This post is based off of thoughts and reflections resulting from How Not to Hijack Your Youth. I encourage you to read that post, which shares how to facilitate discussions on controversial topics found in music, movies, or other media. The youth are able to think critically in a setting that allows for open and honest discussion. The outcome? “By engaging their critical thinking skills in a positive environment, we make their faith their own.” No adult hands the answer to them. “We serve our youth better by allowing them to answer the tough questions themselves, within reason.”
Sounds great, right? (Like I said, go read it.) After reading this post, one of our comrades in ministry wanted to know what we would do if one of these conversations with the youth turned sour. He raised two specific scenarios that I will now address…
Scene 1: They don’t all see the light on their own.
So you pull up the controversial song lyrics of the catchy song they have been singing all week. And have them discuss it. And some of them decide there’s really nothing too terrible about it. What do you do?
Continue the conversation. Ask them to explain why there’s nothing wrong with it. Ask other youth to explain why they think there is. You can facilitate a great discussion without dominating it. Maybe it doesn’t come down to everyone expressing unanimous consent that this song is bad for reasons A., B. and C. But, if the youth can collectively shed light on the darkness present in the song or the movie or whatever it may be, you’re heading in the right direction.
In fact, I would argue that it might be better if they don’t all agree right from the get go. There are a lot of great questions to be asked if the young people know it’s a safe space to share their opinions. This is teaching them how to think critically and actually form an opinion, a skill much more valuable to them than you proving a point in this particular moment. As youth ministers, part of our job is to form them to navigate entertainment and social media. These are areas that the Church needs to speak into and bring faith-based thinking to. Having these sort of discussions makes that possible.
They have to build their own foundation, a faith that is theirs. It’s a personal relationship with Jesus, which means it can’t be yours.
Scene 2: They get it, but don’t see why it affects them.
They see the truth that it’s bad, but argue that it’s not that bad. They have the mindset of “it’s not like I’m going out and doing the things in the song so it’s not gonna hurt if I still listen to it.” What do you do?
Again, keep the conversation going. Help them realize the influence that the things we listen to have on our lives. Have them put forward examples. What we put into our minds and our bodies will affect us in the long run.
And, let’s say at the end of the discussion they’re still adamant that they’re going to do what they want and it won’t affect them. End things by letting them know you care about them and their relationship with God, and that’s the reason you’re bringing it up in the first place. Tell them the truth, that you wouldn’t want them to be ignorantly taken down a path that leads them away from Jesus. I loved how the previous post asks the point blank question “Is this going to lead you towards God or away from God?” They have to answer that. Even if it’s not out loud, they answer for it in their actions.
Go a step further. Follow up.
Just because the youth night discussion has ended, it doesn’t mean the conversation is over forever. Since you’ve talked about it, the youth are aware of the song’s messages and are now primed for noticing how it affects their life if they continue listening. As a youth minister who sees them every week, you can bring it up again. You have the opportunity to hold them accountable, to help them be honest about the influence of certain songs, books, movies, or shows.
When you follow up, as an effort to encourage honesty and humility, you can speak from experience, sharing a time in your life where you were led away from God by a song or a show. Testimony is powerful, and there is a time and a place for it. Why is that? Because we have to respect our young people enough to let them think it through. After they’ve done that, and only after they’ve done that, can you have a real conversation about it. That’s the difference.
If you’re just spoon-feeding the teens your opinion, they can’t have one of their own.
Help them make the decision their own. In doing so, you allow them build a foundation to a faith that is theirs. It’s a personal relationship with Jesus, which means it can’t be yours. But that relationship can’t be formed in a vacuum. We have to guide them and journey with them. That’s ultimately what ministry is: walking with people as they journey with Christ in His Church. Christ tells us that we are the light of the world. But, if we’re just the standing in front of our youth, shining that light on a blinding, spotlight setting, then we’re doing them a disservice. Because as soon as we step away, when they walk out the door to go home, when they’re in the halls at school, when they graduate and move on with their lives, they’ll be in darkness because we didn’t help them foster the light of Christ in their own hearts. It is our job to be servants of the Holy Spirit, to help Him enkindle the flame of Christ in the lives of our youth, not to just substitute our own.