When Chris Pratt isn’t saving the world from rampaging dinosaurs or Malthusean supervillains, he’s handing down some serious wisdom.
Last night, Chris Pratt received the MTV Generation Award, which is basically a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rather than simply offering a few jokes, Pratt “accepted his responsibility as an elder” and offered the next generation 9 rules to live by.
Perhaps most surprising to many, Pratt’s remarks were deeply and faithfully Christian.
I’ve heard a lot of sermons directed to young people. Many fall flat. Pratt’s sermon (if I may call it that) landed in a way many other messages to youth and young adults don’t.
Here are three things any good youth worker (or minister, generally) can learn from Chris Pratt’s remarks.
As with many people, I first saw Chris Pratt on the hit comedy Parks & Recreation. He played Andy Dwyer, a silly yet earnest and good natured man that was a consistent highlight of the show.
Even though he’s gone on to become a Hollywood leading man, starring in movie franchises like Jurassic Park and Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt retains the charm and humor that made his portrayal of Andy Dwyer so memorable.
So, when he rose to accept the MTV Generation Award, Pratt didn’t affect a stiff or overly-formal persona. The man who spoke is the man his fans have seen for years.
He made ridiculous poop jokes that, while sublimely silly, had a certain brute logic to them (I intend to heed his advice the next time I’m at a party).
Because no Chris Pratt speech would compete without some potty humor.
Yet several of the rules on his list touched on the transformative beauty of living a Christian life, something that’s also near and dear to Pratt’s heart.
He opened his list with a reminder to breathe: because, “if you don’t, you’ll suffocate.” Pratt then shifted gears and went in an unexpected direction: he reminded us that we each have a soul, and that we should “be careful with it.”
And so it went, a list that was both incredibly funny and genuinely wise.
I would have had difficulty imagining a Christian sermon in the middle of an MTV awards show. Yet Chris Pratt did the unexpected. And it has the whole world talking.
When you’re communicating to young people, whether one-on-one or time a group, do likewise. Play to your strengths. Don’t try to play a role: simply offer the talents and gifts that God has offered you.
You may worry about capturing the attention of young people who aren’t particularly interested in the Gospel. But you’re not called to simply pass on facts, or make obsolete ideas somehow relevant.
You’re called to be a witness.
God has placed you, a unique and unrepeatable person with unique and grace-filled talents, into a particular time and particular place. You don’t need to play a role or try to be someone you’re not.
You simply need to be the person that God has made you and called you to be.
In my experience, most sermons fail because they try to do too much. Rather than pick a single and compelling idea (and end when that point has been conveyed), many preachers turn their message into a mess by adding, again and again, “one more thing.”
Pratt clearly had simple point he was trying to convey: that God is real, that He loves us, and that this truth matters deeply in our lives.
He wasn’t diving deep into subtle theology. He wasn’t trying to make nuanced credal points. He had a clear and compelling idea, and he didn’t let his words get in the way of that message.
Pratt offered 9 simple rules. Some of them were simply jokes. Others were truths cloaked in a silly premise. Others were transparently and unashamedly grounded in the Gospel.
Taken together, the message was clear: do good for others because “it’s good for your soul,” avoid “being a turd” because it’s bad for your soul, live in the knowledge that “God is real, God loves you, and God wants the best for you.”
It was a clear message. It was a consistent message. And it has resonated with millions.
If you’re giving a sermon, decide upon the key idea you want to preach. If you’re leading a class or retreat, be clear about the one thing you want participants to receive.
Your job is to focus, not on quantity, but on quality.
You don’t help people if you burden them with too many facts and figures to remember. It’s better to give a person one thing that is life-giving than ten things that fail to bear fruit.
Be crystal clear about what you mean to communicate, and your audience will be crystal clear about what they’re receiving from you.
Pratt’s 9 rules started with what appeared to be a joke: remember to breathe.
In retrospect, that rule may not have been about simply breathing so as not to suffocate. It may have actually been about learning to be still and finding the key to prayer.
He then advised people to remember that they have souls, and to avoid being nasty. As the list progressed, his rules developed a bit more weight, and even challenge for his audience.
With his 4th rule, Pratt advised people to give dogs medicine by masking it in a piece of hamburger: “they won’t even know they’re eating medicine.” In its own way, the entire list followed this principle.
Pratt included some light hearted jokes as the occasional break. And he started small, beginning non-controversial rules like “don’t be a turd” before he got to deeper rules like “God is real.”
That can be a difficult thing for some people to hear, so he immediately followed his confession of God’s existence with a palate-cleansing poop joke.
Rules 8 and 9 were the most challenging of all. He advised the audience to “learn to pray,” to actually dedicate their time to connecting with God.
And he concluded with the most difficult rule of all: to remember that “nobody is perfect.” In our Age of Authenticity, when we each become the arbiters of our own truth, this can be a difficult thing to accept. Yet Pratt dove in, telling the audience that, “If you’re willing to accept [your imperfection], you will have grace.”
As he concluded his list, Pratt said something deeply Christian: that this grace was paid for by someone’s blood. Though he didn’t mention Jesus by name, he didn’t have to. The Lord loomed large in Pratt’s sermon.
And today, the internet is lit up with articles and blogs exploring the Christian call at the core of Pratt’s 9 rules.
In a world that questions the existence of sin, concepts like repentance can be completely foreign. While John the Baptist boldly preached this conversion of the heart, his call would fall on many deaf ears today.
Before you say a word, try to understand who you are speaking to. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the world as they see it. Look for points of commonality you can built upon rather than strike directly at points of difference.
What you say is often just as important as how you say it. Your goal isn’t to alienate but to challenge. It’s to inspire rather than estrange.
Choose your words wisely. Speak with kindness and gentleness.
Speak the truth in love.
Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.
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