging (keeping an online diary), but rather about social status within the new media environment. The key cultural currency on Myspace is the amount of people who have registered themselves on your personal page as your ‘friends’. Knowing someone is not a prerequisite to registering yourself as their ‘friend’. All you have to do is click on a few icons and list yourself as their friend. Spend a short time on myspace and you will realize that it is a sort of giant Generation Y social version of the Hindu caste system.

To achieve a high ranking of ‘friends’ you need to have the following equation in your favor.your personal hotness + your coolness + buying the right music + choosing the right TV & DVD’s the watch + making the right Tourist choices to travel to + appearing to be social busy + engaging in cool hobbies/ interests = High friends ranking

Myspace is a way for young people who have come of age in a media saturated environment to position themselves and to establish identity. In a media environment in which marketing is king, young people have become marketers of their own personal image and ‘brand’.

"In a media environment in which marketing is king, young people have become marketers of their own personal image and ‘brand’."

We are in a New Environment
One of the mistakes we can make as leaders is underestimating the environments and contexts in which we live. By failing to recognize them we become unaware of the way in which we are shaped and influenced by these environments. The Christian writer
Jacques Ellul noted that humans had lived through several ‘environments’. Ellul claimed that humans first had to live through the environment of nature, then society, then technology. The American media analyst Marshall McLuhan added a fourth environment the media environment. McLuhan and his disciples noted that the media environment has replaced the other three environments. The media environment is now the dominant influence upon the lives, hopes and dreams of young people. At first glance this is not new news, as Christians have been for generations bemoaning the influence the media has over believers. However much of this concern has been over the media’s seemingly corrosive effect upon morals, primarily sexual morals. This concern has seen a number of Christian books and speakers recently hitting out at the trend amongst Gen Y young women to dress and act in a sexually provocative manner.

These books and speakers fear that such a trend has lead to a rise in sexual promiscuity; their answer is to encourage young women to dress more modestly. However what these speakers and writers have failed to realize is that this move amongst young women to dress more alluringly is actually not primarily about sex! Are young people having more sex outside of marriage? Probably. But what we have to realize that this trend is principally about creating social importance within the media environment.Researchers have noted that in fact the primary reason young women diet and dress to impress is not to seduce or impress men but to establish their place in the female social hierarchy.

"that this move amongst young women to dress more alluringly is actually not primarily about sex! "

A classic example of this phenomenon is Paris Hilton. Hilton’s dress sense is sexually provocative to say the least; she has posed in raunchy photo shoots in countless men’s magazines. If so inclined you can download at least two sex tapes off the internet featuring Hilton engaged in actual sex. Stunningly when questioned about her sexual appetite, Hilton responded she is “not very sexual and amongst her friends is known to prefer cuddling to sex”. Much of what on the surface looks like a rise in sexual behavior amongst young people is actually more about posturing and positioning yourself in the new media environment. Young women are dressing provocatively in order to imitate women celebrities who seem to have the perfect lives, rather than trying to get the guy next door to sleep with them. In the new media environment sexuality is a powerful social symbol.

Being Discipled by the New Media Environment
A survey cited by Time magazine recently noted that on average Americans aged 8-18 were spending 6.5 hours a day using electronic media, which jumped to 8.5 when you counted multi-tasking. That does not count the amount of time that young people are exposed to other media communication forms such as billboard and print advertising which is an extension of the media. For most young people there are two realities that they encounter the reality they encounter in their everyday life and the reality that is shown to them by the images that are communicated by the media environment.

The media environment which is influenced primarily by the world of big business tells us that we can have all the happiness we want by buying the right products and experiences. Celebrities are the saints of the media environment in that they appear to us as to have managed to live their whole lives in the media reality. It is no wonder then that 14% of Gen Y’s believe that they will become celebrities.

"14% of Gen Y’s believe that they will become celebrities."

Therefore it is seen that in order to be socially important and to have a life of meaning one must imitate the lives that they see in the media. The media environment tells us that gangster rapper 50 cent is culturally important, therefore if you want to be important you need to buy 50 cent’s album, his clothing line, watch his film, play his computer game, drink his energy drink and imitate his ghetto hoodlum manner and lifestyle even if you are a middle class white kid living in the suburbs of Rotterdam. The media environment is the primary discipling influence upon young people; it is telling them that personal image management is of utmost importance to finding identity and meaning.

The Medium is the Message
Thus the ground has shifted under our feet. How we disciple young people who are immersed in this new media environment is key. Below are several questions to ponder as you minster to youth in this new environment.

* Many young people suffer from great status anxiety about their place amongst their peers and in youth culture. It is key that we ensure that our youth ministiries are places that young people can find respite from such pressures. How are you in your community of faith facilitating an environment for young people where they can be accepted as image bearers of God? How is your community of faith making it harder for young people to be accepted as image bearers of God?

* Marshall McLuhan noted that in the New Media Environment the Medium is the Message. The tools we use can often contradict our message. Yes it is key that we remain relevant in our communication of the good news. But when we use the tools of the new media environment in church we can subvert the gospel message and communicate the same message as the advertisers are communicating to young people (with a thin Christian veneer painted over the top). We can use the spoken word to tell our young people that the Christian life is about devotion worship and self-denial, but the tools of the new media environment, communicate to young people that life is all about being entertained all the time, about instant gratification and surface over depth. Have you unwittingly created a youth ministry that is dependant upon entertainment, popularity and ‘coolness’ at the expense of acceptance, humility and self-sacrifice?

* In the new media environment consumerism rules. It is fairly easy with the right tools to attract a large crowd of consumers. Are you creating a community of consumers or disciples?

* How can you help your young people navigate the changing terrain of sexuality and social positioning. What practical steps can you take to get these topics on the table of discussion?

* The new media environment needs navigating. How are you equipping your young people to interpret popular culture and its effect upon them?

* Celebrity culture and the desire to be famous is endemic in our culture. How do you help your young people to avoid falling into the trap of falling into the myth of Celebrity worship. Have you or any other christian ministires succumbed to the pressure to create celebrities out of its Christian workers?

*How do you communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in a culture when consumer culture offers people a fantastic life here and now?


HUBBUB:01 ADULESCENCE! How the ‘Youthification’ of our culture changes everything for Christian leaders

We are turning into a massive youth culture. A society in which being young is an attitude not an age. Overall this social wave is going to radically affect how we run and structure our congregations. Planning how we respond now is key for the life and sustainability of many of our churches. But I hear you asking, ‘What has happened to the whole concept of young people growing up getting married, getting a real job and a hair cut when they hit their 20’s?’ Welcome to the world of the twixter. In Japan they are called freeters, in other countries ‘peter pans’, and they are changing our culture.

Twixters are young adults who range in age from late teens to mid thirties. They move from job to job, see themselves as part of youth culture. Romantic and sexual relationships to them are fluid and non-binding, except when it comes to their connections with their parents, with whom often they share a co-dependant relationship. They spend most of their money on music, fashion, travel and entertainment. Their peers are everything to them, and if they are going to get married at all they will do it late. For most twixters marriage and children change very little of their desire to be part of youth culture.

‘sexual relationships are fluid and non-binding’

Married twixters are terrified by the enormity of their commitment, and many see no moral issue with text-flirting with people who are not their spouses. They have managed to turn child rearing into a consumer exercise in social competition. Twixter families are not like leave it to beaver. Dad is on the Playstation 2 whilst looking after the kids and mum like a desperate housewife is pounding the pavement to get back her pre-baby figure to fit into those skin tight jeans she saw on sale last week. There are already twixters in their forties and all trends are pointing to the fact that they are not going to grow up…..ever!

At the other end of the spectrum are the tweens. Tweens are children aged 8-12 who are influenced by teenage culture. Marketers now realize that if you want to sell products to children you need to treat them like teenagers. For example the teen magazine 17 is now aimed at girls aged 12-13.

‘mum like a desperate housewife is pounding the pavement ‘

Children are reaching puberty earlier and experimenting with sex and substances at an earlier age than ever before. Tween’s first memories of pop music are of Britney Spears, gyrating to the beat, a suggestive hint of lingerie showing from under her school uniform, singing ‘Baby hit me one more time’.
This is a generation of children who have seen in their lifetime Tween idol Jessica Simpson transform from virginal Christian Music artist to a secular mega star. Christian pop is now gone for Simpson who in her video turns washing a car into a highly erotic act in nothing more than a wet string Bikini and a few strategic bubbles. When these girls dream of being a Princess it is no longer Snow White or Princess Diana it is amateur porn star, celebrity consumer and heiress Paris Hilton.

‘They are spending up their kids inheritances on ipods, plasma tv’s and travel.’

But hang on don’t sack the children’s and youth pastors just yet, it gets even bigger! One of Australia’s leading futurists and demographers Bernard Salt is talking about the ages between 43 and 58 being the new teen years. The middle aged are ‘living it up’ before they move into their twilight years. They are spending up their kids inheritances on ipods, plasma TV's and travel. Empty nesters are ironically moving to the same hip inner-city neighbourhoods as their children, not because they want to be close to their kids, but just for the coffee. Companies like Harley Davidson make millions from selling a youthful rebel dream to the middle aged. Middle aged divorcees reinvent themselves with hip new outfits and attitudes. The Rolling Stones still sell out stadiums even though they are in their sixties. English demographers are shocked by the amount of people in their fifties taking up smoking, binge drinking and night clubbing. It seems that 30 is the new 20, 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50, and so on, you get the picture!

‘The youth quake is hitting but are we ready?’

The youth quake is hitting but are we ready? I decided to take of all this information to Wyanand de Kock, Tabor Victoria’s assistant principal who is an expert in the area of faith development. Wynand studied under James W. Fowler whose book ‘Stages of Faith’ is seen as the classic work on the stages of faith that Christians move in throughout their life. Here are Wynand’s reflections on how we as Christian leaders need to react to the youthification of our culture.

· WAKE UP! We need to acknowledge the changes that are going on. Getting angry about them will change nothing. We need to accept this is the time and place that God has called us to faithfully worship in.
· Faith development is no longer a clear linear process. Today faith development is cyclical. The pattern is this; we encounter a crisis, we struggle with the crisis, we find a way forward and move on having integrated what we have learnt. Then we encounter a crisis and we must start the whole process again. This new pattern must inform how we teach and disciple.
· No longer can we have individual faiths, our faith must be communal. We need other who can help us to resist the cultural pull to revert to adolescence!
· Being ‘with-it’ today has far more cultural pull than being wise. We must be careful not to sacrifice being ‘with-it’ for wisdom.
· We can’t just ask how this youthification of our culture is affecting the people we minister to, we must ask how it affects us. How are we as ministers and leaders being affected by the pressure to remain ‘with-it’ rather than ‘wise’?