Fighting The Digital Drain In Your Youth Ministry by Andy Blanks
Here’s a fact: Our information-rich culture serves as an obstacle to our students learning the discipline of engaging in daily times of prayer and Bible reading. (And maybe us too?) A recent study is attempting to back this up with science.
The barriers presented by our culture are not news to you.
You’ve been watching this happen for some time now. Your students are over-committed and over-involved to begin with, maybe more so than any other generation before them. School, church, sports and other extracurricular activities, jobs, and family obligations have them covered up. Then, we add media to the mix. When they aren’t at school, or practice, or work, your students are constantly being stimulated with media, information, or entertainment. A recent study is shedding light on how this constant stimulation may tax the brain, hindering its ability to process information. The study done by the University of California, San Francisco found the following:
When rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience. The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn. “Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”
So, take this and apply it to what we know about teenagers and their spiritual habits . . .
It has been my experience that most (though, certainly not all) students have a hard time making time to spend in prayer and Bible reading in an atmosphere of silence and solitude. Alone with no phone, laptop, or TV on or around. I am willing to bet it’s your experience, too. Now, even if students make the time to pray and do Bible study, what this study suggests, and what maybe we have intuitively known all along, is that it is maybe just as important for teenagers to have time to process what they have learned as it is to actually spend the time learning it. It is the actual time in process that leads to internalization, and hopefully to application.
Don’t hear me say that we need to ban screens and do away with social networks. I am a tech junky. I am as plugged in and wired as the next guy. I see the tremendous value that technology has for our lives and our ministries. But I also understand the absolute necessity for making time to take a break from the business, and in an atmosphere of “no screens,” connect with God in prayer and through Scripture.
As youth workers, we absolutely must impress this value upon our students. Knowledge of God within a relationship with Him is the foundation of a life of discipleship. God intended for His Word to be the primary way of learning about Him and His ways. And prayer is the very language of our relationship with Him. We must make every effort to teach students to value these areas of discipline. But we must take it a step further.
We must equip students with the tools to help students study (and apply) Scripture and develop habits of prayer. Then, we must constantly challenge them to make the time to do it in an atmosphere if silence and solitude.