Getting in Walt’s Head
The following is a four-part series of notes based on the seminars Walt Mueller offered at IPBC in September of 2012.

The Digital Brain Session/Friday night’s Notes

If you are in youth ministry, then chances are you’ve read something that Walt Mueller has written. Walt is one of the premier experts on youth culture, and the following are a series of notes of things he offered in his teaching time.

One of the first things I’ll point you to is one of CPYU’s websites,

Now, as you plow through these posts. have you ever considered how much technology has changed over the last year? 5 years? 20 years?

Well, because of the rapid advances, here are some conclusions worth thinking on….

  • –  We need to be cautious about what lies ahead, because it’s moving so fast.
  • –  We are digital immigrants, but our kids are digital natives and the crazy thing is that we don’t have enough research to tell us what the finished product of this generation will look like.

    And as you consider those ideas, consider also that the end game of life should be to endeavor to think Christian-ly and bring the glory to God. As we consider that, the following are some of the conclusions that can be made about youth ministry and technology.

    There are blessings to technology.

    There are curses related to technology. To discover them, a great question to ask yourself is, how have you seen technology shape the kids we work with? The following are some of the conclusions related to that….

    1. There is a behavior or thought that desires to have technology anywhere/all the time
    2. There is constant bombardment of digital media
    3. There are sleeping issues developing now
  1. Kids don’t know they can turn it off
  2. There is a lack of interpersonal relationships/communication
  3. There is a lack of awareness of where teens are BUT they know what’s going on in the world around them. That’s so backwards.
  4. Facebook friendships can be ones that you don’t know personally so Facebook is almost a contact list if anything
  5. Research is saying kids don’t know how to have a conversation or how to end one
  6. There is a lack of critical thinking
  7. Knowledge is becoming a matter of opinion
  8. Plagiarism is on the rise, in fact it is off the charts
  9. There is an authority crisis, students don’t realize older folks know more
  10. Students don’t know how to read nor do they want to. And when they do read, kids are reading portions of documents looking for keywords
  11. Students can’t write a letter
  12. Over-sharing – many kids don’t have the filters to discern. Consider the following
    1. Online boasting
    2. Inappropriate videos
    3. Sharing personal struggles
    4. Sharing others’ struggles
    5. Mundane details
  13. Stalking – Some kids simply waste a lot of time roaming over online sources
  14. And some kids just don’t care what they share
  15. As a result of the constant posting some kids are going back once they get to college scrubbing clean the stupid things they had on their walls
  16. There are numerous multi-tasking issues and distractions
    1. Check out Dual Task Interference – This is the traffic jam of the mind when trying to do two tasks at the same time causes each task to become poorly done
    2. Research is saying that two tasks can’t be done well at the same time
    3. There are new Diagnoses being named
      1. Continuous Partial; Attention
      2. Attention Deficit Trait

During this session there were a number of great quotes and stats, the following are some quotes and concepts that I found to be outstanding

  1. “Do I own my technology or does my technology own me?” -Tim Challies
  2. Typically the church has thought of the evils of the media being violence, sex and profanity as opposed to the concepts that are taught that change worldviews
  1. Learn to operate with disciplined discernment
  2. You are one bad decision away from being a headline

In light of all of that, the following are some strategies and responses worth considering.

– Scripture
o Read Proverbs 4:23

o Read Proverbs 29:20

o Read Proverbs 10:19

o Read Romans 12

  • –  Be encouraged to think about how we use tech
  • –  The following are some personal guidelines that you might want to consider
    1. Limit your tech time
    2. Ask spouse if you have a problem
    3. Disconnect from technology at times
    4. Consider how you live on the digital frontier
    5. Kids are frustrated because their parents are tethered to their technology
    6. Seek accountability, share passwords with spouse
    7. Stop and think before posting, replying, sending etc….
    8. Consider the use of pride and arrogance online
    9. Ask yourself questions before you post –
      1. Does this matter? (If you think you want to know these things, you have a problem)
      2. Is this useful to others?
      3. Does this advance the kingdom?
      4. Does this promote the kingdom of the devil?
      5. Am I promoting myself?
      6. Why do I need to put this out there?
    10. Be yourself, be honest, be consistent
    11. Don’t Photoshop your personality
    12. Don’t promote yourself
    13. Be careful how you put your kids and spouse out there, especially pastors’ families
    14. Don’t communicate anything you wouldn’t say in church
    15. Watch conversations between the opposite sex – Walt compared that to taking a ride in the car with the opposite sex
    16. Teach kids to use technology for redemptive puposes
    17. Warn kids of duplicating technology
    18. Warn of the idolatrous nature of digital media, i.e. Facebook, Xbox
    19. Teach them to use the covenant of conduct (download)
    20. Teach on issues that matter

Engaging the soul of youth culture

Defining culture is a great starting point. The following were some great insights into unpacking what it is.

Definitions of Culture

  1. The soup they swim in everyday
  2. Culture is a map
  3. Culture is a mirror (Christians have typically been way behind but we can get

    way ahead)

Here are some major concepts of culture and adolescence….

  • –  There is almost a generational war going on separating teen culture and adult culture
  • –  Teenagers in their identity-forming stages are trying to be different
  • –  Psalm 11:3-4 is a source of hope amidst the chaos
  • –  The media is pushing their “normal” when their normal isn’t normal or at least isn’t normal yet
  • –  There seems to be a blurring of boundaries
  • –  Kids are becoming more transparent
  • –  Social Justice and Social Movements are very popular
  • –  We should be encouraged to fill the well deeply with God’s word because someday you and I will need to grow deeply from it
  • –  Check out the butterfly project as an alternative way to express pain
  • –  Check out Jelly bracelets whose coded color schemes reveal sexual activity
  • –  Teens value loyalty more than admonishing one another
  • –  The focus of marketing is moving from teens to pre-teens forcing teens to want to grow up
  • –  Parents are trying to be kids’ friends as opposed to parents who discipline and bring truth. IE – Parents who buy alcohol for their kids
  • –  Teens are seeking to find their identity

    Here are some things to google or download

    • –  There is a great clip between two guys in the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” in which life, pain and adolescence are discussed
    • –  Look over the numerous times in which MTV declares its intent to educate our kids
    • –  Asher Roth – I love College (terribly shocking)
    • –  SMACKED UP videos (college students competing in party behavior)
    • –  Check out Katy Perry “Last Friday Night” video for what it suggests about the rush to grow up


John Stott – “We stand between the word and the world with consequent obligations….”

Years ago a company called the Johnston Co. did a survey which compared several different decades and the influences in the lives of teens. In short, in the past at the top of the list was the family. That has been replaced now by the media, then friends and then the family.

Options for responding

The following is a series of ideas related to making a response to what we are seeing in our culture, but first of all maybe you are wondering when will I have to deal with these issues? Well, sooner or later we will need to deal with all or some of these issues as there is more and more pain, brokenness in kids, and more and more kids are being forced to grow up sooner and sooner and no kid is immune…

And sometimes it takes a crisis to get issues out in the open.

Be prepared.

There is tremendous value in introducing students to God’s Story as life changing

One of the most powerful things that we can offer students is teaching them about God’s story. You can see that concept very well through the painting by David Arms.

In a nutshell, there are 4 stages to God’s story.

  • –  Creation
  • –  Fall
  • –  Redemption
  • –  Being made anew to bring about redemption

    As you consider all this, consider that when you boil it all down there are three basic ways to respond (two negative, one positive)

– Three basic postures to respond to the media realm and teenagers
o Unrealistic Optimism – “It’s not that bad” – When you take that stand you forfeit opportunities
o Alarmist Pessimism – It’s over because things can’t be redeemed’
o Informed Biblical realism – encounter the culture and lovingly respond

Now as you consider all of that, ask yourself, is being culturally relevant or cool a way to connect with kids? (Here are Walt’s two possible answers to that question)

  1. No, because then its about style and methodology
  2. A better way is to be culturally informed

If you choose the route of being culturally informed then the following are some great practical suggestions.

Action Steps for Youth Workers

  1. We need to know the story (scripture)
  2. We need to know our kids and their changing world
  3. We need to take the unchanging word to kids growing up in a changing world

And as you speak into kids lives, consider this threefold balanced approach

  1. We bring a prophetic  – you have heard it said that, but I tell you that….. Jesus
  2. We can lead in preventative steps
  3. We can speak to the redemptive hope

Do you want a simple 3-step guide to teach our Kids to Interpret/Evaluate Media?

  1. To discover the message
  2. To discern the heart of the message
  3. To decide if this is useful

Addressing Specific Issues

Here are the “simple-7” questions to ask about marketing

  1. What product is this ad selling?
  2. What besides the product is this ad selling? (Is it selling a worldview)
  3. How is this company trying to reel you in?
  4. What is the product promising to do for you?
  5. Does the ad tell the truth?
  6. Does the ad tell a lie?
  7. How does this ad agree/disagree with God’s truth?

Closing thoughts on Pornography

There is a very pressing need to deal with pornography. It is as addictive as drugs, research suggests. It rewires your neural pathways and those pathways can’t be rewired. There is actually talk that this has moved from vice to virtue. Pursuing pornography reduces the belief of marriage and what marriage is. It also diminishes the future value of family. And as the addiction increases the grossness will increase.

Read Tim Chester’s “5 steps to living porn free”.

  1. You have to hate pornography
  2. Our love for God must trump love for pornography
  3. Be reminded of assurance of forgiveness
  4. Set up ways to avoid temptation
  5. Pursue accountability

Be encouraged to guard against the objectification of females.

Be encouraged to watch for body image pressures.


Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.

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