Please Don’t Demonize Media

Working in youth ministry, I am confronted daily with concerns from parents and leaders about “media.” Parents desperately want to shield their children from the language, violence, and sexuality of secular media (movies, tv, and tunes).

This is a legitimate concern. There is a lot of garbage out there I don’t want my own son to encounter before he is ready. For parents and youth leaders, it is a tough area of culture and life to navigate effectively.

But there are a few things I know after working with youth that will shape the way I deal with the media for my own son.

1. He will hear it. He will see it. He will hear others talking about it. Regardless of how well I shield him.

So often, parents think they can entirely protect their children from ever encountering “bad” media. This is the wrong approach, in my humble opinion. Why? Because they will eventually see it, hear it, and talk about it — with or without their parents. If we only try to demonize and protect students from the media, how will they ever know how to interpret and assess what they are taking in? They need their parents more than ever to process it with them (granted, there are age restrictions for a reason). They don’t need their parents to simply cast it off as gross and demonic; they need their parents to have a conversation with them about it.

2. Furthermore, the line of what is “acceptable” and what isn’t is incredibly difficult to draw.

I know of some churches who refuse to play any “secular” music in worship. I know of some churches who show video clips from rated R movies. The lines are drawn all over the place.

Here’s what I will say: When drawing the lines, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out what is acceptable and what is not. Can you play a catchy Katy Perry tune if you don’t sing the lyrics? Hmm. We chose not to. Can you play a song by Adele? We said Yes. Can you show a clip from Shrek where Shrek calls Donkey a jackass? We chose to (maybe not the right decision – Shrek is rated PG, however, and jackass is used in the KJV bible). But still, probably not the right decision to show junior high students. (We do make mistakes – often!!).

Time and time again you will get opinion after opinion after opinion of who thinks what is right and what is not. I could give youour “lines,” but I don’t think that’s the concern of this post. The concern of this post is one thing: Whatever you do, don’t DEMONIZE media. We can all learn about life and God and people as much from a profanity-laced tirade as much as we can from a Disney movie (that’s not to say we should show that to junior high students – don’t hear me saying that). Culture is culture, and our job isn’t to throw stones; our job is to converse, wrestle with, and discuss it. Does that mean we should play anything and everything for any ages in church? Absolutely not. But it does mean we need to be very careful how we talk about media.

Students are watching what we do and say. Frankly, they need to hear rational voices who aren’t scared of today’s media.

How do you digest and handle media as a Christian? How does this affect your ministry?

Friday Night Lights (Youth Ministry)

Friday Night Lights is the best show on television.

I find myself saying this after every episode.

I know I’m late to the party on this. The show is done after five seasons. It never reached a substantial viewership. They did some weird thing the last season where they played it on DirectTv in the fall and re-ran it on network television in the spring. They considered canceling it virtually every season, and yet it received rave reviews from important critics.

And now, I’m watching it on Netflix and am only 10 episodes into season 1.

I am totally hooked. Enthralled. Captivated. Why?

1. FNL represents this youth generation better than any show I’ve ever seen.

Granted, I haven’t seen EVERY television show, but I do work as a youth pastor. This show gets the current 12-22 year old generation. The writers beautifully portrait the struggles this generation faces around identity, value, sexuality, relationships, and meaning. A few of the episodes haveĀ  left me in tears because I see these struggles play out in the youth I get to guide and lead. The characters, the stories, the movement is touching a deep nerve in my own soul I carry for those I lead.

2. FNL is real and broken.

One of my favorite youth ministry authors is Andrew Root. His book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, was perhaps one of the greatest catalysts to spark my calling to youth ministry. FNL, like Root, understands that life revolves (inevitably) around brokenness and pain and struggle. Life and faith do not simply work out in a clean A,B,C equation (If I do this, then God will do X). Instead, life can be pretty dang crappy. Parents divorce. Friends backstab. Substances take hold. Tragedies occur. Oftentimes, these things just happen.

And frankly, we need a theology, a belief, a faith that God is still present amid the brokenness and pain. We need a theology that God is still actively loving and showing grace despite the pain. FNL paints this in episode after episode. Not explicitly. This isn’t a show about faith. But it is a show about pain and those tiny moments of redemption only God can orchestrate.

3. FNL is better than any sermon.

I’ve been moved by art lately. I don’t know where this is coming from. I haven’t cared that much about beautiful movies or powerful songs. Until now. Art and story have been sparking something of a unique feeling in me. It’s a feeling of an overwhelming swell you can’t explain.

This is nothing against any pastor or teacher (me included). But sermons don’t feel like art most of the time. Sermons tend to be: God did this. You do this. Life will play out like this. There is very little room for mystery and complexity.

But FNL is mysterious and complex and paints life in a way that actually represents the mystery and compexity of life. I’m asking myself: How can I teach and preach like this show? What is it that is striking a chord deep inside and how can I teach that way?

4. FNL reminds me of me.

Finally, on a personal note, I grew up in a small town where sports were everything. It was a small town in Washington built around the timber industry. I see the same questions I had asked by the characters living in this town in Texas. I see the same struggles with loving being a “hero” but also knowing there was more to life. I see the same pains and struggles they can’t always identify.

This show is incredible. For reasons I can’t explain simply in a blog post.

Go watch it.
Especially if you have Netflix.

FNL will teach you more about this generation more than any other show, book, or movie I’ve ever seen.

Bold statement? Let me know what you think.