How much meaning…?

No Pressure is a lunchtime group we run attended by young people who are not Christians. The brainchild of Tom, our schools worker, No Pressure gets young people discussing the spiritual and practical response to the big pressure issues like alcohol abuse, drugs, self esteem, media pressure, eating disorders, self harm, and the like, with some reference to the way Christians face and deal with these issues. Quite often we have visiting guests who talk honestly about how they have dealt with these issues and the role their faith played.

Anyway, recently we used the Lifehouse Everything Skit on YouTube (and GodTube) which has been doing
the rounds for a while now. We were interested to see what the young people would make of it. For many Christians is presents a powerful dramatic portrayal of the triumph of Christ over a range of influences that can ensnare us. But we know the story that underpins the presentation.
We were curious to see if the young people would be able to understand this Christian message without being told in advance what the drama was portraying.

They didn’t get it! Some of them did seem to get a vague kind of positive message about breaking free from self harm and stuff, but they missed the significance of the Christ character and many didn’t really understand the thing on any level.

We were not totally surprised, and in a way this confirmed what I have said before – that people bring their own meaning to films, video, music, art and that the (Christian) message we so often wish we could embed in these things barely communicates at all. That’s why ‘secular’ songs can inspire us to worship (we bring our understanding of worship to the song) and Christian ‘evangelistic’ songs can have no impact at all (evangelistically speaking) on young people (even if they like the song).

We’re left with a few thoughts.

  • We may have done the young people a favour by allowing them to interact with the material (in this case, a video) and draw their own conclusions. This is, in some sense, empowering and respects their capacity for self-learning.
  • The video may have the power of a parable in that although they didn’t ‘get it’ on the day, the visual power of the drama may stay with them so that at some point in the future other events, or the working of God’s Spirit, may create a moment of revelation for them about it’s real meaning.
  • We may have denied them an opportunity to understand the transforming and liberating power of Christ by not giving them a basic framework of understanding about what the video was saying before showing it to them.

At heart is how we tell the gospel story. We want to avoid anything that smacks of indoctrination, but we also want to give people clear information about the gospel so that they can make an informed choice for Christ.

We are continuing to work with this group and there will be many more opportunities to share aspects of the gospel and of our lives. That lunchtime, and that video clip, were just one part of our ongoing relationship and discussions.

What do you think? Did we leave them space to reach their own conclusions, or have we robbed them of an opportunity to consider Christ?

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6 Responses to How much meaning…?

  1. Hi Tim, thanks for sharing that. As you would expect I found the clip quite moving in some ways but I totally concur with you as regards bring your own meaning. I used to think otherwise. Christian content like this and church activities used to seem to have a sense of ‘magic’ about them for me in that they could be more than the sum of their parts, i.e. do more than was humanly possible just because its done ‘for God’. However, I now tend to think that that view is not only misguided in that it creates unrealistic or just plain wrong expectations about what is possible but also that it devalues the genuine ‘sacredness’ of ordinary things. Ordinary achievements and failures. The things we feel we do alone, of ourselves in which we fail to appreciate a genuine presence that carries us,making a way where there seems to be none. God is, indeed ‘has’ to be in those things so much more so than our tenuous constructs of God stuff… None of this for me undermines the role or value of the Spirit as I think what is needed is a shift from “give me more, give us more” to “open my eyes”, “open my ears” “let me understand what we already have” really just realising that God can be ‘sufficient for all these things’…. including the work you guys are doing there in the school. He is not going to let you rob them of any opportunity… No doubt though Im sure you feel like you are walking a tightrope between avoiding dogma on the one hand and what amounts to illiteracy on the other. Schools are seriously hard places for anyone to work!

  2. Hi Tim, thanks for sharing that. As you would expect I found the clip quite moving in some ways but I totally concur with you as regards bring your own meaning. I used to think otherwise. Christian content like this and church activities used to seem to have a sense of ‘magic’ about them for me in that they could be more than the sum of their parts, i.e. do more than was humanly possible just because its done ‘for God’. However, I now tend to think that that view is not only misguided in that it creates unrealistic or just plain wrong expectations about what is possible but also that it devalues the genuine ‘sacredness’ of ordinary things. Ordinary achievements and failures. The things we feel we do alone, of ourselves in which we fail to appreciate a genuine presence that carries us,making a way where there seems to be none. God is, indeed ‘has’ to be in those things so much more so than our tenuous constructs of God stuff… None of this for me undermines the role or value of the Spirit as I think what is needed is a shift from “give me more, give us more” to “open my eyes”, “open my ears” “let me understand what we already have” really just realising that God can be ‘sufficient for all these things’…. including the work you guys are doing there in the school. He is not going to let you rob them of any opportunity… No doubt though Im sure you feel like you are walking a tightrope between avoiding dogma on the one hand and what amounts to illiteracy on the other. Schools are seriously hard places for anyone to work!

  3. After thinking about it some more I’d also like to add, that if the clip was shown as a ‘test’ then let it be that. You guys have obviously learnt something significant about your work from it even if the young people in the group did not ”get it”. I personally have had more than enough of the kind of “burden of witness” that cripples one’s faith when the message does not seem to be getting through. The tendancy with that is either to blast society for ‘turning away’ (a la Christian Voice) or to blame one’s self for not being good (read- persuasive) enough.
    I consider musical taste to be a helpful analogy here. As you know, for years I used to play nothing but underground garage. I had always had some vague awareness of trance music but had never looked at it or indeed listened to it in any meaningful way. If you had asked me about it back in 1997 I would have probably given you some flippant and somewhat derogatory response based on a lack of knowledge and experience of the genre. However, after spending a couple of years with CYO and all the great sessions at Deep and weekends away with guys like Woody, Livid, Tony, Deej and yourself in a positive atmosphere centered around developing spirituality it suddenly made sense. I heard trance music in a new context and that made the world of difference. Since then I have been a follower of Trance…
    Therefore, out of the three options you list I think you are onto something with seeing the clip as a parable. However even as a parable its not perfect by any means, as a piece of theatre and the space it utilises it seems cluttered and also the way the video was captured and edited could be a lot clearer. In my opinion the success of any communication of ‘new’ ideas to the viewer depends more on those technical factors than any innate ‘spiritual power’ it might have.
    That aside I would think for the young people to 100% ‘get it’ it would need a serious amount of unpacking. And in doing so the symbology would lose its mystery and if you ask me, it is mystery that draws people in. Facts and technical details are what come afterwards for those that retain an interest, those that sense a deeper experience will be rewarding and will only come with knowledge. The bottom line is they know you guys are christians and they know you are there to share with them and help them, you actually give them the time of day and take their views seriously. They and indeed the school are extremely lucky to have that extra curricular input into their lives so do not under-rate your efforts.
    To return to the music analogy, it is only now some six years later that I am delving into the inner workings of how trance music is constructed and relishing all detail of that. Back in 99 it would not have interested me and 75% of it I would not even have understood!
    Keep on the good work guys…

  4. Tim Abbott says:

    Richard,
    Thanks for opening up the thinking so clearly. As you point out, we’re there for these young people week in week out and they know we’re Christian so overall that’s much more likely to have an impact than a slightly pixellated rendering of a piece of Christian theatre (no matter how powerful we think it is).
    We’re trying to seize moments and let them speak of Christ. And that allows for all sorts of input, from our own stories to those on screen. But the most powerful are the unexpected moments when a young person asks about God in a one to one conversation. They’re gifts of the Spirit!

  5. Tim Abbott says:

    Richard,
    Thanks for opening up the thinking so clearly. As you point out, we’re there for these young people week in week out and they know we’re Christian so overall that’s much more likely to have an impact than a slightly pixellated rendering of a piece of Christian theatre (no matter how powerful we think it is).
    We’re trying to seize moments and let them speak of Christ. And that allows for all sorts of input, from our own stories to those on screen. But the most powerful are the unexpected moments when a young person asks about God in a one to one conversation. They’re gifts of the Spirit!

  6. Tim Abbott says:

    Richard,
    Thanks for opening up the thinking so clearly. As you point out, we’re there for these young people week in week out and they know we’re Christian so overall that’s much more likely to have an impact than a slightly pixellated rendering of a piece of Christian theatre (no matter how powerful we think it is).
    We’re trying to seize moments and let them speak of Christ. And that allows for all sorts of input, from our own stories to those on screen. But the most powerful are the unexpected moments when a young person asks about God in a one to one conversation. They’re gifts of the Spirit!

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