Moonlight: 3 Thoughts About Youth Ministry

August 20th, 2017

Ever since I was a young kid, movies captivated me. I vividly remember all the times I sat in the dimly lit theater with my bag of popcorn awaiting the lowering of the lights, excited for the story that awaited. Just like you, I’ve seen lots of movies – some good and some bad. Film is an art that has spoken to so many of us throughout the years. Many films have penetrated their way into the everyday language we use. Think about how often you quote a movie on a daily basis. There’s no denying the power of film.

When I was in college, one of my youth ministry professors told us it should be a requirement to see the #1 movie of each week. His premise was that movies often say something about our culture, and as people who are attempting to reach into the culture, we need to understand it. Film is often a window into the brokenness of our world. You see people on screen longing for meaning, purpose, and value. You see people dealing with real emotions and heartache. Film can help us better understand the world and culture around us.

[bctt tweet=”Film is often a window into the brokenness of our world.” username=”ys_scoop”]

As a youth worker, I cannot help but be impacted by movies every now and then that deal specifically with teenagers or people who are attempting to walk alongside teenagers. Movies like Superbad get shrugged off often as simply raunchy comedy, but what if there were actually more to that movie? What if Superbad were trying to make a commentary on youth culture? What insight could we gain if we approached pop culture with that mindset?

That’s what I’d like to explore in this blog series. This will be an ongoing delve into films that could potentially help or enlighten us as youth workers. I also get that not everyone is a movie person. That’s totally fine! These blogs are meant to be companion pieces to the movie I’ll be talking about. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry, there’ll be a synopsis in every post. I’ll do my best to capture the essence of the film with a brief review and then take some time at the end to bring up three points and/or questions that the film stirs up in me as it relates back to youth ministry.

The Film: Moonlight

The Synopsis

A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami. His epic journey to manhood is guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that helps raise him.

The Review

You may recall that Moonlight was the Best Picture winner at this past year’s Academy Awards. The award had accidentally been given to La La Land, and a huge ruckus emerged on stage. After the smoke had cleared, the true victor, Moonlight, came out on top, and it’s obvious why. While La La Land had been the favorite going into the awards show, there’s no denying the sheer force that is Moonlight. It’s quiet, contemplative and thrusts you inside the head of a young boy struggling to find meaning and value.

The film begins by painting a picture of our main character, Chiron, a young black boy struggling with his identity. He is bullied, his mother is a druggie and cares very little about him and he is questioning his sexuality. Soon, he’s taken under the wing of a drug dealer who takes the time to talk with, listen to and create space for Chiron to discover himself.

Moonlight takes place over the course of three different moments in Chiron’s life. The first segment starts off with him as a young boy, then he moves into high school, and we finally see him in his adult life. The movie is a fascinating study at how certain events and people can impact everything in one person’s life.

I’ve heard some describe Moonlight as being “boring” or “too slow.” However, I discovered this movie to be more tense and heart-pounding than most action films. Action films may fly at you hard and fast, but the stakes of this movie are massive. It’s about Chiron’s soul. It’s about Chiron’s survival. It’s about Chiron realizing he matters in a world that constantly beats him down with a message that says he’s worthless.

Moonlight has a lot to say about the labels we place on others and ourselves. Every time you begin to think you know who Chiron is, he does something surprising. As the viewer, it makes me face the way even I label or identify people based on actions, appearance, etc. Moonlight is a modern masterpiece that delves deep into the struggles we all face – loneliness, identity, purpose and belonging.

3 Thoughts About Youth Ministry From Moonlight:

  1. Anyone can be a powerful leader in a student’s life. In the first segment of the film, Chiron is befriended by a drug dealer and his girlfriend. These two essentially make the decision to pace alongside and lead (a concept from “Shaping the Spiritual Lives of Students”) Chiron as he navigates life. One of the most powerful things about that relationship is that the drug dealer and his girlfriend are both deeply flawed individuals, and yet they still make a tremendous impact on Chiron. To me, this is a reality that we, as youth leaders, are also broken and messy and there’s no mess too big that you can’t still be used by God to make a difference.
  2. We need to create space for students to discover who they are. Our role as youth leaders is never to dictate to students who they should be. We need to create an environment that allows them to realize it and live into it on their own accord. Do we still speak truth? Absolutely! However, like all of us, students sometimes must go on a journey of self-discovery. That’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. We simply are there to walk with them as they are attempting to figure it out. Will it be messy? Yep. Will you always see who they end up being? Nope. That’s a reality in the film even. However, we simply let God use us where we’re at to meet them where they’re at.
  3. We must accept students as they are. I can’t not address the reality that this movie is partially about a kid coming to terms with his sexuality. He’s asking the question of whether or not he’s gay throughout each phase of his life. He’s asking it because he’s having a difficult time accepting himself. Sometimes we, as youth leaders, need to show students we accept them as they are in order for them to begin accepting themselves. Gay or straight?Black or white? Rich or poor? Zero of that matters. Christ accepts each of us. That’s the “good news.” We must be people who live out that which Christ demonstrated, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort isn’t the point. Love and acceptance are.

Where to find Moonlight

Moonlight is available now on DVD, Blu Ray, and VOD.

It’s also streaming on Amazon Prime.

Ryan_Schmall-819x1024RYAN SCHMALL is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on TWITTER or read his blog over at IAMRYANSCHMALL.TUMBLR.COM.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.