Youths In Singapore: Increasingly Postmodern

There has been a lot of talk about Postmodernism in recent years. But what does this term really mean? I will not attempt to define it, because that is extremely difficult. Instead, I will simply list some ideas and statements that describe the phenomenon.

1.  Truth is relative  You have your truth, I have mine  please dont impose yours on mine. If I feel its right, then its right. You ask me why?  I ask you why not?

2.  Distrust of authority Who are you to tell me what to do? I dont believe in anyone  especially politicians and religious figures.Tell me why must I respect you? No, show me!

3.  Breaking down of boundaries  the bedroom goes onto the big screen; unrestrained sharing over the Internet  the good, the bad, and the ugly.

4.  Overwhelmed and confused youth  information overload and the myriad of choices to make. Youths become victims of economic forces, hungering for simplicity yet trapped by consumerism. Their favourite phrases: I dont know and I dont care.

Have you wondered why youths prefer wearing slippers to shoes? Or why their hairdos are becoming more undefinable? Here is my theory: in a postmodern world, youths define for themselves who they are. They are not bothered by what authorities think. Why must I change? they ask. Why cant society change according to me? Yet they seek to be authentic and consistent, be it at home, in school or church  and their dressing proves it. Old norms dont threaten them. Life is stressful and choking enough  why cant I dress in comfort and be allowed to breathe?

How then shall we minister to them? For a start, let us remember that certain things do not change. Youths seek meaning, purpose and identity. They yearn for friendship and respect. They want to be loved  unconditionally. Once we realise this, we are ready to face the challenges (and opportunities) that postmodernity poses.

Firstly, understand that for our youths, personal experience triumphs over inherited truth. “Since truth is relative, what really matters is how I feel.” Instead of becoming agitated or defensive, we have to ask whether the traditional teachings of the church (e.g. no sex before marriage) are able to answer the questions of our youth today.

Our rigorous education system has produced highly-intelligent and widely-exposed children. Pet answers do not work anymore. When we ask them Why? they respond with Why not? Are we prepared to engage them at a deeper level, instead of dismissing them with Because I said so? In other words, can our theology meet their experience? Is our preaching only didactic, or does it include an encounter (i.e. experience) with the living God?

A typical youth has hundreds of online friends but few or no real friends. Parents and leaders have sought to be that friend, but have often found it harder than expected. Earning the right to speak into the youths life requires more than just time and goodwill. It requires, above all, authenticity. While they are expected to share their thoughts and honest feelings, the adults dont do the same. We want them to reveal their struggles, but we are not prepared to share ours.

We have to stop pretending we have all the answers. We cannot bluff our way with this new generation the way our parents could (e.g. If you dont behave yourself, the policeman will come and catch you!). Our youths are in many ways smarter, sharper, and savvier than us. Admit it, be humble, and ask God to give us courage to engage them heart-to-heart.

Lastly, postmodernity comes with an accomplice Social Media. Postmodern youths yearn for relationships, and connecting via the Internet is fun, painless and efficient. Why do youths spend so much time online? It creates an experience of being where their friends are. They feel connected. For most youth, being online is no longer a decision but a simple act of using their phone.

If this is so, why isnt the church doing much more to reach and disciple their youth using the tools of New Media? Perhaps the cost of entering their world is too high, be it from a learning curve or a vulnerability point of view. But enter we must. Just as the Good Shepherd came into our world to seek and save the lost, we must at all cost enter cyberspace to seek out, befriend and love our youths back into the arms of Truth.

The Rev Lai Kai Ming, a pastor IC of Pentecost Methodist Church, is the Chairperson of the Board of Youth Ministry, Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC).