Three years ago, I felt old.  

And I was only 28.  

This reality came crashing down on me one evening when I met with a few high school students for a typical Bible study. During the normal game and hangout portion of the night, students asked if I wanted to join them in playing a “viral” game called “Among Us.” Desiring to engage with these students, I decided to accept their invitation. “Among Us” is a digital game – one played cooperatively with others on each person’s smartphone. The rules of the game were simple enough, yet thirty seconds into the game I suddenly heard my dad’s voice: “I don’t understand what’s happening. Slow down! You’re going too fast.”

The only problem was that those words came out of my mouth. I had morphed into my dad without realizing it.  

Three years later and my condition has not improved. I imagine it will keep getting worse. Youth culture is becoming more and more foreign.  

As a youth pastor, it’s sometimes tempting to put on the cultural garb of my students and pretend I’m a native. But I can’t fool these American teens any more than I could fool the Maasai tribe in Africa. They know I’m a foreigner. I can’t transcend culture.  

But the Gospel can.  

God isn’t calling me to fit in. He’s calling me to observe, analyze, and reveal. This is the call of youth pastors, (normal?) pastors, and anyone seeking to minister to a culture that is becoming more and more unfamiliar.

In Acts 17:22-34 we see this exemplified by the Apostle Paul in Athens when he found himself surrounded by a Greek culture that was very different than the Jewish one he knew so well.  


Before Paul spoke to the people of Athens, he first observed their idols (Acts 17:16). For them, it was the Greek gods. The god of love, the god of war, the god of fertility, and many more. Even, as Paul notes, an unknown god – one beyond their knowledge and comprehension (v. 23). It was easy for Paul to see these “gods.” Not only were they tangible images, but they were reflected in the very lives of the people. 

Every culture has idols, even the one our teens live in. If we observe the way Paul did, perhaps we would see them clearly. People always sacrifice for their idols. They always garner our devotion. Social media, school, sports, boyfriend/girlfriend – the list continues. Like Paul, we should pause to observe the idols before we engage with people in the culture.  


While observation takes time, it isn’t hard. In fact, it’s easy – and tempting – to bemoan the idols that we see (although sometimes much harder to see our own). But what Jesus calls us to as ministers of the Gospel is something much harder: Bible-saturated, Spirit-filled, wisdom-infused analysis of those idols. Wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). Every idol shows us what someone worships. Instagram may be an idol, but popularity is what’s worshipped. School may be an idol, but achievement is what’s worshipped.  

While idols and objects of worship may at first appear as obstacles to the Gospel (as the gods at the Areopagus surely did), I cannot help but join Paul in seeing these as gateways to the Gospel. In displaying their idols, teenagers show us their desires – desires that, at their deepest level, only God can fill.

When we see what people worship, we can identify what they truly desire. 

Popularity, fun, sex, and achievement are merely the outlets of students’ ultimate longings to know and be known, to have true joy, to experience faithful love and intimacy, and to receive genuine affirmation. 


Every good, inherent desire that our young people have is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This is the Good News of the Gospel. He is the Living Water that never causes us to be thirsty again (John 4:10). What we all desperately long for – the desire behind every false god – is found in the true triune God. Paul makes this connection for the Athenians, and we must make it for our youth (Acts 17:24). In Christ, we have ultimate joy, ultimate love, ultimate affirmation, and much more.  

I may not be able to relate to youth’s culture any longer, but I can certainly relate to youth’s desires. Culture may change, idols may change, but the human heart does not. We all are broken and we all need a Savior. If we learn from Paul and observe, analyze, and reveal, we can show young people that, unlike their idols, His well never runs dry.    

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Russ Allen

Student Ministries Pastor at West Shore Free Church
Russ Allen is the Student Ministries Pastor at West Shore Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. He has a Doctor of Education degree from Liberty University where he studied the worldview of Christian students at public high schools. In his free time, Russ likes to read, write, workout, and spend time with his wife and family.


  1. Paulo Freire on May 3, 2023 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks for the clear insights.
    Things do change quickly, but it’s good to know that our Lord’s word keeps up.

  2. Tony Balsamo on May 3, 2023 at 7:12 am

    Great post, Russ! This is not only insightful for those working with youth, but for other leaders to be reminded of the unique challenges our youth pastors have to navigate around … in fact, these truths apply to every role of ministry in our constantly changing culture! Well done!

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