As culture around us becomes more and more broken, how can we equip our young people to go against the grain and dare to live differently? Hip-hop artist Guvna B shares some of his insights
I recently turned 28 and have been a Christian for 12 years. I grew up in a Christian household, but it was when I was 16 that I really decided to give Jesus my all.
Christianity was pretty easy to get my head around (at least I thought it was). I’m not just talking about the ‘Jesus loves me’ part. I’m talking about the boxes. The church I grew up in loved boxes! “We only listen to Christian music, watch Christian films and read Christian books.” They were quick to decipher what was wrong and what was right, and we were encouraged to only operate and function in the box that was ‘right’.
This isn’t an article where I bash the church I grew up in for doing things in the wrong way. I believe their hearts were in the right place. However, fast-forward twelve years, and I often wonder how my old church is getting on with those boxes. Are they still storing their rules and regulations inside them, or are they empty, gathering dust in the loft?
How would they approach the song ‘Blinded by your grace’ by breakthrough grime artist Stormzy? On his album, otherwise littered with expletives, the lyrics to that specific song read:
“Lord, I’ve been broken.
Although I’m not worthy,
You fixed me,
I’m blinded by your grace.
You came and saved me.”
Or how would they handle The shack, a film that isn’t marketed as a Christian film but contains strong themes of love and redemption? The reality is that, as time goes on and culture shifts, it is incredibly difficult for things to fit perfectly into the boxes we have created for them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as we don’t shy away from conversation. The general consensus is that we shy away from conversation sometimes, and all that does is leave room for more blurred lines than a Robin Thicke song.
Youth culture today is real and raw. While young people are able to use more filters on their photos, it seems they’re also willing to take away the filters on their thoughts. I’m often taken aback while scrolling through Twitter at the sheer honesty on my timeline. This can prove challenging for the Church if we’re not willing to be real and raw too (with a dollop of love of course).
Recently, I was approached by a young person after a show I played. He said to me: “Guvna, I really like urban music, but my youth leader says I should only listen to Christian stuff. What do you think?” I asked him what reason his youth leader had given for that statement. “He said because it doesn’t glorify God,” the young person replied. We continued talking for a while and I gave my two pence, but I walked away from that conversation thinking: “It’s just not that simple.”
I’ve met with God watching Coldplay perform ‘Fix you’ just as much as I’ve met with God watching Matt Redman sing ‘10,000 reasons’. I think that, deep down, a lot of us know that most of the topics that affect young people and children just aren’t that simple to come to a conclusive answer about. The thing is, though, we can put pressure on ourselves to have all the answers so when we get asked tough questions we go into robot mode and revert to yes / no answers with no real thought or discourse.
Young people use filters on their photos, but they’re willing to take away the filters on their thoughts. This can prove challenging if we’re not willing to be real and raw too
When Jesus set us free, it wasn’t just from sin. I think it was from fear too. I believe God wants us to experience true freedom. Part of that is being able to say to children and young people: “I don’t know”, or “Let’s chat it through together.” Authentic and vulnerable responses like that can actually help build trust.
There are always statistics flying around about how young people are getting exposed to violence, pornography and the rest of it at an ever earlier age. This is obviously very worrying. I do quite a bit of mentoring and motivational sessions in secondary schools but I’ve recently received a number of invitations to go into primary schools too. I think this is because the educational system is starting to learn from its mistakes. They realise that prevention is better than cure, so they want to provide honest and responsible conversations with children before they enter their teenage years. Schools are realising that if they ignore issues that young people face and the questions they have, teenagers will try and find the answers themselves, and this can be a painful route to take. We shouldn’t be afraid of blurred lines and frank discussions.
I am so confident in your ability to shape culture. Yeah, you read that right: your ability. I’m confident in mine too. Why? Because God doesn’t make mistakes. Your heart is beating right now for the same reason Esther’s was in King Xerxes house: for such a time as this (Esther 4). God knows children’s and youth culture both have huge challenges, but he has grace and strength available for all of us. Cue cheesy quote: Don’t tell God how tough youth culture is, tell youth culture how tough God is.
I’d absolutely love to see more of us take the pressure off ourselves, bask in the grace of God and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let’s wander around the blurred lines and spend time with people who aren’t like us, don’t look like us, don’t eat like us and don’t think like us. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. I believe God has the ability to grant us wisdom in these situations so we can be uncompromising lamps to the feet of culture today.
John 16:33 says: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What a comforting thought that is. Popular culture within some church circles tells us to fit neatly inside our boxes, but it’s time to be unpopular. The creator of the universe isn’t afraid of the cultural battles that are in front of us, so let’s go out there and surprise children and young people. Let’s surprise them with love, with grace, and with undeniable hope.
Let’s encourage our children and young people not to settle for how things currently are. Let’s tell them not to let others dictate how and what they should be. Together, we can be part of God’s plan to bring hope to a hopeless generation. Let’s flip the script, demonstrate another way to live and find freedom in going against the grain.
Guvna B is a double MOBO award-winning rapper from London. He has worked with Matt Redman, Hillsong and Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams. He became the first rap artist in UK history to top the official Christian and Gospel charts, and his debut book, Unpopular culture, is an Amazon bestseller.