Perhaps the contextualisation of the gospel in the youth

Perhaps this is where Borthwick’s argument that ‘ayouth culture has emerged globally’ requires further examination. Incross-culture work, missionaries reach out to people whose lives are orderedaround a different culture – a different perception of reality – compared to thatof the missionary, or the sending church or organisation. Whiteman stronglysubmitted that these people should not ‘come to think like us (…) but theyshould have the mind of Christ within their own culture’1.The difference between the ‘youth culture’ expounded by Borthwick and ‘culture’as understood by anthropology, is that ‘youth culture’ is transitory. The youthwhom the church ministers to will go through the phase of growing up andeventually become an adult. It is perhaps this realisation, that led Borthwick tofeel that the integration was necessary – so as to prepare them to be part ofthe adult church. But that argument does not necessarily hold water as youthwho become adults may still have different worldviews based on their experiencesresulting from changes, advancements in, and influence from, the world aroundthem.

This is where the challenges of inter-generational viewpoints come in. Wecannot force the new generation into the mould of the previous generation. Evenat the workplace, one of the biggest challenges is in the area ofinter-generational management2.

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Borthwicksuggested that youth ministers undertake a variety of roles – that ofcounsellors, teachers, sociologists, theologians, and missionaries. The skillsrequired by cross-cultural missionaries, he opined, are equally applicable toall of these roles. He was supportive of Daniel Offer’s call to adopt a moreradical definition of ‘culture’ to include a ‘horizontal-line culturaldistinctive based on the experience of the adolescent life’1.Adopting this stance, Borthwick listed eight issues primarily faced bycross-cultural missionaries that he felt were also applicable to youthministers, namely: cultural adaptation (the ability to identify with the ‘youthculture’ without losing one’s ‘adult culture’), learning of the youth language,the ability to apply biblical principles to real-life issues (sits-im-leben),understanding the thought process behind decision-making, knowing the musicthat appeal to youth (ethnomusicology), the willingness to equip indigenousleadership, the ability to bridge cultural differences, and thecontextualisation of the gospel in the youth culture by identifying aspects oftheir culture that can be preserved and that which should be challenged ordiscarded.            Intheir effort to adapt culturally, Borthwick warned against youth ministers fromattempting to “be one of them” by dressing or speaking like a teenager.

Hestressed that in adapting to the youth culture, ministers must not lose their”adult culture” as that would not be welcomed. Likewise, Whiteman in hiswriting also maintained that missionaries, while learning to adapt to localculture, could never be true “natives” but must remain as a conduit for ideasand be able to present the values the gospel would bring to the people2.Like Borthwick, Whiteman also cautioned that ‘pathetic attempts “go native” wouldoften be met with disgust’. In discussing identification, which is one of thekey outcomes of cultural adaptation, Van Rheenen, in his book, Missions: Biblical Foundations andContemporary Strategies1 also affirmed that identification with aforeign culture must go beyond physical conformity2to heartfelt empathy. Harriet Hill criticised such attempts to be native in hercritical review of the incarnation model, as based on her personal experience,such efforts would not be appreciated.3Hence, the call for youth ministers to not attempt to become teenagersthemselves, is a view that is aligned to other writers’ views on the subject.Borthwick also submitted that one of the most difficultadjustments cross-culture missionaries have to make is learning the thoughtsand decision-making process of the other cultures. Drawing parallels with theyouth ministry, he suggested for youth ministers to listen to youth’sconversations, read their magazines, and constantly ask questions, to learn oftheir thoughts.

This method of approaching the other culture as a learner by participation,is also strongly supported by other writers such as Van Rheenen, who encouragedmissionaries to spend time ‘listening, speaking, observing, asking, andexperiencing within the local cultural context’1.However, I am of the opinion that in dealingwith youth, youth ministers must not only rely on immersion and observation tounderstand their thought process. Youth ministers must equip themselves with understandingof the development and maturation process of adolescent brains. Research hadshown that the adolescent’s brain is particularly sensitive to social andemotional stimuli, causing them to be vulnerable to environmental stress2.

In the development of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which provides thecapability to exercise good judgment amongst other things, is only fully developedat around the age of 25 years. Hence, in decision making, the “thought process” in adolescents is muchaffected by the low level of maturity of the brain, resulting in more impulsivedecisions driven by emotions as compared to the adult decision-makingprocesses.1Understanding this neurological development of the adolescent brain is crucialto enable proper guidance.