Relevancy is a word we throw around, and rightly so! It’s essential, as effective youth workers, to be relevant to young people. What we mean by this, however, dramatically varies depending on who you talk to.
Immersion – Being Just Like Them
For some, being relevant means being just like them. So the youth worker will immerse themselves in the TV shows, the music, the books, the clothes, the slang, the hangout slots, and all the latest crazes of youth culture.
A problem with this, of course, is there’s no such thing as generic youth culture. Young people are people and as people they are a varied mix of genres, personalities, and subcultures. It’s more likely that the immersive youth worker is just getting clued up on one type of youth culture; which will inevitably make them outsiders or even hostile to others. This form of relevancy makes you inevitably irrelevant to many others.
Another problem is the rapid pace of products and entertainment aimed at young people. A friend of mine who is a youth worker in China recently told me that they were among the very first to be hit by the ‘fidget spinner’ craze. This lasted a few short weeks before the schools cracked down and they were no longer cool, yet all the youth work resources were still writing about them. Youth culture immersion gives your relevancy a shelf life.
The biggest problem with this, of course, is the creepy factor. It’s fine to like a few things aimed at younger ages (I adore The Minions and Lego!), but immersing yourself in that world as if you were still a 14 year old girl, when you’re actually a 36 year old man is actually a bit weird. The novelty will quickly turn to distrust, and it probably should.
Is there another way?
There are supracultral truths about the state of humanity in general, and young people in particular that are always true. Human beings are
- Made in God’s image
- Damaged by the fall
- In need of a saviour
- Longing to give and receive love
- Built for relationship
- Want opportunities to change the world
- Need to be heard and understood
- Fighting with identify and character
- Have an eternal destiny
- Are afraid of lots of stuff
The list goes on. What else can you add to it?
Being relevant starts with treating young people like people, not as some social experiment that you can tune into if you read the right books and watch the right youtube channels. Although it is a great idea to know what’s happening in their world and be able to point back to it ‘relevantly’ in your conversations and teaching, that will only go so deep or last so long. There are other ways to be relevant and lasting.
- Active listeners are relevant
- Honest and transparent storytellers are relevant
- Humble people are relevant
- Compassionate and interested adults are relevant
- Those who give time are relevant
- People who create situations for voices to be heard are relevant
- Those who ask good questions, yet don’t have all the answers are relevant
- Those who talk clearly from the Bible are relevant (after all, it was written to every generation)
- Those who constantly mention Jesus; his life, death, and resurrection are relevant
Trying to understand culture without the things above will leave you as a desperate square peg, jaming yourself into a round hole. Lets know whats going on in ‘youth culture(s)’ for sure – but even more than that, let’s actually try and be genuinely relevant to young people as people.