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What has Star Wars got to do with youth and children's work?

Tim Gough admits his deep love of Star Wars and shares what it can teach us about relevance and authenticity. May the fourth be with you friends.  

As a classically trained Anglican, it’s very hard for me to hear “may the Force be with you” without then mumbling back in dulcet tones, “and also with you.” During chapel services it is even harder to refrain from humming the ‘Imperial March’ theme as the morning’s robed service leaders processed into the room. Its Star Wars though - how can we resist?

The ceiling of my car has been refinished with a Star Wars duvet, I go to work with a tin Jabba the Hutt lunchbox, and sat next to my bed is a full size BB8 replica. Safe to sayI love Star Wars! To celebrate six years working for Youth for Christ in 2017 my trustees even bought me tickets to The Last Jedi premiere.

Everything is a wookie!

As much as I hate to admit it though, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan in our office. My administrator can quote the comics verbatim, one of my volunteers is rarely seen outside her favourite Star Wars t-shirts and one of our project leaders does an impeccable Chewbacca impression.

When I say this impression is perfect - I mean it. He gets the growly lead-in, a precise wookie pop and an almost cute-if-not-freakish exit. It comes with vocabulary, and always matches the emotional temperature of room. It’s impressive. Or it was impressive until I recently discovered just how many things sound like a wookie!

Dragging chairs across a tiled floor sounds like a wookie, pulling loo roll out of plastic holders sounds like a wookie, opening drawers sounds like a wookie, flushing an old toilet sounds like a wookie. Everything sounds like a wookie! In my book, this means my team member needs to find a new skill.

The art of imitation

In the youth and children’s work world I think we’re very good at impressions. We know just how to imitate things in young people’s culture. Even down to catchphrases and dress codes, we know how to look like we belong in their world.

We read the right magazines, play the proper games, take the suitable selfies, listen to the appropriate music and binge-watch the requisite boxsets. We even know what’s going to be a thing before its thing - we were all over fidget spinners before they even finished their first rotation!

We do this for the sake of relevancy. We want to know the culture and move in the right circles all for the sake of being ‘relevant’ to those within them.

Relevancy versus authenticity

At this point red spinning sirens should be going off: Danger! Danger! Imitation for the sake of relevancy is by its very nature inauthentic. If it was the real deal, then it wouldn’t be an impression. Milton Jones doesn’t do impressions of Milton Jones, and Andy Serkis doesn’t imitate Gollum like the rest of us (painfully) try to do.

I think there are three problems with trying to imitate youth and children’s culture for the sake of relevancy.

 

For starters, youth culture changes every ten minutes, so our ministry will have a shelf life and will need to change shape multiple times a year. It’s really hard for something to gain an identity if it is perpetually altering itself to fit cultural whims.

There’s no such thing as youth culture anyway. Young people don’t get together in a room once a year and decide what’s going to be a thing. There is as much variety in ‘their’ world as there is in ‘ours’. So trying to connect with what we think is their de factoculture will inevitably alienate some young people.

Plus it’s just creepy! I’m a 31-year-old man, not a 16-year-old girl. When I try to be the latter, I get odd looks, and I should! It’s just weird if I try to pretend that I’m still in that age-bracket. We’re the Solo’s, Kenobi’s, and even the Yoda’s of this story, not Anakin’s slightly awkward hormonal mates.

An impressive impression doesn’t necessarily make us relevant, and it really doesn’t make us authentic.

Should we give up on relevancy?

Nope!

It’s fine to be aware of what’s going on in their world, and even still enjoy a few things in it. It’s helpful to know what issues they face in their culture, and to speak with references they’ll relate to. But we also have to bear in mind that it’s their world, and not ours.

Instead - let’s reach for authenticity. Let’s be ourselves with young people. Let’s be good listeners, ask lots of questions and let them show us new things. Let’s give them value and responsibility from an adult position. They’ll appreciate that authenticity, and it will be far more relevant than just yelling “wookie” every thirty seconds.

Star Wars Lego - the perfect marriage

Next to my desk is the Lego Millennium Falcon. This thing is amazing! It has 1,392 pieces, a 160-page instruction book, and comes with its own Chewbacca mini-figure. It was also a ridiculous beast of a build. It took eight whole hours to painstakingly assemble, and for seven of those hours, it looked like nothing more than a roundish, grey husk.

However, in the last hour it finally took the form of the legendary vessel that made the Kessel Run in fourteen parsecs.

It’s not always pretty, but most of our work with young people should be laying solid foundations, building a strong identity in God’s Word, and committing to a manageable number of developing relationships. Relevancy will come naturally as a result of that authenticity. Build it right and they’ll come! Be authentic and they will stay.

And May the fourth be with you… always.

Tim blogs at youthworkhacks.com

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