Like every other millennial on Facebook, I watched and shared the video of Chris Pratt’s acceptance speech from the recent MTV awards. After thanking his family and fans, the American actor went on to share his advice for “the next generation”: nine rules for life.
Our young people are hugely influenced by celebrities, which is why I’m so grateful for Pratt’s carefully chosen words. Sure, he didn’t preach the entire gospel or directly quote the Bible or lead his onlookers to an altar call. But he did speak truth in a relevant way from a respected platform. In that sense, you could argue he's actually the greatest evangelist of our time. Let's be honest, young people are far more likely to listen to him than almost any preacher.
As a recipient of the MTV Generation award, Pratt has earned the right to speak into the lives of those who look up to him – a point we would do well to remember. We’re unlikely to become the next Hollywood superstar, but as youth workers, parents, mentors and friends, we are in a privileged position to speak with (not to) – it’s an important distinction – the next generation. And we must invest in relationships, love unconditionally and display immense grace if we want our message to be heard.
We could also learn from Pratt’s delivery style. His words weren’t forced, overly serious or perfectly scripted. He used humour, cultural references and personal stories to share his important message. Amid his profound musings about God, Pratt warned people to breathe and gave advice on “how to poop at a party”! I’ve learnt over years of youth work that no matter how powerful a story, idea or example, the message most often remembered by young people will be one related to toilet humour!
God has commissioned each one of us to sing the songs of Zion in Babylon (Psalm 137). Sometimes we become so preoccupied with our Christian (Zion) bubbles that we forget to look outside to the millions of people who need to hear God’s message of hope. Conversely, we sometimes get so entrenched in Babylon (the world) that we forget to sing. What Pratt offers in his acceptance speech is a helpful example to follow. He has made his home in Babylon. He understands the culture and is able to speak its language, but he also knows that Babylon is in desperately in need of a breakthrough. And so he sings the songs of Zion. Using words and references that resonate with the next generation, Pratt shows his captive audience that God is real, that he loves us and that his grace is enough.
Like Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17, Pratt starts with where people are at, speaking in more general spiritual terms about the soul. He goes on to share his personal opinion “God wants the best for you, believe that – I do.” He then shares a practical way to explore faith further by inviting people to pray. Finally, he drops a counter-cultural truth bomb: nobody is perfect. Pratt challenges the culture, which tells young people they are perfect the way they are (think ‘This is me’ from The Greatest Showman) and points people instead to a much more profound truth – that we are loved in our imperfection, we are purposefully designed and our freedom was paid for by that designer’s blood.