Discover what this cultural buzzword is all about --
and what it means for your children's ministry.
The unknown is always frightening, and postmodernism, for most of
us, is an unknown. Postmodernism is a new idea emerging in our
culture -- raising anxiety and fear for some and yet promising
change and innovation for others. Youth ministers have been
grappling with its ideas for a decade now, and many churches are
finding themselves on either side of the dividing line called
postmodernism. Most children's ministries, however, have been left
out of the discussion of what postmodernism means, either because
postmodernism doesn't seem to apply -- or because fear of the
unknown has caught us humming our familiar tune a little louder to
keep from listening to the strange new music around us.
What exactly is postmodernism, and how does it affect children's
ministers? Though the philosophy resists being defined,
postmodernism has some distinct characteristics that can help us
understand what's going on with the changing thoughts of today's
world. And because postmodernism is already impacting children and
your children's ministry, here's a guide to help you view
postmodernism's values through a Christian lens. You'll also
discover how to integrate the benefits of postmodernism into the
way you do children's ministry-to keep your ministry on the cutting
Postmodernism is an ideology, an orientation, and an
*An Ideology-Postmodernism is an ideology, a way of viewing the
world, much the same way that modernism or even Christianity are
Postmodernism is an attitude toward life, toward people, and
Modernism, the precursor to postmodernism and the ideology under
which most of us were raised, views the world through objective
eyes, whereas the emergence of postmodernism invites people to view
the world with more subjectivity. Neither point of view is right or
wrong, Christian and unchristian -- but each view contains some
value for a Christian worldview. Check out the "Modern vs.
Postmodern Values" box on page 60 for a comparison of these
• An Orientation-The postmodern world is orientated more toward
questions than answers. For many Christians -- and many people in
general -- it's much easier to have concrete answers to the issues
we struggle with rather than questions or gray areas. Don Hudson,
author of "The Dance of Truth," muses about why postmodernism is so
terrifying: "It is a reminder that we are out of control, and a
place where we are invited to trust a God who is beyond our
comprehension." For postmodern-minded people, questions and doubts
are okay -- because they allow us to wrestle with God as Jacob did
in the desert.
• An Invitation-A postmodern ideology invites a person to bring
his or her experience to the Bible and wrestle with God. Whereas
modernism enforces a rigid, unchanging view of God and meaning,
postmodernism invites questioning and struggle. This questioning
and wrestling seems scary to some Christians; it offers something
that our quick "Christian" answers don't offer -- an encounter with
another person and perhaps an encounter with God. Postmodernism
invites relationship and values the individual person.
Postmodernism has an impact on children's ministries, on
churches, and on kids -- whether we want it to or not. The ideals
of postmodernism are slowly trickling into schools, media, and even
churches. But before we board up the doors of our ministries to
keep out this strange new thinking, let's try to understand what
postmodernism actually values -- to see which elements are perhaps
beneficial to Christian education as well as which postmodern ideas
need to be countered with Scriptural truth. Remember: Scripture
should inform all of our thinking -- these elements of
postmodernism can only be evaluated and valued through the lens of
Postmodernism Values Spirituality
Gone are the days when faith seems silly or immature. Our
culture has been increasingly open to issues of faith and
spirituality. According to George Gallup Jr., 96 percent of
Americans surveyed say they believe in God! And 82 percent of those
surveyed say that they want to experience spiritual growth! The
question of faith is valued in schools, media, and hundreds of
other places in kids' culture. For a long time, our culture has
been hostile to spirituality, God, and faith -- but things are
changing. Fortunately, people are increasingly open to discussing
their faith; unfortunately, however, many people are open to
discussing any faith except Christianity because Christianity
represents to them what's narrow-minded and rigid.
The Scripture Filter-Any openness to conversations of faith is an
invitation for the gospel to come alive for people. Certainly, if
kids are seeing in the media and at school that it's not only okay
but encouraged to have an understanding of God, that may give them
courage to talk about their faith. However, such an unclear
definition of "faith" also opens the door to many things that don't
have a Christian influence; for example, astrology and
fortune-telling-type "fun" are increasingly prevalent in magazines
and other media that kids are exposed to.
In your children's ministry...
*Encourage kids to introduce questions of faith to their
*For older kids, talk about other religions and faiths; give kids
information about why we believe in Christ instead of Buddha or
some other "god."
*Steer kids clear of things such as horoscopes and Ouija
boards-but help older kids learn to make good choices by giving
them an explanation rather than just calling these things evil or
Postmodernism Values Mystery
Modernism, the precursor to postmodernism, was a staunch
supporter of scientific evidence and rock-solid guarantees. So
often, we as Christians want guarantees and make bargains with God
that say, "Okay God, if I do X, you do Y...then I'll do Z."
Modernists are hesitant to step out in faith unless we have a
contract -- signed, sealed, and delivered that God is going to come
through. However, postmodernism encourages us to value what's
mysterious and uncertain-and certainly, God is mysterious.
Mystery plays a varying role for kids' faith development
depending on their developmental stage. Younger kids might have
refreshingly childlike faith, still believing in the magic of the
unknown. For younger kids, the fact that Jesus can walk on water is
a given, and the miracles he performed in the Gospels seem exciting
and completely believable.
Older kids, on the other hand, who are beginning to put
experiences and facts in more rigid black-and-white categories,
might be inclined to a more modern way of thinking. For them, there
isn't developmental room for mystery, and they have simplistic (yet
quite appropriate) answers to almost any question that can send
adults into a tizzy of theological confusion. For kids raised with
a Christian education from the time they were babies, this might
mean an intolerance for anyone who has questions about faith. For
kids with a more recent introduction to faith, their frame of
reference might be a more scientific one, and they might be
inclined to describe the miracles of the Bible as mere fiction.
Either way, it's important to help kids stretch a little to see
mystery -- without demanding that they think at a pace that's
developmentally beyond what's appropriate.
The Scripture Filter-Depending on your theology, you might view
the Scriptures with varying degrees of mystery; however, it's
important to realize that our Scriptures contain elements of
mystery and clear truth. Any adherence to only mystery (that is,
everything in Scripture is unexplainable and mysterious, so there
are no clear answers) or only fact (that is, the Scriptures give
clear answers to every question we have about Christ, the Christian
life, and the world) is walking in dangerous territory.
Postmodernism's value of mystery can open the door for kids to see
the wonder and awe of God; yet the Scriptures can help us teach
kids that many things are clear -- for example, whom we're to
worship and some specific ways in which we're to behave.
In your children's ministry...
*Encourage kids to be where they are developmentally. If younger
kids are intrigued by mystery, help them explore the miraculous
stories of Scripture. If older kids are showing evidence of
concrete thinking taking hold, help them make categories for
thinking about Scripture, and challenge them to hold on to their
willingness to experience mystery.
*Accept that God is a mystery. Explain that sometimes we don't
always know why God does things or allows things, but no matter
what, God is always in control and wants what's best for us.
*Allow for the mystery in life. Help kids understand that though
the Bible makes promises and gives us principles for living, it
doesn't necessarily make guarantees. We often give kids the
guarantee that if they do the right thing, they'll be spared
suffering. Unfortunately, kids learn quickly that even if they
choose to do the right thing, there may be suffering. Paul's life
shows this mystery -- that persecution includes suffering for
what's right. Conversely, the mystery of the gospel is that even in
our sinful choices, God creates blessing for us!