5 questions for young Christians about their media choices

In discipleship of any kind (with any age group) today, one of the things you quickly realize is that “church touchpoints” are just one small slice of the spiritual formation pie. Sunday mornings, mid-week gatherings, small groups are vital and indispensable. But they represent maybe three or four hours of a Christian’s week. Meanwhile, the average young Christian spends over 40-50 hours a week staring at screens and social media. They are almost constantly on TikTok. And it forms them powerfully.

This is why it is crucial that Christian parents, pastors and youth leaders engage in this part of students’ lives. Where do young Christians spend their time? What do they watch, listen to, read? And how do they make those decisions? What grid do young Christians have to assess, with biblical wisdom, whether a medium will be nurturing or toxic to their soul?

If you are a parent, pastor, youth worker or mentor, here are five questions for discussing media with young people.

1. Do you swing on the pendulum?

Many young Christians are sensitive to the “pendulum problem”. Maybe they grew up somewhat sheltered or restricted in media that they feel suits them. However, they often come to resent this, viewing “Christian prudence” as legalistic or simple-minded. Maybe they went to college and became “enlightened” by the wonders of the complicated, gritty world. Or maybe they’re just trying to keep up with their friends. Being young people with little ability for nuance, they begin to swing to the other extreme.

I know this trajectory well because I was there at the time. My evangelical upbringing wasn’t as sheltered or legalistic as some (which I’m grateful for), but in my 20s I relished the opportunity to engage a wider range of media, including many rated movies R that I wish I could ignore. I swung the pendulum too far the other way – from overly cautious to recklessly uncritical.

Now, in my late thirties, however, I’m more comfortable between those extremes. I still engage a wide range of movies and TV shows in my writing, but I’m more careful about what I choose to watch and (more so) what I recommend. This is what my book gray matter is all about. I’m trying to offer a paradigm for navigating space between legalism and freedom.

When you start to notice the pendulum problem playing out in the lives of young Christians, don’t panic. It’s normal. This happens in almost every generation. Sometimes, thanks to the goodness of God, the young person will realize for himself that he has gone too far, that it is not good for him, and perhaps his parents were right to be wary of the media. But sometimes it’s worth probing a bit to nudge him into that awareness. The next question is one way to do it.

2. Does your media diet make you spiritually healthy or sick?

I wrote my last book The pyramid of wisdom encourage Christians to think more about the training power of media habits. In the same way that what goes into our body – what constitutes our supply of food and drink – makes us physically healthy or physically sick, what goes into our souls (ideas, images, voices, arguments) can make us spiritually sound and wise or spiritually unsound and foolish. The pyramid of wisdomthe premise is that our media diet shapes us. The movies we watch, the podcasts and music we listen to, the books we read – essentially, where we give our attention and where we spend our time – grab our hearts and shape our loves. If we are not careful, they will direct our loves in unnecessary directions.

So ask your students to check their media and entertainment diet, which “feeds their souls”. If you notice a change in a student’s spiritual health or feel she is deviating fromof construction” direction, there is a good chance that something has changed in its contributions. Look for the source.

3. Do you consume too much media?

While it is clear that there is spiritual ill health downstream from bad media habits, a useful question concerns the amount media in their diet. It is a matter of training even outside the type of content it is.

Quite simply, most of us today are media guzzlers. This is what the algorithms want. Before you finish watching an episode of a show on Netflix, there’s a “watch next!” button to move to something else. Unless we actively choose to resist it, the natural rhythm of life in the age of smartphones must be constantly hyped. Look around when you’re queuing for something. Watch the driver of the car next to you at a red light. In almost every gap in our lives, if our phone is within reach, we grab it. We start to scroll. We are conditioned. The result? Every last vestige of our lives is colonized by contents. It doesn’t do our souls any good.

Unless we actively choose to resist it, the natural rhythm of life in the age of smartphones must be constantly hyped.

When every square inch of our lives is filled with content, we have no room for everything we consume to be transformed into nutrition. It’s just the junk food we crave – TikTok sweets fed to us by AI developed in China; sweet Instagram candies adapted to our tastes by a behavioral psychologist on the payroll of Mark Zuckerberg. We have no space in our lives to think, to relate, to synthesize, to discern, to consider, to weigh. We only consume.

Challenge the students, and yourself, to resist the urge to be constantly publicized. Start small. Can you keep your phone in your pocket and not look at it while sitting alone at a bus stop for five minutes? So go bigger. Can you spend an hour reading a book or sitting quietly in nature rather than doing something on a device? How about two hours? We desperately need to find a space for silence, rest, stillness and prayer. The ability to drop our devices has become an essential new spiritual discipline.

4. Do these media help you to love God more?

Given the overabundance of entertainment and media that makes unmediated silence so difficult, how can we make the best decisions as Christians? If I choose to limit myself to just one movie or show once in a while (and I think that’s wise!), what considerations should guide my choice?

I want to suggest that, biblically, a great way to think about this question is to consider the two most important commandments, as identified by Jesus (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25 – 28): love God and love your neighbour.

I’ve spent years pondering these questions, and I keep coming back to this simple reminder: Most choices in the Christian life must be filtered through the grid of the greatest commandment. Will it help or hinder my worship of God?

Most choices in the Christian life must be filtered through the grid of the greatest commandment. Will it help or hinder me from worshiping God?

What does media or entertainment look like to help us love God more? I could regale you with countless examples from my personal life, but I won’t bore you. Everyone has experienced those transcendent goosebumps moments while watching a movie, a concert, or even a sporting event (for me, KC Chiefs football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball). For the secular person, these vaguely spiritual experiences end in themselves: the momentary pleasure awakens our emotions and perhaps our soul. For Christians, however, goosebumps indicate that this world is not random and meaningless. It is the ordered creation of a Creator (Ps. 24:1). Everything beautiful and meaningful in the world testifies to this fact and can lead us to praise God.

Remind your students that story and beauty are the ideas of God. He chose to reveal himself to us in scripture not with a 2,000-page list of takeaways, but with beauty and history: heroes and villains, tension and resolution, poetry and parables, metaphor and song. And he created us not just to be brains on sticks, but full-bodied creatures with senses and emotions.

That’s why art, beauty and entertainment can help us love it.

5. Do these media help you to love your neighbour?

There are many implications for how consideration of “neighbor love” informs our entertainment choices. One is simply entertainment content. Are the humans on a screen in front of me dignified and treated like humans, or are they exploited and belittled simply for my pleasure? Does the movie or show I’m watching take seriously the many textures of human existence in a way that rings true, or does it flatten and trivialize it in a way that feels wrong ? As a viewer of the lives of people I don’t know, whether they’re TikTok stars or dancers in a music video, do I develop empathy and love for them , or are they simply products for my consumption?

Choose media that dignifies humans and helps you appreciate, understand, and love people as precious image bearers with real struggles, real talents, and real lives.

Choose media that dignifies humans and helps you appreciate, understand, and love people as precious image bearers with real struggles, real talents, and real lives.

“Love of neighbour” should help us make media choices while thinking about the collective building of our community. We could decide to do not looking at something because of how it affects not only me, but others in my community (see 1 Cor. 8). Positively, we might think of entertainment as a communal experience more than a privatized, “just me and my device” experience. Go to concerts with groups of friends. Start a film discussion club. Resist the selfish pull of iWorld. Enjoy the beauty of the world with others.

Finally, “love of neighbor” should challenge us to view our entertainment habits through the prism of mission. Do our choices compromise our testimonies and erode our credibility as “set apart” people? How might we creatively think of entertainment as an opportunity to raise awareness? One of the values ​​of being a thoughtful and critical observer of pop culture as a Christian is that you learn a lot about the issues, desires, confusions, and idols of our secular age. It can lead to a fruitful dialogue with unbelieving neighbors that might cause them to ponder spiritual matters they would otherwise ignore. Someone who might not immediately accept a church invitation could watch a film by Terrence Malick or geek on the Lord of the Rings with you, opening doors to theological dialogue that might otherwise be closed.