Youth culture is complex. As faithful gospel-proclaiming ministers to a young generation, there needs to be an understanding of culture which is commensurate with the serious consequences (Hell) of the gospel we preach. An indispensible part of our work is to keep up with the culture around us.
My boss often tells me that if you are not called to study, you are not called to pastor. Read broadly from fiction, Christian history, systematic theology, blogs, commentaries and scholarly journals. These can keep you humble. You soon learn that many (most) are smarter than you. By extension, the more you read the more knowledgeable pastor you will become. Not to mention you ameliorate your vocabulary. (See what I did there?)
…But Don’t Just Read Piper
American Christianity has an embarrassment of gospel-centered riches. We have more resources than we know how to handle. It’s easy to read only what’s been published by Crossway, but I would encourage you to use these resources wisely. If our only mental partners are fellow conservative Christians, you will end up answering evangelical infighting rather than the your student’s (and their culture’s) questions.
Enter the Temples
The temples and prophets of this generation are theaters and publishing houses. Each actor is a preacher, and every book is a sermon. The world is preaching, and everyone tells your students what to believe and which values to worship. So, read The Hunger Games, watch How I met You Mother, and listen to the worldview of Watch the Throne (Kanye West) and take notes. These places will articulate clearly your youth’s default opinions and assumptions about the world.
Who Are You Meeting?
Sermon application flows from who you spend time with. If we want our sermons to impact the culture we are speaking to, the question we must ask ourselves becomes: “Who are you meeting?” If we meet only with well-grounded, fertile-soil students (and there is a place for this) we can expect our sermons to be directed at and applied best to them. You can also expect the more non-Christians you hang out with will affect your sermon application the same way. So, perhaps try a Bible study with unbelievers.
Preach a Better Culture
Finally, most people will make one of two mistakes: 1. Many will believe that God is merely a God of love; or 2. Many will believe that God is merely a God of judgment. Most cultures will choose one and vilify the other. The violence of the Vikings thought it morally backward to offer love instead of justice to village-plunderers. The LGBT community thinks it backward to offer judgement instead of love to homosexuals. On earth, it seems either judgement or grace rules.
However there is a third way, for justice and mercy can kiss and subsist in Christ. The commingling of perfect justice and perfect love in Christ is a mystery to the lost world. We often settle for a half-baked god, leaving either justice or love for the birds. As you keep up with this culture, make sure to preach a higher culture where Christ lovingly took our place because we could not bear the justice of God. The world needs to hear that in Christ both justice and mercy reign.