As I typed the words “Take Me to Church” into Google on my projected computer screen, I heard a groan escape from one of the girls sitting in the front row. I took the bait and asked her why she was upset.
“You’re going to ruin this song for me. I like this song.”
“How am I going to ruin it? I haven’t even said anything.”
“You’re going to tell me it’s a bad song. Then I’ll feel bad listening to it.”
A few months ago, that’s exactly what would have happened. I would have railed against the evils of this song, bashed it for it’s anti-Church stance. I would have brought in multiple sources, proving my point. Unflinching, I would have stared into the souls of my youth and explained how the band Hozier was trying to steal every good thing in their lives by inflicting this catchy folksy song on them day after day. (I can be pretty dramatic.)
Luckily for my blood pressure, I’ve learned some things in my past few months. Something I’ve always known that impacts my ministry, but never truly realized, is the natural inkling of rebellion you find in many, if not most, teens. If I had decided to rail against a song that many had already created an attachment too, I would have lost many of them. I may have converted a few hearts, changed a few minds, but I also would have hardened some. And the hearts that would have been hardened are oftentimes the ones on the fringe, deciding if they should buy into this whole religion thing.
Yes, it’s only a song, but it’s indicative of a larger problem. Adults serving in a position of authority feel that it’s their job to speak truth to those we teach. This is true, and it is what we should be doing. But how we share this truth matters just as much. We’ve lived through these things, we have experience. Why not help these kids avoid the mistakes we wish we would have avoided when we were younger?
Two camps can emerge in this debate. On one side, let the kids make their own mistakes. Just be around to pick up the pieces and help them grow from the lesson. Listen to the song because the kids can recover if anything bad comes of it. On the other side, we should instead focus on cramming them with the knowledge to know better down the road. Fill these kids with everything we know they need to know, and that way mistakes can be avoided completely. Avoid the song altogether.
We serve our youth better by allowing them to answer the tough questions themselves.
I’m trying something new this semester. I plan to break my students up into 4-5 person discipleship groups each week. I let them choose the groups, and over time these will remain consistent. As new students attend the night, they get absorbed into existing groups. Last week, I let the groups listen to “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, which is a song twisting religion into a sexual metaphor. It’s weird. And catchy. I’d say 95% of my youth had already heard it, so I wasn’t introducing anything new into their lives. Giving them sheets with the lyrics printed, I started conversation by asking them “What is the artist saying in this song?” and “Why do you think the artist wrote this song?” There were a few questions I lobbed, but the important thing is that I never told them what to believe. I never made a strong stance one way or the other. At the end, I asked the students if this song brought them closer to God or further away from God.
I received a resounding “further!”
By equipping the youth to tackle this question, the answer was made their own. They dissected the song; they came up with the answers. No adult bagged it up and handed the answer to them. We serve our youth better by allowing them to answer the tough questions themselves, within reason. By engaging their critical thinking skills in a positive environment, we make their faith their own. As they take ownership, their relationship with Christ will blossom. I encourage you to do this throughout the upcoming ministry year. Let’s build disciples with a committed faith, not a spoon fed faith. [tweetthis]Let’s build disciples with a committed faith, not a spoon fed faith.[/tweetthis]
-written by Chris Johnson, youth minister at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler, TX