Teaching kids to transform the world: possible?

080808-mpetersen-culturemakingCan culture be transformed? Or does more evidence point to our being transformed by the culture?

One of the legacies of the Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, has been the concept that we are to claim all of life and culture for God – to be transformers of the culture.  This thinking has permeated churches in the Reformed (the theological approach, not just the denomination) tradition and those Christian day schools that have originated from the Christian Reformed Church in particular. We are proud of the fact that we do not simply advocate condemning and retreating from culture, but that we attempt to be counter-cultural, to be “in and not yet of” the culture we experience. If you were to survey Christian school mission statements you would find many phrases that reflect the belief that we are training children to be cultural transformers. Yet, how effective is this strategy? Is it working?

In his recent book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch calls into question our ability to transform culture by simply condemning, critiquing, copying or consuming culture (for greater description of these areas, read the book or this review. If we were to look at the area of media alone, we would have to admit that, despite our condemnation or critique of cultural slippage, we have not been very successful in changing the cultural landscape. There is simply too much media to critique and too little time for us to engage in advocating for long term, effective change. The premise of Crouch’s book is that, as Christians, we are called as image-bearers to create culture that reflects Christ.

This message would seem to resonate with the upcoming Millennial generation. They desire the real, the authentic, the hands-on, direct experiences of ministry, while the Boomers seem to have been more concerned about their own worship/church needs via an entertainment model and large church infrastructure. Despite the disconcerting aspects of large scale change and turmoil, my friend Rex Miller sees the focus of Millennial’s to be a very positive development as we move through these times of death and rebirth in our culture. See his recent article here.

While I agree with Crouch’s encouragement to individual Christians to make culture wherever they are planted, I also agree with John Seel’s concern with Crouch’s book that culture is not simply about individuals, it is also about the cultural gatekeepers within institutions who really control culture, a “super class” of perhaps 6,000 people within institutions who dramatically influence world culture. Seel emphasizes the need for student preparation and training in obedience – we don’t know if and when and how the students in our schools may be called into as an “influencer” or “cultural gatekeeper”, but need to practice with diligence in preparation for whatever work God calls them to do. Whether we focus on culture making from an individual or institutional standpoint, there is no substitute for Christian schools that help students develop discernment and Godly wisdom, all the while teaching them to work within and through community.

I really appreciated Crouch’s discussion of what he calls the two most compelling events of God’s intervention in culture in the Bible. He views these as instructive to our response to life in this present age. He points to the exodus of Israel and the resurrection of Christ as events that came to those who were powerless against, and crushed by, the dominant Egyptian and Roman cultures of the time. In that context, God reveals his power by working in the lives of the powerless. In an age where we have been seduced and then disenchanted by our “Christian” influence on the political process, where we feel increasingly powerless to make change, and in a time where we realize again the futility of depending on our own financial means, we are encouraged to call on God and to look carefully at what he is doing in our midst to see “where the impossible is becoming possible.”

We need to consider whether we, as evangelical Christians, have been seduced by cultural power and influence. Have we unconsciously encouraged our students to become celebrities through accomplishments more than we have encouraged them to become saints? (Crouch holds up Princess Diana and Mother Theresa as contrasting models.) He reminds us that the growth of the church came through Christians engaging in cultural creativity – loving neighbors through the worst of times, being open and accessible with their faith, living very different lives – believing, behaving, and demonstrating belonging to a different kingdom – and thus changing their culture and world. How can we encourage our kids to be culture makers and culture influencers so that they become, in Crouch’s words, artists and gardeners who through their God-given creativity help to bring forward Christ’s kingdom?


Filed under change, discernment, mission development, student outcomes

12 responses to “Teaching kids to transform the world: possible?

  1. Pete Post

    I look forward to hearing my education students ideas about how they can encourage their future students to be “culture makers”. I’m reminded of a story that I often share with my students about driving the bus for my Special Olympic basketball team. The students that played for me while I coached at Elim Christian School had a variety of disabililties and were often challenged to make good decisions. On the way to one particular game some of the players began talking about watching Jerry Springer’s show after school. It was always amazing to me that the students either thought I became deaf while driving or I was so absorbed in designing new plays that I couldn’t hear them. Certainly they were surprised when I stopped the bus, turned to them and said, “Look, I don’t want to hear any more about Jerry Springer – the man admits that the show is trash before it even begins and you can feel free to go home and tell your parents that Coach Post says you shouldn’t be watching it.”
    I was a little surprised to have a parent call the next week and tell me that her son had told HER not to watch Jerry Springer. I almost began to apologize for being so blunt – but then she thanked me for what I had tried to teach her son.
    The challenge of culture is certainly formidable. We need teachers that are not afraid to take a stand.

  2. Michelle Voss

    I agree that culture is an inecredibly strong influence on people’s lives, and that, sadly, it has become a rather formidable opponent for Christians. As evidenced by the things we hear and see on television, Jerry Springer’s show is one such example that Prof. Post mentioned in his comment, our culture has fallen away from the most basic of Christian principles. Because of the strong influence culture bears, this is information that should concern Christians and cause them to take action. Teachers are an excellent place to start. Teachers are in the fortunate, yet burdensome, position of being another influence in the shaping of the next generation’s lives. They must take advantage of that opportunity and seek to instill in their students a strong sense of what is right and wrong, as well as a desire to stand apart and be different from the culture when it promotes what is wrong. The first way a teacher can accomplish this is simply by his/her words and actions. Students are very perceptive, and because they tend to look up to their teachers, they will notice even the little ways that their teacher is different from the culture. The teacher’s own life can be a witness to the students. Also, teachers should make the effort to point out to students when they see wrong being done. I also think it’s important for teachers to provide their students with opportunites to serve others, whether on school property, or going to work for an afternoon with a Christian organization, such an experience will give kids a taste of the ways they can make a difference. If we want to transform the culture, and we are without question called to do just that, we must start by making sure that the next generation of Christians are grounded in their own faith. Seeing teachers that aren’t afraid to take a stand, even in seemingly small situations like the one Prof. Post mentioned, will inspire kids to do the same thing, and then we will succeed in transforming the culture for God’s glory.

  3. Joy VanDerBilt

    In Christian schools I feel that it is easy just to become involved and absorbed into what many people call the “Christian bubble”. At a young age Christian schools teach that the bubble is safe for us and that inside the bubble we need to be good Christian and love everyone and to always have a Christian attitude which is easy to do when you are in ” the bubble” but in my Christian education experience I was never taught how to act and be a Christian outside the bubble or in the real world where there are terrible things and not every one is a Christian. In school we are taught that there are wars and that there are bad people but we are not taught how to handle it, how to change it, or how to love the bad people too.
    Every year since I was in Jr. high I have attended and volunteered in a Chrisitian event called Acquire the Fire. This event is split into two days, the first day we are reminded how God loves us no matter what we do and that he has a plan for us, all we need to do is have faith in him. The second day we are taught that as Christian we are in a battle, a battle against those who don’t know Christ. As a Christian we need to fight for Christ, and when I say fight I don’t mean literal fighting, I mean fighting with love that is to fight with incredible amounts of love and kindness for everyone. We are taught to be spiritual fighters to show this world that there is a God who loves them. In this event we are taught about the bad stuff in the world and are given tools to start a change, we are inspired to be the change we want to see. I feel that Christian schools, should do the same, meaning don’t just tell us that God loves us and that the world is a bad place but give us the tools that we need to change the bad things we see in the name of Christ.
    In order to see a cultural change we need the tools, we need more teachers to be good examples of a Christ centered life and tells us how to act that way when we are in an environment that does not know Christ. We in order to see a cultural change we need not only to teach children what is right and wrong but how to stay true to God in a messed up world and how to change this world into one where there are no more tears over the bad stuff but where there is constant love and goodness.

  4. Katelyn Bolkema

    This idea of transforming culture is an idea I have grown up with. “In the world, but not of the world” is a phrase I often heard and was encouraged to put into practice. I agree with the article when it states “we have not been very successful in changing the cultural landscape.” As Christians, it seems obvious to us that our country is filled with sin and moral problems. While I do agree that individual Christians can play a role in transforming this culture, the concept of “cultural gatekeepers” is important as well. Christians need to take a stand and fill positions of influence, where there moral views and beliefs can really make a difference in our culture. God can work through these people who are given power, and I believe that we will then see how culture can be largely transformed. But back to the individual Christian, what can he or she do to have an influence on culture? This article says that in the past, the church has grown through culture and changed it. Christians do not necessarily need to partake in culture, but neither should they condemn or judge it. The only way for Christians to really change culture is to show that there is a better, more moral way of living. But to be even more specific, what can teachers do to make a difference in culture? I think a Christ-centered education can make all the difference. I’m not saying only a Christian education is good; I just like the emphasis it places on God in daily life. God is in every subject, whether we often realize it or not. Teaching kids that God is a daily part of life and culture, along with his moral laws and Christian living, will teach kids how to be good Christians someday. I also like what Michelle said about teachers taking a stand. Teachers must be willing to always do what is right, even if it is hard or painful for them. Teachers must pass this on to the students. They so by how they live, what they say, and how they act in every single moment. Although this sounds like a big responsibility, it is one of the great joys of becoming a teacher as well. A teacher may very well make a difference in a student’s life, who in turn will affect other’s lives, and the cycle will continue. Before you know it, that teacher has made one big difference in today’s culture.

  5. Rebecca Kischkel

    I think we can affect culture and society more than we realize. As future teachers, we can play a big part in how our students turn out as people. Students (especially Elementary) look to teachers for guidance, and pay close attention to how adults act in certain situations. Teachers are definite role models for children. So, if we act in a responsible, kind, and fair way to our students, it is more likely that the students will be instilled with similar qualities.

    I also wanted to mention that I don’t think we realize enough how small changes are just as important as big ones; like a smile at a stranger, letting someone talk to you to get over something, etc. Society as a whole may be difficult to affect, but we make more of a difference than we know. Small changes add up. While we can’t affect the media or the entire country, we can make a giant difference to certain individuals. So, this is where we should be focusing our efforts as Christians: on the individual. Education is a great field for that.

    We need to remember, though, that we can’t shield our students from the ‘real world’. I suggest that the best option would be keeping the kids updated on the the recent problems that are in our society. We need to prepare them to handle challenges and situations outside of school. Also, it would be good to have discussions with the class to get their opinion on how we can FIX real world problems. This helps the students to get to know themselves and their worldviews, which will serve them well the further they go in school and in life.

    Finally, I want to make a comment on how we should respond to people who are rude, ignorant, and/or just plain mean. I went with my friend at the beginning of the semester for her to buy her school books. She had gotten her books, and we were stopped at a red light on our way home. All of a sudden, we heard a really loud shout from the high school bus next to us. When we looked over, we saw two teenage boys hanging their heads out of the window. Right when we looked at them, they shouted “F U!” at us at the top of their lungs. We were stunned. We had done nothing to provoke them or make them angry. Our initial reaction was to yell back at them, but before we did so I remembered something my mom used to tell me when I was little. Her advice for dealing with an unpleasant person was to “kill them with kindness”. So, as we drove away, I smiled and waved at the boys. They then proceeded to flip us off, but that didn’t matter. I was glad that we rose above the situation, and responded in a way that they didn’t expect. I hope that maybe it caught them off-guard, and got them thinking a little bit.

    Afterwards, when we were discussing the experience, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t angry at the high-schoolers. I was just sad and confused. I really don’t understand how someone can hurt someone else intentionally (and at random). I think that we need to work on controlling our anger, and spreading kindness everywhere we go (even in horrible situations). We need to realize that respect for each other is absolutely necessary for a cultural change. Kindness is the only plausible and reasonable option (and it can work wonders)! If we teach our students to be kind to one another, then the world will gradually get better.

  6. Jordan Van Dyke

    In reading this article I can’t help but be reminded of the time and hour in which we are in. Many Christians, myself included, believe that we will live to see Christ’s return. Recently God has been pressing on my heart a great urgency for me to change the way I live for this very reason. I know that this conversation about a coming generation who stand up for the truth of God’s word is directly connected to Jesus’ coming return. God is going to be calling up a generation of young believers for a greater cause than ever before. God is molding and shaping those who are young to be burning and shining lamps to proclaim the return of His son. They will be rooted and grounded in love, standing firm with unwavering hearts, following the leading of the Holy Spirit no matter what that looks like. They will live lives of fasting, prayer, diligence and perseverance. God is preparing a generation who will not be moved from their vision of eternity. I consider myself fortunate not only to be the firsts in this generation, but to also have the responsibility of educating others and setting an example of how to live with eternity in mind. Living with an eternal perspective changes every part of my life. I find myself ridding distractions and focusing solely on things that will matter for eternity. Think about how different lives will be when a whole generation of young believers’ perspective is based on the return of Christ. I want to jump out of my skin with excitement.

  7. Courtney Kats

    It is obvious to see that today’s culture is polluting the minds of many people, and the worst of it is seen within the youth population. Young people are like sponges and they are influenced by anything and everything, and the world feeds them inappropriate and unchristian like ideas. Growing up in only public schools my whole life, I began to understand the double life. I had a school life and a family life. The actions and behaviors that were acceptable within a public school setting influenced me to let down my Christian guard. On days I would go to Church it seemed like my Christian filter was back and I would quickly act like a nonconformist of the bad culture I was apart of at school. I was never proud of this double life I was living but it took experiencing it, and maturing as a Christian to learn how not to conform to the worldly culture. I hope to in any setting, public or private, to teach my students how to act like culture transformers and not culture participants. I know since kids absorb their surroundings that I will have to have Christian-like actions, behavior, and language in order to be a positive example. When a teacher does their job correctly, students respect and look up to their educator and so it is important to always put your best Christian self forward. If I am not a culture transformer myself, my students wont be either, so I have to live my life for Christ and let my students follow in my footsteps.

  8. Julia Bolkema

    Throughout this discussion, I feel as though we may have gotten a bit off track. Professor Post’s initial question asked how we can encourage our students to be “culture makers”. While it is important for us to look at ourselves first, as future teachers, and our stances on culture and how we can make a difference, we still need to take a step back to see how we can teach our students to make a difference. While the teacher obviously can, and always does, in some way or another, make an impact on their students through their own actions and statements, there may be more direct ways of teaching students how to make a difference in our culture. In fact, there is one thing I do not think we are placing enough stress on, and that is implementing that students go out and experience the world, to take a look for themselves how and where they can make a difference.

    Michelle touched on this whole idea in her statement that we first need to instill the difference between right and wrong in our students. This is where we can start and is a great approach to use to teach younger students how to make a difference. However, as they grow older, and their moral foundation becomes more solid, we need to send them out on their own to see for themselves what they can contribute to the world.

    Michelle continued in her statement to say that we should provide opportunities for our students to serve. This idea of service deserves more emphasis. In my first semester here at Trinity, I took my first Theology class. In this class, we discussed the different ways that we can allow culture and theology to be related. We discussed liberal theology where theology is subject to culture, conservative theology where theology is completely separate from culture, and an interactive paradigm where theology takes some parts of culture and lets them interact with theology so that theology can be placed more easily into culture. From these, the interactive paradigm is most interesting and I believe most true as well because theology can learn from culture sometimes just as much as culture can learn from theology.

    I noticed this experience first-hand on some of my service projects in high school. I did not know how to relate my beliefs with non-believers until I was actually placed in different situations. As I experienced culture, I was able to piece together the two worlds so I could best understand my beliefs and how to share them so that others could also understand the truth. I believe that with experiences such as service projects or other field trips, future students will be able to see areas that they believe need change, decide if they can make a difference in those areas, and ultimately begin planning how to make those changes for the future, making them employers of cultural change.

  9. Candice Heitman

    I agree with the fact that many people, especially our youth, are being transformed by culture. As a student and future educator, I think that teachers have a great influence on their students. I can either let this influential time be put strictly into teaching by the books or I can take advantage of it and have a positive impact on my students. I will do this by using my previous experiences. I went to a Christian school from kindergarten through eighth grade. I then took a rapid turn and went to a public high school. I thought as though I was well prepared to deal with a non-Christian culture, but I did struggle fitting in. For the first year, I really saw the differences between my new school and my old one. As time progressed, my high school had become my life. I didn’t notice the things that I had once been noticing as before. I didn’t even feel like I was becoming less close to God, but sad to say, I was. I still went to church and received the word of God, but I didn’t feel as though I was living it out every day. I was sidetracked by all the things that my new culture had to offer me. Luckily, it didn’t take me long to realize what I had known all along. I have a strong Christian background and a good Christian education behind me, and I knew better than to let that new atmosphere get the best of me. I was trying to be someone I was not. I realized that if I would give in to what everyone else did and they knew I was a Christian, than they would think that God doesn’t mind if we don’t follow Him. The friends that I had understood my beliefs and I think that meant the most to me. It is beneficial for me to know that there are people out there that look up to others for sticking up for their beliefs. Whether I teach in a public or private setting, I want my students to become ‘culture makers’. Students pay close attention to their teachers, especially since they are with them for a good portion of the day, so why not become a good role model for them. Let them know it is good to be different. It is good to have morals and beliefs. I know that we cannot protect students from the world around them, but I think if they have been taught to follow in the footsteps of a good role model (Christ), they can get through a lot more than they ever thought they would be able to.

  10. Amanda Beville

    I believe that it is a positive and optimistic goal that many Christian schools have to be “in yet not of” the culture of our society. Whether or not you become involved with Christian schools, being countercultural, and not exactly like the rest of society is an admirable goal to have. I feel that if we examine Christ’s life, we will see that is exactly what he was doing. He spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors, and neither copied culture nor completely separated himself from it, but was a cultural transformer.
    As a future teacher I think this is an issue I definitely need to consider. Christian school teachers can directly teach this concept to students. However, I plan on teaching in a public school, so one of my concerns is how I can do this in my own classroom. The first step would be to do my best to live as an example to my students and colleagues. I can be “in yet not of” culture by encouraging good morals and values in my class, and encouraging students to transform culture and not just accept being a part of it. Having classroom rules as to how students need to treat one another, and class discussions about topics that affect them could be one way to incorporate this idea in a public school setting. No matter what type of school I work at in the future, I need to challenge myself to be an example to students of how to be culture makers and influencers, and not just conform to the rest of society.

  11. Brad Wehr

    It is possible for us to change culture. I believe that a person can talk, condemn and criticize but often this type of behavior can backfire and make students more resistant to change. Students need role models whether that be their teacher or their parents. These people will teach by example always focusing on their true leader, the Christian God.
    Kids need to live Christianity. It begins in the home. They need direction. Students most often not do not imitate what you say, but what you do. Children will take a risk and be different if they see that their parents or teachers can do the same. Children need good strong role models. If we want someone to change, it is necessary to give them a reason for change. When they understand the benefits of change they will adopt those values. They need to know both the benefits and the consequences so they can make the right decisions and follow the Christian way.

  12. Pingback: The Code Talkers Project « Nurturing Faith

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