Pop culture: A vehicle of the gospel

By Jennifer Lassiter

ÊÊ  Tour dates, booking agents and fashion aren't usually associated with fellowship, but times are changing, and so are many churches and youth services in the community.
   Over the past couple of decades, society has been bombarded with new gadgets and gizmos. Television is more than familiar to our youth, and its messages stretch from "Hollywood" to our living rooms and bedrooms.
  The latest trend for modern day consumers are cars equipped with TVs and DVDs, and viewing television shows via the Internet.
  Many churches have been battling against Hollywood and its message for years. Today, however, several youth ministers in the community are bridging the gap between generations, and reaching out to the youth by incorporating technology and pop culture in worship services.
  Several churches in the community are hosting a local "Hip-Hop Show" with rapper John Reuben at the Elizabethton Boys and Girls Club on June 26. The professional rapper from Brooklyn, N.Y., is spreading positive messages through his lyrics.
  Chris Smith, a youth pastor from Believers Family Church, said, "I hope we pack out the Boys and Girls Club." It's estimated approximately 200-300 people will attend the show.
  According to Smith, the youth is so "media oriented" that we're having to do anything necessary to find a way to reach teenagers. Anytime they get the chance to use the media to deliver a positive message, they are doing it.
  Doug Henshaw, youth minister at Immanuel Baptist Church in Elizabethton, started out as a student minister, and has been working with the youth in Elizabethton for nine years. Through his work with adolescents he has recognized the differences between the younger and older generations.
  Henshaw describes when he first began to notice the shift. "It was at youth camp in Panama City when it first dawned on me," Henshaw said. "Our youth is more expressive."
  Adults, middle schoolers and high schoolers were separated into groups, and according to Henshaw by the end of the camp the younger kids were more "connected" than the older groups because they participated.
  Henshaw has been to several conferences, one specifically in Johnson City, featuring Leonard Sweet, author of "Post Modern Pilgrims." According to Henshaw, Sweet is a futurist and historian, who spoke a few years back to around 80 or 90 pastors in the area about his view on youth ministry today.
  "We need to move our programs to more relationship-based ministries," Henshaw said. "We need to change our methods, not the message."
  Staying true to the doctrine of the Bible is essential according to Henshaw, but so is connecting with the youth on their level.
  Today's youth loves music and all the aspects associated with the multimedia effects that accompany concerts. Rock bands, hip-hop and pop music are really taking off in the Christian community.
  First Freewill Baptist Church has their own Web site, including a youth page, where you can vote for your favorite hair-do. Their site also includes a pastor's page, senior's ministries, church calendar, daily devotional and more.
  David Dykes, youth pastor for First Freewill Baptist Church, encourages his kids to be faithful, but also to be themselves.
  Dykes has been the youth pastor at First Freewill for approximately four years, and has seen the youth numbers grow. "At first there were about 10 faithful kids. Now we have 50," said Dykes. Dykes prefers to call his youth group a student family.
  According to Dykes, kids today have to be a part of something to take interest in it. They are into computers, music and videos, and to draw their attention they have incorporated these into the church services said Dykes.
  First Freewill Baptist Church offers a contemporary Sunday night service. According to Dykes, the service is a come as you are, with a lot of acoustic guitar and different style music. They show video slides as a backdrop.
  Dykes plays "anything with strings" and his office is lined with guitar cases, bongo drums and collages of the teenagers.
   Dykes, from Kingsport, became deeply involved with the church in college, and continued to seek God's will by helping with kids.
  Keeping up with the fast-paced media world, several church youth groups in the area are taking charge by using pop culture as an ally of worship.