Blog | Topic: Resources

Andy Crouch on Culture and Calling

Culture MakingThe mission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is to help parents, youth workers, educators, and others understand teenagers and their culture so that they will be better equipped to help children and teens navigate the challenging world of adolescence. Studying and better understanding culture is at the heart of what we do.

In his very important and influential book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP), Andy Crouch invites readers to consider a more holistic way of thinking about culture. He writes, “Culture is what we make of the world… We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making: the finger-painting, omelet-stirring, chair-crafting, snow-swishing activities of culture. Meaning and making go together—culture, you could say, is the activity of meaning making.” One of the many advantages to thinking about culture in this way is that it implies responsibility. Andy asks, “What does it mean to be not just culturally aware but culturally responsible?”

In December 2012 Andy became executive editor of Christianity Today, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. A few years ago, for a different publication, I interviewed Andy about his book and its implications for parenting and youth ministry. I think Andy’s wise words are worth paying attention to as we consider how to pass along the Christian faith to young people:

CPYU: What motivated you to write Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling?

Andy CrouchAndy: It seemed to me that we needed a new vision for the relationship between Christians and culture. On the one hand, much Christian energy has gone into criticizing culture (and there is plenty to criticize, in our society and every other). On the other hand, many Christians simply consume culture fairly uncritically, absorbing the values of the dominant culture with alarming complacency.

Yet the biblical picture of human beings is of cultivators and creators of culture—neither critics nor consumers. Being “cultivators” means that we are meant to discern and preserve what is best in our cultures, and pass that along to the next generation. Being “creators” means that when our cultures are deficient in some way, we are meant not simply to complain or withdraw, but actually create new cultural goods and institutions. We’re meant to be culture makers.

CPYU: What can parents and youth workers do to help shape young people into becoming culture makers?

Andy: The first thing I would encourage is intentionality. There is nothing wrong with consuming culture, for example, but let’s make choices about what kind of culture we want to consume together, rather than just watching whatever’s on. The biggest fashion trend right now is not any particular brand of clothing, but customization. There’s tremendous energy for being culture creators among young people that we can recognize and encourage.

Then I would encourage us to model and teach the importance of disciplines, the practices without which we will always be cultural amateurs. We need to move beyond an “American Idol” model of creativity, which is just about well-intentioned self-expression, to the cultivation of skill and wisdom that would allow us not just to turn in one spectacular performance, but a lifetime’s worth of deep contribution to some arena of culture, whether that’s music, law, business, medicine, or creating healthy homes and neighborhoods.

CPYU: One of the chapters in your book is titled “Why We Can’t Change the World.” Why do you think it is important for Christians to be careful in describing their mission as “changing the world”?

Andy: Changing the world, at least at the level of grandeur that is usually implied by that phrase, is not an achievable mission. Human societies are so complex that no one can securely expect to change them. And most often people who set out to change the world end up changed by the world—implicated in the world’s broken systems of power and pride.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be bold in our culture making. But we are best served by a humility about our own role that “changing the world” doesn’t really imply. I deeply, completely believe in changing the world if the subject of that phrase is God, the one true world-changer. But if I am the subject, the agent of world-changing, I am putting myself in the place of God. I’d much rather we simply seek to cultivate and create great culture, and leave the world-changing up to Another.

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The Jubilee Conference Transforms Everything

DoYouHearThe annual Jubilee Conference was held this past weekend in Pittsburgh, PA. The conference brings together college students (2,000+) to explore the implications of the Gospel for all of life. And by all of life, I mean, well, all of life. There were breakout sessions on just about everything: education, business, history, art, dance, social sciences, athletics, weather forecasting… And that’s just looking at one page of the program (p. 25)! But that’s not all. The main sessions of the conference challenged students to consider the biblical story as the True story of the world. Each gathering took a closer look at the key chapters of the Story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) and then invited students to find their place in the biblical story. “Inviting students to find their place in the biblical story” is currently in vogue, but the Jubilee Conference and the college ministry (CCO) that sponsors the event has been doing it for many years. This was my 12th Jubilee overall, and for the second straight year, I had privilege of being co-emcee with my good friend Dave Bindewald.

H&M1The conference never ceases to amaze me. Words can’t express how much of an honor it is to be a part of it. The students are always eager to learn and energized to serve. The speakers are remarkably gifted at taking complicated concepts and making them accessible to young adults. Stories of redemption are told that encourages and equips students to want to make a difference in the world, but not without first talking honestly and openly about the reality of sin. In fact, an entire main session is devoted to discussing the Fall. The worship music is as good as I’ve ever heard. Not only is the quality excellent but the depth and diversity is profound. And, of course, Byron and Beth Borger of Hearts & Minds provide the biggest and best bookstore I have ever seen, reminding students that the “Jubilee vision” is not just a weekend experience.

D&D4Every year, amidst the splendid chaos of it all, I find a few minutes to reflect. This year my reflections took me to my work directing the College Transition Initiative, particularly to the students (and parents) I meet right before they head off to college. During the closing worship of the Saturday evening session, I was praying for high school seniors heading to college this fall. My prayer is that they catch a vision like the one provided by Jubilee early on in their college experience; that they know that it is possible to live-out their Christian faith on campus; and that they find a community of friends and mentors that will bring them along in the faith. I found myself, once again, reciting one of my favorite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (For Young Persons):

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen. And, Amen!           

*Photos courtesy of Andrew Rush.

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Jubilee Conference 2013: Transform Everything!

JubileeIt’s that time of year: Jubilee! The annual Jubilee Conference is held in Pittsburgh, PA in February and brings together 2,500+ college students to “talk, learn, think, and dream about the public implications of their personal transformation… Whether students are interested in engineering and science or art and music, law and politics or medicine and mission, justice and families or college life and the years to come, Jubilee will have someone speaking about what it means to be involved in those places faithfully.” The conference theme this year is “Transform Everything” and along with my emcee duties, I will be co-leading, with my good friend Keith Martel, a breakout session entitled “Transform Learning: Renewing the College Experience.”

The Jubilee Conference is part of the mission of the Coalition for Christian Outreach. The CCO is a campus ministry that partners with churches, colleges and other organizations to develop men and women who live out their Christian faith in every area of life.

Here’s what I love about Jubilee: the Jubilee Conference is committed to helping students better understand and live out the biblical story. In his important book, After Virtue, the renowned philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre wrote, “I can only answer the question: what am I to do? if I answer the prior question: of what story do I find myself apart?” College students are asking big questions:

What is the meaning of life?
What is my purpose?
What kind of career should I pursue?
Where does my identity come from?
What difference does it make to believe in Jesus?

All of the main-stage presentations at the Jubilee Conference invite students to answer that prior question: “of what story do I find myself apart?” On what story is their life based? The presenters than explore the implications of the biblical story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) for academic pursuits and future vocations. There really is nothing like the Jubilee Conference and it’s an honor to be a part of it each year!

Check out this video to encourage students to “sign-up maybe?”

Download the 2013 Program Booklet here.

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Sticky Faith is Deep and Church-Wide at NMC!

Sticky FaithNappanee Missionary Church (NMC) in Nappanee, Indiana is committed to helping youth and families develop a faith that “sticks” after high school. Over the past few years the people of NMC have been greatly challenged by statistics that suggests many students who grow up in the church leave the faith after high school. NMC has also been significantly influenced, encouraged and equipped by the Sticky Faith research and resources provided by Fuller Theological Seminary. So much so, in fact, that one of NMC’s staff members includes the phrase “sticky faith” in his job title. His main responsibilities are helping the church think through a “sticky faith perspective” for all ages and levels of discipleship.

This past weekend I had the honor of spending time with students and parents at NMC. I presented the College Transition Seminar, was interviewed by youth pastor Derry Prenkert during three worship services and spoke to the youth group about Identity Matters on Sunday evening (cut a little short by an ice storm!). It was encouraging to see a church that is thinking deeply and strategically about how to best serve and disciple students and families. Thank you, NMC, for your example to all of us!

Click here to watch a video of Derry’s sermon (The Exchange Lane) and my interview (15:08).

Click here to download (.pdf)  the sermon notes as well as to see a collection of helpful “Sticky Faith” resources.

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Conversations for the College Bound: 10 Talks to Have Before Arriving on Campus

ConversationsI remember calling my future roommate the summer before my freshman year of college. As you can imagine, I was excited, but nervous. It’s hard to meet anyone over the phone, let alone the person you’ll be living with for the next year. We covered the basics: our names, high schools, majors, interests, yada, yada, and then we got down to business: Who has the bigger TV? Who has the most recent video game system? Who has the better stereo? Who has nicer furniture? The average dorm room size is 12’x19’ so this was an important conversation to have. Of course, there were many other important questions to ask (Do you tend to stay up late? Do you have early morning classes?), but they could wait until we met on campus.

Talking to your future roommate before heading off to college is an essential step to transitioning smoothly to college life. And you might even be able to come up with better questions to ask! Reminiscing about this phone call with my first college roommate (and now one of my closest friends) got me thinking about other important conversations that students should have before entering their freshman year of college. Here are 10 other conversation partners college-bound students should consider…

Download the full article (.pdf) here.

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InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives

InSideOut CoachingAre you looking for a great Christmas gift to give a coach or to anyone who loves sports? I highly recommend InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann.

Parade Magazine called Joe Ehrmann “The most important coach in America.” Here’s why: Ehrmann cares deeply about his players and wants nothing more than to see them mature into responsible adults. InSideOut Coaching tells the story of how he began to see the transformational power of sports and how he intentionally integrates his faith with coaching.

Everyone who cares about young athletes (coaches, parents, pastors) should read this book. It is a reminder of how sports are meant to be played and why they can and should have a positive impact on young people.

Learn more about Joe Ehrmann here.

Related Resources:

Book: A Season for Life:A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood by Jeffrey Marx (A book about Joe Ehrmann and his unique coaching style designed to “build men for others.”)

Video: Watch videos featuring coach Joe Ehrmann here.

Seminar: Only a Game? Why Sports Matter

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What is Vocation? Helping Teens Understand Their Calling in Life

According to a recent study conducted by Stanford University, only 1 in 5 (20%) of teenagers “express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish and why.” Many youth workers and parents are concerned with teen apathy and directionlessness. Even Christian teens seem to have a difficult time connecting their faith with their future plans and career aspirations. What is needed in many churches and youth groups today is a robust theology of vocation. Enter Stephen J. Nichols and is very helpful booklet (only 30 pages!) What is Vocation? (P&R Publishing).

While this booklet is useful for everyone in the church, much of the content and concern derives from his work with teens during the formative years as a college professor. He writes, “It’s the goal of this booklet for you to see all of your work, whether you get a paycheck for it or not, whether it’s considered a noble profession or a menial task, as germane to your calling as a child of God and a disciple of Christ… The doctrine of vocation enables us to see our work, all our work, as a means by which we can serve, worship, glorify, and enjoy God.”

Not only does the booklet provide a biblical, theological and historical overview of the doctrine of vocation, but it also makes connections with personal stories and popular culture. This is recommended reading for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of calling. It would be especially helpful to youth workers and parents who want to instill the value of calling and purpose in their teens.

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Understanding Teens After High School: Timothy Clydesdale Interview

Timothy Clydesdale published his groundbreaking book The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School in 2007. After reading it, I immediately knew that the findings from his research would significantly shape the work of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative. I also knew that I needed to interview Dr. Clydesdale to ask him to help us connect the dots from his research to youth ministry. He agreed and our short interview not only led to a friendship but it also was widely circulated in many online and print media outlets.

Most recently and notably, the interview was cited in two important books, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture and Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. Because of its popularity and powerful message, the interview has been reformatted for easier reading and distribution.

Click here to download (.pdf) my interview with Dr. Clydesdale, first published in 2007. Feel free to pass it along, especially to parents and youth workers who are thinking strategically about how to help young people develop a faith that lasts.

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Books Make Great Gifts… FREE Book Giveaway!

On Tuesday evening, CTI hosted a “Christmas Shoppin Drop-in” fundraiser. Byron and Beth Borger of Hearts & Minds Bookstore provided an opportunity for friends to purchase books with the proceeds going toward the ongoing ministry of CPYU/CTI. A good time was had by all. (The picture is a stack of books from one happy customer!) During the evening someone said to me: “I love getting a book for Christmas. And, you know, I love giving a book for Christmas!” It’s true for me too. I love when I see a book under the tree. And, I love deciding on books to give to friends and family.

I’ve been thinking about the best books I’ve been given and have given. The first book that comes to mind was from my brother-in-law. He was studying in London, England for a semester and made a special trip to Westminster Abbey to have N.T. Wright sign a copy of The Challenge of Jesus (European edition). This was before Dr. Wright became the mega-seller-author (and somewhat controversial theologian) that he is today. It’s one of my favorite possessions.

As for books I’ve loved to give as gifts, three come to mind rather quickly: the novel Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (I even gave one to my barber); Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service by Mary Poplin; and To End All Wars by Ernest Gordon. I have easily given dozens of copies of each of these books as gifts over the last ten years. Wow. That’s a lot of money come to think of it!

Tis the season for giving gifts and I’d like to give away a FREE book. Here’s how it works: Answer the question below in the comment section. There needs to be at least 5 comments to qualify. Winner will be chosen randomly from the list of participants on Tuesday, December 11.

What is one of the best books you have received as a gift and what is one of the best books you have given as a gift?

(Only one comment per person, please. The winner will be given a list of FREE books to choose from!)

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So Thankful for Hearts & Minds Bookstore!

On Friday Hearts & Minds Bookstore of Dallastown, Pennsylvania will celebrate a major milestone for any small business. For thirty years, proprietors Byron and Beth Borger have faithfully and relentlessly served their neighbors and their God by selling books and promoting reading. As I sit here the day before Thanksgiving, Hearts & Minds and my friendship with Byron & Beth is pretty high on the list of things I’m thankful for!

I hope the Borgers don’t mind me pointing out that I was only five years old when they opened the store. As I was eating turkey (and too much cranberry sauce, again) during my first “break” from elementary school, the Borgers were probably putting books on shelves and a sign out front. It wouldn’t be until I was twenty-four that I would step foot into their store, nineteen years after it opened. And, with nineteen years of book evangelism under his belt, Byron went to work, recommending books and going over the “must reads” and best authors. It’s difficult to put into words what it is like to spend an afternoon with Byron at his store. Challenging. Exhilarating. Refreshing. Those words come to mind pretty quickly. So do names of authors. If it were not for Byron, I never would have known about or have been encouraged to read writers such as Wendell Berry, Walter Brueggemann or Marva Dawn. And now it’s hard to imagine my faith without reading their books. There are countless other books and authors too, but Berry, Brueggemann and Dawn represent three writers that Byron recommended at just the right time, as he always seems to do. And they are not authors that you typically see on display at most “Christian bookstores.”

There are many ways that I could honor Byron and Beth with this short reflection. Thirty years as a small business owner is inspiring enough, to say the least. What’s more, the bookselling industry has been hit pretty hard of late. Way to go Byron and Beth! Thirty years! Wow. But I don’t want to miss this opportunity to say very clearly and publically that Byron and Beth’s friendship and Hearts & Minds Bookstore fuel my work daily as the Director of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative. My passion is seeing young people take ownership of their faith during the critical years (18-25). Many times I will be talking to a teenager or parent or youth pastor and I’ll think: “If only they could spend five minutes with Byron, they could ‘see’ the difference faith in Jesus makes in every area of life.” To do my work well, I need resources and encouragement. Byron and Beth offer both on a regular basis!

The store itself is a reflection of the Kingdom of God. God cares about every nook and cranny of his Creation, and He has called people to serve Jesus is all areas of His world. (I can’t imagine writing that sentence without Byron’s influence.) And some of them have taken the time to write books (and sell them!) to spur others on to do likewise. Put simply, without Hearts & Minds, the Gospel of the Kingdom would be harder to believe.

Thank you, Byron and Beth, for your commitment and courage. It is an honor and blessing to call you friends. Here’s to thirty more years!

Please take a few minutes to watch this video of Byron talking about his store at the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. And join me in being thankful for the ongoing ministry of Hearts & Minds.

And, I am pleased to announce that on December 4, CTI will be hosting an event with Byron and Beth. The “Christmas Shoppin’ Drop-in” will be held at Mount Joy Mennonite Church from 6:30pm-9:00pm. There will be an opportunity to purchase thoughtful Christmas gifts from Hearts & Minds with a portion of the proceeds going to support the ministry of CPYU/CTI.

Learn more about the CTI “Christmas Shoppin’ Drop-inhere.

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