Why ministry leaders should pay attention to the news and culture to lead more effectively.

You know what I love? Football.

You know what I don’t need more of? Taylor Swift’s music. 

Listen, it’s not that I’m a hater. In fact, I have a ton of respect for her music. She’s a great song-writer, who has built a very impressive brand (or empire), and she seems like a really kind person. I’m just not exactly her target audience, and that’s fine.

I have two pre-teen daughters that do this thing where they somehow manage to play the exact same music over and over, and it’s primarily Taylor Swift. If you know me, you know I’m a bit of a music snob, so when Spotify Wrapped comes out and Tay Tay is at the top of the list, it’s a real bummer that my daughters’ have influenced what shows up. 

All that to say, I didn’t exactly need more T. Swizzle in my life this past football season. But alas, here we are, still talking about her and her guy, Travis Kelce (arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history). And I may be strange, but things like this always pique my curiosity.

Is there anything we can learn from crazes like Tayvis (Taylor + Travis) that may point to something deeper that people are longing for?

Discerning the Times

“You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times!” Jesus said these words in Matthew 16 in a rebuke to the Pharisees for their apathetic pursuit of glory and power. They wanted to see Jesus do miracles, to perform, to be spectacular, and Jesus instead changes the subject and says essentially, “You are completely blind and missing what God is doing in the world.” 

Jesus indirectly commands us to be discerning of the times here, to “test the spirits” as John said (1 John 4:1).

So, what does it look like to discern the times we are living in? How do we do that?

  • Be immersed in Scripture
    I know, I know. This is the answer for everything spiritual, and it is! Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).” 

    The only way we can truly know the voice of God is to know God. The gift and power of the Bible are that we have access to his words so we can know what he’s like. We learn what he cares about, his tone, his priorities and his warnings.

    Only when God’s word is saturating our lives are we able to notice the dissonance of the values of the world and respond accordingly.

  • Pray the News

Years ago, somebody challenged me to “pray the news.” I really don’t like watching the news, but the news gives a window into the strongholds that the enemy has in the world.

When I see news of war, famine and natural disasters, it becomes fuel for praying. Anytime there is violence in our city, reports of economic instability or social unrest, I pray.

Whenever I see a pop-craze like Tayvis or anything else, I pray. I pray about revival. I pray that people would develop an all-consuming love for Jesus. I pray that people would have more of a longing for Jesus’ presence than his power. I pray for a return to our first love.

  • Be Connected with People
    I don’t know a better way to know the hearts and longing of people than by being connected with them. In the Christian subculture, it’s easy to just be connected with other believers, but I think we need to be deeply, relationally invested in the lives of people who are far from Jesus to understand ways God may be working. We know that God works individually, but I believe God is also working “thematically” across the world as he always has in “drawing all men to himself (John 12:32).”

    We have to be connected with people to discern what God is doing in people.

The Case Study: Tayvis

So what does any of this have to do with communications and ministry? I believe that what we discern God is doing in our communities and around the world should inform how we are planning, communicating and engaging the world with the Gospel.

Specific to Tayvis (I just now realized spell check isn’t flagging Tayvis, and that bothers me), three things immediately stand out that seem like windows into the longing of the broader culture that could guide our teaching series, our ministry priorities, communications and marketing efforts.

  • Longing for connection.
    I was giving Tay Tay a hard time, but she has locked in on this in a way that has become the backbone of her brand and the hook for Swifties. They are part of something bigger than themselves. Being a Swiftie (again, no spell check error) means you’re part of this global community that is positive, welcoming and diverse.

    I believe the Church has a far more significant and eternal Solution to this longing. How can we begin to be a place where every person is truly known and belongs?

  • Longing for significance.
    I increasingly feel like an old man when I talk about social media. That said, I have experienced the way it depletes my own soul and there is significant evidence for the way  it’s impacting the social and emotional well-being of people at large.

    One of the most sinister ways it does this is through constant comparison. I may be getting way too deep about this, but my gut is that millions (probably billions) of people around the world are almost trying to live vicariously through Tay-Tay. People long for significance; to feel like they matter and have a place in the world.

    How can the Church begin to help people embrace their identity as children of God first?

  • Positivity, Hope and Suffering 

This one might be a long-shot, but I think the world is desperate for good news, positive messages and inoculation from the negativity that is relentlessly pressed upon us. I feel it too!

Tayvis is such a feel-good, Disney princess-esque story that it’s hard not to be pulled in. I think people long for something good and positive to rally around to escape the brokenness of the world.

What I think is deeper still is that the actual root to the longing for positivity is a longing for hope in suffering. It doesn’t market quite as well, but I think that’s the root issue. A Swiftie’s euphoric concert experience has a shelf life of a couple hours, and then it’s back to the reality of life that needs real, substantive hope amidst the inevitability of suffering.

We have a suffering Savior that navigated all of this and is hope embodied. How can the church model and teach hopeful suffering?

Applying it to Your Ministry

Tayvis is just a real-time example of how I believe ministry leaders should be engaging with culture to discern the times. This can direct your sermon series planning and the applications within the sermons, it can help you narrow the target on your next steps strategies and it can drive how you are reaching out to the community to invite them in.

As you plan, communicate and lead where you are, I pray that you would be filled with wisdom and insight to understand what God is doing around you, and that he would give you spiritual creativity to engage with the world in profound ways that lead to encounters with Jesus.

We love talking ministry strategy, and if you’re feeling stuck in this area, let’s connect!