Becky May is moved by music and believes this can be a key to connecting with and supporting your children
For more years than I can now remember, or even work out, I have had the privilege of writing a column for Premier Youth and Children’s work about music. (Check one out here.) When I first began, this would often involve trawling the shelves of the local records store, reading the titles of the tracks on the back of each album cover and try to work out if it was worth me spending my £10 to check if the song that looked like it might have some faith references, actually did! Of course, finding the songs has in many ways become a lot easier over the years, although titles can still be deceptive!
I love music, listen to a lot of music and yet despite this being a staple part of my writing month, every month for the last umpteen years, I do not have a brain to remember the names of tracks, artists or years of release. I do, however, feel music. It moves me. And it moves many of our young people too. This cannot surprise us, this is something God has put inside of us. The Psalms tell of the song God has put in our hearts to sing, and Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God rejoices over us with singing. Having spent so long studying the lyrics to songs I have both loved and barely tolerated, I believe God has put his song in each of us, every single person he has made, whether or not we fully understand or recognise that.
So many of the songs we find in any week’s given charts will have references which either point to God, which celebrate God, or which seek to point away from him. As I write this, the track occupying the top slot is Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding’s ‘Miracle,’ Fatboy Slim’s classic ‘Praise you,’ has been resurrected as ‘Praising you,’ by Rita Ora, and who can forget the impact of Stormzy’s ’Blinded by Your Grace’?. I believe this can only be true because of the way creator God has created us both to be creative and to praise Him. And the songs of others often enable us to voice what is deep within us and finds away to express how we feel and what we may think. So how do we help our children and young people to experience, to talk about or explore questions of God through music?
1. Invite them to share what they are listening to
Giving children and young people the opportunity to share the music which matters to them gives them a voice and enables us to discover more about who they are, how they feel and what they think. Valuing their choices, whether or not we enjoy it shows that we value and respect them, that we want to appreciate their opinions.
2. Teach them how to read the music
This isn’t about learning semi-crochets and treble clefs. Show children by looking together at song lyrics where we can find connections to God; ‘this line here reminds me of something I read in the Bible.’ ‘This line helps me to explain how I feel when I…’ ‘How does this make you feel?’
3. Let music take you somewhere
I have moderate hearing loss. When I received my hearing aid, I was told ‘the good news is, it isn’t across all ranges, the bad news is it’s the range of human speech!’ This means that the way I experience music is very different to most people and I am no longer any use on the church mixing desk! If I want to really know what a song is saying, I will need the lyrics in front of me, I will need to read them, but I can feel something in music that doesn’t need lyrics. In Dave Csinos’ spiritual styles, we read that for those whose God-connected strength is emotional, listening to music is a great way to feel God with them.
4. Teach them to be critical
This may be the fourth point, but it needs teaching alongside the others. In the same way as we teach young people to think about what they look at online, we also need to teach them to think about what they listen to. Is this a good influence on me? But more than that, we need to teach them to look for nuances within lyrics; ‘OK, so this line here really reminds me of a Psalm, but here it’s obvious the singer isn’t directing it to God; what do we think about that?’ ‘How much of this song points to God?’ This teaches them what it is to engage with culture but not be absorbed by it, and the same principles should be applied to our worship songs, teaching them to really think about what they’re singing.
There is great power in music as a tool, teaching our young people these four principles will enable them not only to use music when you are together in a session, but also in their own daily lives and their own walk with God.