3 Cultural Trends From the 2015 VMAs

This past Sunday MTV held their 32nd VMAs (Video Music Awards). The VMAs is more than an awards show, it’s a cultural display of where we are as a society. If you want to see where are culture is, especially teens and young adults, than go no future than the VMAs. If you work with teens, young adults, or just want to know we are culture is and is going I’d encourage you to watch or follow the VMAs each year. It will teach you a lot. I didn’t watch the entire show this year but did go back and watch some of the highlights. On top of that I read a good amount of articles on the night. In the midst of Miley Cyrus antics, Taylor Swift winning a ton of awards, and Kayne West announcing that he will be running for president in 2020, there were three cultural trends that stood out to me.

Gender identity. Gender in our culture is now a decision left up to the individual. It no longer matters how you were born. If you want to be another gender you have the right to make that happen. Our culture has shifted to the acceptance and celebration of the transgender issue. This was clearly the case with this years VMAs. There were celebrations of transgenders as well as a stage full of drag queens joining Miley for her performance of “Dooo It.” Taylor Swift even threw a punch when she received the award for Best Video of the Year. She said, “I’m just happy that in 2015, we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” Gender identity and manhood/womanhood is something our culture is changing and shifting on.

Faith disconnected from actions and lifestyle. Faith in our culture has become more of a slogan or addition life rather than a foundation of life. Faith no longer is connected to your actions or lifestyle. You can pick whatever faith you want but also live however you want. You can have both and they can be completely at odds. This was clearly seen during this years VMAs when Nicki Minaj received the award for Best Hip-Hop Video for her song “Anaconda” and said, “You know who I want to thank tonight? My pastor.” She then went you to say, “Thank you, Pastor Lydia. I love you so much.” Minaj is known for her sexual explicit content and this song, and it’s video, is no different. The song is all about sex and the video features barely clothed women twerking and dancing. After receiving the award and thanking her pastor, Minaj then goes on to blast Miley Cyrus when she turns the show back over to her. Minaj said, “And now, back to this b**** that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley what’s good?” Faith no longer dictates how one lives and behaves. In our culture we see many people play the “faith card” but rarely do we see them have a life of faith to back it up that is visible in their actions, attitudes, and character.

Drug use (especially marijuana). The use and normalization of marijuana doesn’t come to a surprise to me. It’s easily accessed and doesn’t have some of the same damaging effects other drugs have. However, there were some interesting references at the VMAs to marijuana this year. First, Kayne West admitted to smoking some before he came on stage to give his far too long 11 minute speech. He said, “The answer is YES. I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off.” Also, Miley Cyrus performed her song “Doo it,” which in it she boasts “Yeah, I smoke pot. Yeah, I love peace, but I don’t give a f***. I ain’t no hippie.” The point is marijuana use is on the rise, especially with teens, college students, young adults, and our cultural as a whole has become more accepting of it and will continue to be more and more.

These are just a few of the things that happened at the VMAs this year that show us where our culture is and is going. Much of these thoughts in this post come from Walt Mueller’s post on the VMAs. Read that post to get a better glimpse into what the VMAs showed about our culture.

Creating a Good Atmosphere Before Your Service Starts

PJ-AW203_TEENHO_D_20100728164045I’m a stickler when it comes to the atmosphere in the room before our student ministry services start. When it comes to our student ministry, there is a certain atmosphere in the room we want to set way before we even start the actual service. We strive to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to new students, promotes community, and gets students excited for the service that is to come. There are many ways to create this type of atmosphere and some of it depends on your context. I want to share with you a few things we do each and every week that helps us create the right atmosphere in the room before we start our services.

Music. Our media team knows that music should be playing before the first student walks through the door. Some of our students are already there because they are in the worship band, media team, or student leadership team, but once the band gets done practicing the media team knows to hit play on our pre-service playlist. This playlist usually starts no later than 15 minutes before the first student arrives. For our pre-service music we use Spotify. We have a pre-service playlists on Spotify that we use each week, one playlist is for high school and the other is for middle school. Our playlist is made up of mostly non-Christian artists with a handful of Christian artists thrown in. You can click here to take a look at our high school ministries pre-service playlist and click here to see our middle school ministries pre-service playlist. We are constantly updating these playlists by adding new songs as well as taking older songs off. There is a reason our playlists are 90% made up of non-Christian music. First off I hate the idea of “Christian vs non-Christian” music, but that’s a topic for another post. When it comes to our student ministry I want to be playing music before our service that our students actually know and like. One of the best ways to create a good atmosphere is to play music. This is why when you walk into a restaurant there is usually music playing in the background. But what creates an even better atmosphere is playing music you know the people walking into the room like and know. I am always asking our students for music suggestions for our pre-service playlists as well as taking time to scroll through top charts on Spotify to see what songs and artists are popular. I also listen to a few radio stations when I am in the car to catch some of the songs and artists our students may be hearing. Before I move on, don’t think I just throw any song a student recommends or I find on Spotify onto our playlist. If it has curse words, I won’t put it on the playlist. If it promotes sexual promiscuity I won’t put it on the playlist. But if it’s clean and students like it, I will put it on the playlist.

Things to do. Another way we create a good atmosphere in the room before we start our services is by providing things to do. It’s great for students to walk into a room that’s bumping with some good music but if nothing else is there for them to do while they wait they will be bored. We always have things set out for students to do before we start our services. Right now we have a ping-pong table, Wii, Kan-Jam (which is one of the best games ever), football, and a basketball hoop. It’s not a ton but it gives students something to do. But there is a great purpose than for them just to have something to do. The purpose of having these things available is that they help students build community with each other. We see students building community each week as they do some of these things we have available to them.

Places to chill. Having things to do is great, but it’s also vital to have some comfortable places for students to just sit back and relax. Some students thrive at connecting by doing something while other connect better by sitting on a couch and just talking. We provide a few areas for students to just kick back and chill. We have a corner with couches as well as an area with a tall table and stools.

Adult and student leaders being trained to connect with new and regular students. One of the main ways to create a good atmosphere before your service starts is to have leaders and student leaders trained to connect with new students and regular students. Music, things to do, and places to chill will mean nothing if students are not talking to one another and welcoming new students into the group. This is why our adult and student leaders are trained and encouraged to be moving around the room talking to new students and welcoming them into the group.

Countdown. I have vowed to never starts a student ministry service with a countdown. Every week we have a five minute countdown that signals we are about to start. I love using countdowns because it naturally pulls everyone into the room and gets them ready to start without anyone having to get up say anything. We have a membership with Centerline New Media so we use countdowns from them each week.

These are some of the things we do each week to create a good atmosphere before we start our services. What does your student ministry do to create a good atmosphere before services?

Parents, Bookmark These Sites!

51af94d1a351c27119Parents, want to know more about the music, movies, and apps your teens talking about? Below are three sites you should visit often to get more information on things like music, movies, and apps. Check them out and then bookmark them so you know what your teen is listening to, watching, or using on their smartphone.

Common Sense Media. This is one of the best sites to get information on things like movies, music, apps, and other things. In particular, their movie reviews are extremely helpful and insightful. They are written for the purpose of parents so they tell you everything you need to know from positive and negative messages, violence, sexual content, and language. Another thing I like about their movie reviews is they always have a “Families can talk about…” section that offers questions and discussion starters parents can use with their children about the movie. Click here to see their movie review of the popular movie “The Fault in Our Stars” for an example of all these things. They also offers these same kind of things for their music reviews. Click here to see their music review of the popular song “Fancy” Iggy Azalea. You can also check out reviews on books, apps, and video games.

Plugged In. Plugged In is a ministry of Focus on the Family and is pretty much offers the same thing as Common Sense Media does. In addition to movies, music, and game reviews they also offer some other helpful stuff on their site. One of them is what they call the “Family Room.” In the “Family Room” parents will find tons of articles and conversations starters for parents.

iTunes Charts. Most teenagers have iPhones and on those iPhones they are downloading tons of apps and hundreds of songs. iTunes charts let you see what the top songs and apps are. This is extremely helpful because your teenagers are probably listening to the top songs and using the most popular apps. Once you see an app or a song you know your teen has said something about, jump on over to Common Sense Media or Plugged In to get a review of it.

There are many more helpful sites out there for parents, but these are three that I am always pointing parents to. Parents, inform yourself with what’s going on and what is popular in teen culture.

What Miley Cyrus is Promoting to Your Teens

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Music has always been a powerful force in shaping culture. Music is a powerful tool in teaching people morals, beliefs, and attitudes. Teenagers more than anyone are shaped by music in their culture. Teenagers are in a period of life where they are asking questions about life, forming beliefs and worldview, and choosing what behavioral patterns to follow. This is why music is so important to teenagers. It gives them a voice and helps them form opinions about the world around them.

This is why parents need to be careful about what kind of music they are allowing their teenagers to listen to. I’m not suggesting we boycott “secular music” and only listen to “Christian music.” That distinction has never been a good one anyways. We must look past the genre or style and see what exactly teenagers are learning from a particular artist or song.

Recently, Miley Cyrus has released a new song that parents need to be aware of. My fear is that when most parents hear that their teenager is listening to Miley Cyrus they may feel no need to ask anymore questions because what comes to their mind when they hear Miley Cyrus is the Disney Channel star Hannah Montana. Unfortunately, Miley Cyrus is no longer a cute, little Disney Channel star, but a young woman who is not ashamed to be outright sexual, confrontational, and offensive.

Cyrus new song “We Can’t Stop” (along with the music video) is teaching promoting things, attitudes, and behaviors to your teenager that are not consistent with what God has revealed in His Word. Click here to read the full lyrics to this song.

Sexuality and Promiscuity. This song is full of sexual references and behaviors. Lines such as “Bet somebody here might get some now” and “To my home girls here with the big butt shaking it like we at a strip club,” Cyrus is not ashamed to promote sex and sexual behaviors. This song, like many others, tears apart the Biblical purpose and beauty of sex. Instead of sex being something reserved for marriage between one man and woman as a way of pleasure and intimacy with each other, sex is now something you do for fun whenever you want and with whomever you want. It’s not about intimacy anymore, it’s about recreational pleasure.

Drugs. This is something many listeners may not catch at first, but Cyrus makes mentions of drugs and drug use a few times in this song. In the second verse she says, “And everyone in line in the bathroom, trying to get a line in the bathroom.” Get a “line” is a slang way to saying snorting powdered drug. There is another time drugs show up in this song, but in a very interesting way. In the song Cyrus says, “So la da di da di. We like to party. Dancing with Miley.” Sounds ok doesn’t it? Dancing with Miley. However, when the song first came out many people thought Cyrus was saying “Dancing with Molly” (aka MDMA, ecstasy). I normally wouldn’t have an issue with this because this isn’t what the song actually says. I’m not going to get up in arms about what I thought our “heard” Cyrus say. However, she responded by saying this when she was asked about that line in the song:

If you’re aged ten [the lyric is] Miley. If you know what I’m talking about then you know. I just wanted it to be played on the radio and they’ve already had to edit it so much…I don’t think people have a hard time understanding that I’ve grown up. You can Google me and you know what I’m up to — you know what the lyric is saying (click here to read more).

It’s all about having fun and doing what you want. The whole idea of this song is doing whatever you want because it’s your party, house, and mouth! Cyrus promotes fun and pleasure as the end goal and doing whatever you want to get there is ok. In Cyrus own words, just remember “only God can judge ya.” Which I find very interesting because I’m not sure why if only one person could judge you, why would you want that person to be God? I’d much rather someone else judge me, not the ruler and Creator of this world. However, Cyrus, like many others, use this phrase as a justification to do whatever they want.

Are these things and behaviors we really want our teenagers to be taking in? I tweeted the other day that this is one of the trashiest songs I have ever heard. I’d encourage parents to take a listen and view the video. What are your thoughts on this song?