Things the Church can learn from ‘Heathens’…

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A couple of weeks ago, the band ‘Twenty One Pilots’ released a new single named ‘Heathens’, in conjunction with the release of the movie ‘Suicide Squad’ a movie about a team of villains. Because the song was featured in some marketing with the movie, it seems like the lyrics are written about the characters in the movie (and there is definitely some correlation). The truth is that the song has a deeper meaning. The lead singer, Tyler Joseph, is a strong Christian. He wrote the song to other Christians (read: the church), on behalf of his non-Christian (read: heathen) friends.

So here are a few things the church can learn from the song ‘Heathens’:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

We don’t deal with outsiders very well
They say newcomers have a certain smell
Yeah, I trust issues, not to mention
They say they can smell your intentions

Make New Friends – The church has a bad habit when it comes to ‘heathens’. We tend to treat them as prizes or trophies. By that, I mean that the church is more concerned with “winning souls” than the people that have that soul. So the church stops talking to people, and starts talking at people at Jesus, hoping that they get a higher score. 

‘Heathens’ have caught on to the game. It’s a disingenuous game where Christians don’t really feel like they want to be friends; they just want to “win” you. This game has created a huge rift of distrust between the church and dechurched/unchurched people, because church people do ‘have a certain smell‘. It makes sense that they “don’t deal with outsiders very well” because the ‘heathens’ can, in fact, ‘smell your intentions’.

The church needs to understand that people are not trophies or prizes that we’re competing for. ‘Heathens’ are people, just like each one of us Christians. If you genuinely want them to know Christ, take your time and actually be friends with them. Spend time with them, on their ‘turf’, be it the bar (unless you’re a recovering alcoholic) , restaurant, or coffeeshop. You’ll probably learn why they struggle with church in the process (“you don’t know half of the abuse“). And you don’t need to worry that somehow you’ll corrupt or taint your Jesus.

Just because we check the guns at the door
Doesn’t mean our brains will change from hand grenades

Take ‘Heathens’ As They Are – I know a number of service members who are uncomfortable coming to church. For some, they feel guilty about the things they did overseas. For others, the crowds make them anxious because of things that happened. Others are battling PTSD and unsure of how to handle the anxiety. Still others have a mixture of all three. In order to minister to veterans, you have to accept each of these reasons. You can’t tell them to “get over it” or “just give it a try”. That tells them that you don’t understand where they’re at.

While the lyrics seem to speak about PTSD, you could easily change the circumstances to a number of things. John Wesley didn’t use wine for communion because he didn’t want alcoholics to relapse. I don’t like the hymn “He Touched Me” because of how it might sound to victims of sexual assault.

The church doesn’t think about these things because they’re not problems for us. But like the lyric says, just because soldiers leave their weapons at the door doesn’t mean that they’re not struggling. Just because an abuse victim is out of that relationship/situation doesn’t mean they’re ready to take church “as is” (among other things).

As a pastor, I understand that the church more often than not means well, and truly has the best of intentions in what we do. But we’ve been so disconnected for so long that we are out of touch.

These are a couple of thoughts that I hope help.

And remember, I love y’all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

PS. I’d encourage you to listen to the song as well. You can watch the video here

3 thoughts on “Things the Church can learn from ‘Heathens’…

  1. Very interesting song. I agree with your commentary on the tendency for trophy collecting. The university I work at as a very large and emotionally aggressive evangelical group sponsored by one of the local churches. I’ve seen the emotional damage they do in their efforts to do what they perceive as “God’s work”. I’ve actually had this affect employees who used to be close friends.

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    • I used to have ‘trophy hunting’ tendencies for sure. I was really focused on whether or not people were doing the right things and falling in line than whether or not they were genuinely open and pursuing God.

      When the church does that, they turn the essentially trying to perform surgery on patients who don’t want surgery. After so many cuts, they’ll just walk away.

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  2. I really like how this articulates perspective that many of us often fail to grasp. It also brings to mind the song Give me your eyes. So often as a “Christian” I judged only actions without first trying to understand their heart. I no longer believe in “surgery”. For me the heart had to be transformed before behaviors could be modified.

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