Pop culture surrounds your kids. They’re constantly inundated with messages from the Internet, television, movies, music, sports, books, schools, and other places. And those messages often promote values that clash with their faith – disturbing values such as materialism, violence, and promiscuity.

As Christians, your kids are ultimately citizens of God’s kingdom. But, just like ambassadors to foreign nations, they must live in the midst of a culture that is often foreign and sometimes hostile. You can simply let that culture overtake them and damage their faith. Or you can become a family of ambassadors who stand strong together to help your kids transform the culture for the better.

Here’s how you can become a family of ambassadors for Christ in the midst of popular culture:

Don’t try to shield your kids from popular culture. Although it's sensible to filter out and monitor many harmful cultural influences, understand that there is no reasonable way you can completely protect your kids from experiencing the harsh side of popular culture. Realize that even if you could completely isolate them from the culture, doing so could cause them to rebel in protest and "immigrate" permanently from their homeland (their faith) to the foreign place (popular culture). Instead, make it your goal to walk through the culture with them as their guide, helping them develop the critical thinking skills and wisdom they’ll need to successfully confront it.

Get to know today’s popular culture well. Remember that today’s popular culture is vastly different from the culture in which you grew up. Invest the time and energy to venture boldly and purposely into the culture yourself, listening to its music, watching its shows, etc. Learn what types of messages your kids are receiving from the culture. As often as you can, experience the culture along with your kids (such as by watching a new movie together), and when you can’t be with them, discuss the culture with your kids (such as by talking about a current book together). Strive to be constantly engaged with your kids, both spiritually (by praying for them) and intellectually (by helping them think through issues the culture raises).

Encourage your kids to ask thoughtful questions. Emphasize that popular culture isn’t just about fun; it always presents messages that they should think and pray about carefully rather than blindly accepting them. Train your kids to evaluate how well various cultural offerings measure up to the biblical standards of truth, nobility, purity, loveliness, and excellence set out in Philippians 4:8-9.

Read reviews together. After experiencing a particular cultural message (such as watching a television show), help your kids consider such questions as how they reacted and why, what they found appealing or distasteful and why, and whether or not they agree with the message presented and why.

Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to confront messengers of popular culture whenever necessary. For example, if school authorities treat one of your kids unjustly because of his or her faith, be willing to meet with those authorities and express your concerns. Model courage for your kids by talking openly and honestly about your faith with coworkers, neighbors, and others with whom you interact regularly.

Recognize that the sacred can hide in the secular. Don’t assume that secular cultural offerings can’t say anything worthwhile about faith. Understand that sometimes secular music or books, for example, can actually be just as thoughtful and inspirational as those that are labeled "Christian." Be alert to what God may be saying to you and your kids through the secular world. Developing knowledge of the current culture will also help you in identifying the positives along with the negatives.

Welcome outsiders. Know that your kids are watching to see what kinds of relationships you have with people on the fringes of our culture – outsiders like rebellious teens, the disabled, the elderly, and homeless people. Remember that, while our culture fawns over powerful insiders such as celebrities, Jesus welcomed outsiders with as much enthusiasm as He did others. Treat everyone with the respect due them as people made in God’s image and loved by Him. Regularly talk with your kids about status in popular culture. Point out the differences between what traits God prizes in people, and what traits the popular culture admires.

Help your kids connect to people by speaking their language. Encourage your kids to become fluent in the vernacular of popular culture. Motivate them to try to communicate for kingdom purposes, just as ambassadors are trained to do. Help them connect cross-culturally by asking non-Christians for help when they genuinely need it. Remember that reaching out for help (perhaps from an agnostic neighbor or a Buddhist teacher) is a powerful way to build friendships. Train your kids to intrigue others with spiritual truths by talking about them clearly, without using religious jargon. Encourage your kids to make the effort to get to know people for their true selves – not just the images they project. Help them learn how to sincerely listen to people. Teach your kids how to reveal truths about their faith successfully as they converse with others.

Brush off judgment from other Christians who don’t understand your mission. Don’t worry about other Christians who judge you for engaging with popular culture (either by saying you’re conforming to the world’s standards, or, conversely, by asserting that you’re too intense about parenting). Boldly proclaim the freedom of the Gospel, which allows you to partake of any aspect of popular culture. Remember that Christianity is about love, not just legalistic rules. Limit your participation in popular culture only when doing so will help keep a fellow Christian from struggling with temptation, will reopen past wounds, or will open a door for sin in your life. Talk openly with your kids about any criticism that either they or you have received from others. Think critically about the issues raised. For example, discuss how your kids might choose clothes that are both modest and trendy.

Inspire your kids to become patriots. Teach them the lore and law of their homeland (their faith) by studying and meditating on the Bible with them and regularly pointing out how biblical truths apply to their everyday lives. Foster their ties to the community of faith by requiring them to attend church every week and encouraging them participate in a small group to build close relationships with other Christians. Encourage them to be citizens who love their King (Jesus) by showing them how much you love Him, and urging them to spend time with Him regularly in prayer.

Train your kids to be savvy diplomats. As your kids represent Jesus in world of popular culture, help them learn to open their minds and ears to listen carefully and with discernment to what people around them are saying. Teach them to treat all people they encounter with respect. Help them build camaraderie by sharing experiences with a wide variety of people, playing, chatting, and laughing together. Encourage them to recognize when a particular part of the popular culture is a gift from God.

Develop tenacity in your kids. Delay your kids’ forays out into various aspects of popular culture until they’re ready spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Be willing to evacuate them in case the culture begins to threaten them. Give them regular breaks from the stresses of everyday life (such as Sabbath days, periodic retreats, and fasts from certain activities) to recharge their batteries and refuel their creativity. Constantly pray for their spiritual protection and for God’s strength to help them keep living faithfully.

Feed your kids’ imaginations. Equip your kids to weave eternal truths into the deep questions raised by the popular culture around them. Teach them about the power of story by reading to, and with, them often. Give them plenty of unstructured time for creative play. Help them understand how God can transform the bad experiences in their lives into good results (healing and greater maturity). Urge them to discover and fully use their God-given talents to contribute to the world. Don’t restrict their imaginations; let the Holy Spirit guide them fully in their creative pursuits. Encourage them to ask whatever questions they want to ask, and give them the freedom they need to pursue the answers.

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Adapted from Ambassador Families: Equipping Your Kids to Engage Popular Culture, copyright 2005 by Mitali Perkins. Published by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.brazospress.com.

Mitali Perkins is a freelance writer who has lived in Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Great Britain, Mexico, Ghana, Cameroon, and Austria, and has traveled extensively throughout Asia. Her fiction for youth includes Monsoon Summer, and her articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Christian Parenting Today, Discipleship Journal, Prism, U.S. Catholic, Campus Life, and Presbyterians Today.