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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

My wife and I were in a restaurant having lunch with one of our sons and couldn’t help but notice a nearby family: a mom, a dad, two sons and a daughter.

The daughter was middle-school age and clearly in contemporary middle-school mode—ear buds securely in place, staring off into space. Every aspect of her demeanor made it clear: “I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to be with my family. So I am going to stay in my world of music and media. By plugging in, I’m tuning out.”

And her parents were letting her do it.

They’re not alone. 

Media use in children ages 8 to 18 is off the charts. Teens (age 13 to 18) consume an average of 9 hours of entertainment media per day, and tweens (age 8 to 12) use an average of 6 hours, not including time spent using media for school or homework, according to a 2015 census report from Common Sense Media, a child-advocacy group based in San Francisco. 

And 25% of teens say their parents know only “a little” or “nothing” about what they do or say online. As you’d imagine, mobile device use is on the rise as well, now accounting for 41% of all screen time among tweens and 46% among teens.

For the younger children? Overall, children 8 and younger spend an average of 2.25 hours per day with screen media, and 42% of these children have their own tablet device.

So no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) must be vigilant, continually releasing updated guidelines on children’s use of internet, TV, mobile devices and video games. They also have an online tool for parents to create a personalized “Family Media Use Plan.” Jenny Radesky, MD, of FAAP said, “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk or sleep.”

The heart of the recommendations? 

Consistent limits need to be set on the amount of media time used for entertainment purposes, and it should never take the place of sleep, physical activity or other healthy behaviors. Children younger than 18 months should avoid use of all screen media other than video-chatting with family. And for children 18-24 months, if they have any screen interaction it should be high-quality, educational programming with parents watching alongside to help explain what they are seeing. Venturing dangerously into parenting territory, they also suggest having a no-device rule during meals and after bedtime, and keeping television and internet-accessible devices out of kids’ bedrooms. 

But that means Mom and Dad need to follow the same rules.

“If you go to any restaurant, Family 3.0 is Mom and Dad are on their devices and the kids are on theirs,” says Donald L. Shifrin, a pediatrician in Bellevue, Washington, and an AAP spokesman. “Who is talking to each other?”

Apparently, not many.

So let’s state the obvious, and shame on us for needing pediatricians to step in and tell us:

It’s time for families to unplug.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Michael Robb, “Tweens, Teens, and Screens: What Our New Research Uncovers,” Common Sense Media, November 2, 2015, read online.

“The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens (2015),” read online.

“The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight (2017),” read online.

“American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use,” AAP, October 21, 2016, read online.

 Andrea Petersen, “Pediatricians Set Limits on Screen Time,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2013, read online

Create your own Family Media Use Plan HERE.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

In Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion, the New York Times columnist offers a synopsis of the core beliefs of America’s wave of “spiritual but not religious” teachers such as Deepak Chopra, James Redfield, Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho, Neale Donald Walsch, Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert. According to Douthat, their “creed” shares four beliefs:

  1. All organized religions offer only partial glimpses of God (or Light or Being). Thus, we must seek to experience God through feeling rather than reason, through experience rather than dogma, through a direct encounter rather than a hand-me-down revelation. As Neale Donald Walsch writes in his book Conversations with God: “Listen to your feelings. Listen to your Highest Thought…. Whenever any of these differ from what you’ve been told by your teachers, or read in your books, forget the words.”
     
  2. God is everywhere and within everything—especially within you. You can encounter God by getting in touch with the divinity who resides inside your very self and soul. At the climax of his book The Alchemist, Paul Coelho writes: “The boy reached through the Soul of the World and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul.”
     
  3. Sin and evil are largely illusions that will ultimately be reconciled rather than defeated. There is no hell save the one we make for ourselves on earth—no final separation from the Being within whom all our beings rest. Elizabeth Gilbert assures her readers, “There is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds.”
     
  4. Perfect happiness is available right now. Heaven is on earth. Eternity can be entered at any moment, by any person who understands how to let go, let God, and let himself or herself be washed away in love. James Redfield writes, “At some point everyone will vibrate highly enough so that we can walk into heaven, in our same form.” And Coelho adds: “I do believe in life after death, but I also don't think that it’s that important. What’s important is to understand that we are also living this life after death now.”

I have written similarly of the “Church of Oprah-Wan Kenobi” and the rise of a new New Age movement that is based largely on popularized Hinduism, which is what Douthat has described. But what Douthat, I and others have actually detailed is the official religion of the cultural epicenters, namely media. It is not the official religion of the religiously unaffiliated.

At least, not yet.

The Pew Forum study, among others, has found that the ranks of the unaffiliated are not predominantly composed of New Age spirituality or alternative forms of religion. Generally speaking, the unaffiliated are no more likely than members of the public as a whole to have such beliefs and practices. That means that approximately three in ten say they believe in spiritual energy in physical objects and in yoga as a spiritual practice. Approximately 25% believe in astrology and reincarnation. Six in ten say they have a deep connection with nature and the earth. About three in ten say they have felt in touch with someone who is dead, and 15% have consulted a psychic. All of these figures closely resemble the public as a whole.    

The importance of knowing the “bad religion” advertised through popular culture is the effect it will inevitably have on the religiously unaffiliated as they separate from religion itself. Right now they do not seem to be any more affected than people of defined faith, but that is arguably the strength of their, largely, Christian memory. Most of the newly unaffiliated were part of a Christian faith tradition that was anything but Eastern in orientation. Once untethered from these moorings, whether Catholicism or Protestantism, they will be more susceptible to the prevailing views of culture.

Our inner world abhors a vacuum; we will fill it with something.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

“The Core Beliefs of America’s ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ Teachers,” Preaching Today, June 20, 2012, read online.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Nones on the Rise,” read online.

To learn more about the rise of the “nones,” Generation Z, and how the church can respond in our post-Christian culture, register now for the Church & Culture Conference kicking off the U.S. tour this August.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

The church is the hope of the world. According to Jesus, who said He came to establish the church, it was intended to be something so filled with energy that not even hell itself could withstand its onslaught. 

The idea is that we are the light of the world, and as that light is brought together through the church it gains intensity the way focused light becomes a laser beam.

So what’s wrong?

Most churches are anything but energy-filled. Hell seems to not only be standing its ground, but gaining territory.

Let’s bracket off all the things churches are doing wrong today.

Let’s put aside the scandals, the splits and the outdated strategies.

Let’s not worry for a moment about any disappointments you may have with leadership.

Let’s talk instead about what any individual person, in any particular church, can do to help their church reach its full redemptive potential. In other words, let’s go after the lowest-hanging, solution-oriented fruit. 

Isn’t that what all of us will answer for at the end of our lives anyway? Not what others did, but what we did?

Here’s a baker’s dozen:

  1. Embody the idea that it’s not about you, but about the person who isn’t even there yet. And be a willing participant in whatever it might take to reach them, even if it means you are inconvenienced.
  2. Be generous with your financial resources. How much ministry can you do for $1? $1 worth. Help your church do all that it can by giving all that you can.
  3. Invite your unchurched friends. Really, it’s the only way your church can grow through the unchurched.
  4. Step up and serve. Don’t wait to be asked; just volunteer. If it looks like everything is covered, trust me, it’s not.
  5. Leaders and teachers are desperately needed. Please let your church know if this is a gift in your mix and that you, as a more mature follower of Christ, are willing to serve in these pivotal roles.
  6. Give your pastor an umbrella of grace for all that they aren’t, and pray for them on a regular basis. They can’t walk on water, but they can drown. Be one of their “floaties.”
  7. Realize that those on your church’s staff do not get a thousand emails a day giving them encouragement. Most of the people who bother to email do so to critique. Send them a word to feast on to keep them going. They are human and get as discouraged as anyone. 
  8. As a volunteer, or simply as an attender, show up and be on time. Repeat: Show up and be on time. You have no idea how much this matters.   
  9. Talk about your church like gossip over the backyard fence, but in a good way. Like a great movie you saw, or a good restaurant. Unleash positive public relations in your neighborhood and community. 
  10. Work hard on having a positive attitude of a cup half-full instead of a cup half-empty. You’ll be surprised how contagious it is.
  11. Handle friction and disagreement in a way that honors God, which means handle it biblically (Matthew 18:15). In general, just practice the habit of “agreeing to disagree agreeably.” And remember Augustine’s rejoinder: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” And much more falls into the “non-essential” camp than we often admit.
  12. Welcome those who come into your church with messed-up lives, screwed-up marriages, piercings, tattoos, addictions, divorce, homosexual orientation, children out of wedlock, roommates who aren’t their spouse… in other words, welcome everyone’s differences and scandals with the greater scandal of grace. Not affirmation, necessarily, but always acceptance so that they can experience that grace for themselves. It’s the Jesus way.
  13. Pray, pray, pray. In 14th century England there were holy women who placed themselves in little rooms at the base of churches and gave themselves to prayer. They prayed for the church and its members and the extension of the kingdom of God. These women were called by the quaint but telling name of “anchoress,” for they were spiritual anchors that held the church amid the storms of that century. Be that anchor. 

All to say, if each of us are called to be the light of the world, and that light is meant to be brought together in and through the church, then perhaps we need to bring an old song back into circulation:

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

This blog was originally published in 2012. The Church & Culture Team thought you might enjoy reading it again.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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