We’ve been trying to envision the Church’s future. One of the things that’s clear is that we’re not effectively communicating our faith to our young people. They don’t seem to hear the Gospel good news as we’re trying to express it to them. Very few of them seem turned on by the belief system that means so much to us.
As I go back and reread what I just wrote, I realize that I may have unconsciously explained what our problem is. I talked about “communicating to” our young people, saying they don’t seem to “hear us.” What efforts have we made to hear THEM?
That question was in my mind when I stumbled on a PBS rebroadcast of Billie Eilish’s 2019 “Austin City Limits” concert.1 I took in the magical gifts of that precocious green-haired seventeen-year-old performer as she mesmerized the crowd of thousands. Suddenly, I noticed that the most animated, most responsive members of the audience were young-teen girls. They had all her songs memorized, and they sang along enthusiastically. To me they represented the youth who are drifting away from the Church. Billie Eilish’s singing represents what they’re drifting toward. So, I decided to try to hear her message through their ears.
What a trip! Through haunting music and powerful lyrics, mostly written by Billie and her brother/accompanist Finneas, several themes were repeatedly emphasized, and these seemed to touch the spirits of those young people responding to her. It’s not so much that she had answers to the problems they were facing, but she knew how to put their questions into words they could identify with:
Who am I?
How do other people see me?
Why do I feel the way I do?
Who can I trust?
Why are so many of my friends killing themselves with drugs?
Who truly cares about me?
Will I ever find a sincere love partner?
What is life? What is death? Is there an afterlife?
(“Bury a friend; I wanna end me.”)
(“When we all fall asleep, where do we go?”)
Ironically, these are all questions that our Christian Gospel has answers to. But Billie and her peeps won’t listen to our answers until we stop talking long enough to listen to them.
One of Billie Eilish’s more mature songs (she’s now 20), entitled “My Future,” ends with these hopeful lyrics:
I’m in love with my future
And you don’t know her
I’m in love, but not with anybody here
I’ll see you in a couple years.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
1 If you feel young enough, take it in at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/15fyYNYXvqH2iPX-m0ssPSHgnEcdSw7_B
2 You can read the lyrics to all Billie Eilish’s songs at https://www.azlyrics.com/b/billieeilish.html