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What Taylor Swift can teach the Church about our Mission

By May 12, 2015Mission

It’s been about ten years since Sam, my son, returned from the outlet mall to tell me he had met Taylor Swift. She was singing in similar establishments across the country seeking to hone her gifts and develop a fan base. Thinking back I’m sure the outlet malls of America probably functioned for her as Hamburg did for the Beatles; in the language of Gladwell’s remarkable book Outliers, there she got the 10,000 hours needed to shape her gift. And what a gift it proved to be!

She will undoubtedly go down as one of the musical greats of her generation. Already her songs have been given the greatest of honors – they have become part of the soundtrack of our lives. From her break out ‘Tim McGraw’ to the serial ‘number ones’ of her most recent multiplatinum album ‘1989’ her words and music appear to have expressed the Zeitgeist of an entire generation.

Everyone loves talent, intelligence, and beauty, but there are some things that enable Taylor Swift to go beyond the usual level of celebrity and fame given to the average superstar. I believe it’s from these things that we can learn some important lessons.

Identify with your followers

First of all Swift fully identifies with her fan base. She’s decided to whom she wants to communicate and every lyric says, “I’m one of you”. As her fans have grown older so has the content of her songs. The same people, who enjoyed the innocence of ‘You Belong With Me and Love Story’ in 2008, sang along with ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ in 2012. Now those same fans, older and world-wearier, now identify with the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of ‘Blank Space’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘Clean’ on her newest album ‘1989’. Interestingly though the themes of her newer songs are obviously more adult and there is an unusual modesty (for popular music) in her lyrics when it comes to relationships and sex and her fans love that about her.

Not only have the lyrics developed but the musical genre has changed as well. Embracing new influences she has moved from Country to mainstream Pop. In her early work the references and production were most definitely Nashville, but in ‘1989’ you can hear homage to such greats of the 80s as The Fine Young Cannibals, The Cure and The Eurythmics.

Her fan base has aspired to become more sophisticated and Swift’s music has reflected their journey, but all the while she’s still saying ‘I’m one of you’.

Establish common ground

Secondly, she fights for and establishes common ground among all her followers. In her fan forum after some fans began revealing their political views’ she said,

‘Just wanted to remind you guys that let’s try to avoid topics and conversations that lean towards political or religious topics. In the end, someone will inevitably get offended and this just isn’t the place for that.

For example, I decided to remove the LGBT thread due to political and religious battles, not because we don’t accept everyone here on Taylor Connect.

Thanks for understanding. It will make things better for all of us’

And it appears that her followers do understand and respect the rules that she has established; the numbers of young people becoming ‘Swifties’ continues to grow.

Operate with kindness

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly Taylor Swift operates with genuine kindness towards the people who follow her. Of course there will be the cynics who doubt her motivation but the stories of real concern that she seems to have for her fans continue to grow and speak for themselves.

Like the time she surprised a fan by accepting an invitation to a bachelorette party. She flew in on her private jet to celebrate with a young woman and her ordinary group of friends the most important day of her life. Or perhaps the stories recorded on YouTube of her buying, wrapping and personally delivering Christmas presents to her fans in different parts of America.

This is a person who appears to genuinely love her fans and looks for ways to show them kindness.

Identification, common ground, kindness, these are the particular elements that Taylor Swift embodies and they have helped her to build one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in history. Yes she is an extraordinary talent but she has done very ordinary things to grow a following.

Those three elements, seen so clearly in her work among her fans, are common to all leaders, churches and movements that are growing today. From the largest American mega-church to the unknown Sisters of Mercy working on the streets of Calcutta, identification, common ground and kindness are the currency of mission, movement and growth.

We talk a lot about incarnation and mission in the Church often struggling to understand the ‘how’ if not the ‘what’. Here is an example of how to incarnate a mission dressed in the garb of a modern musical phenomenon. Taylor Swift may have a different mission to the Church but she shows us how identification, common ground and kindness will go a long way in helping us fulfill ours.

 

About Mike Breen

As a speaker, author, and entrepreneur, I have been working throughout Europe and the US for the past 25 years. My passion is to continue to invest in the next generation of leaders, and one of the ways I have sought to do this is to write several books to help equip those working in the missional movement. Building a Discipling Culture, Covenant and Kingdom, and Family on Mission are a few of the most notable titles I have released.

15 Comments

  • Neil@nmselby.com' Neil says:

    Thanks for this. I have recently come across all this discipline culture stuff and it really strikes a chord.

    I am in London and wondered if there are any communities over this side of the pond?

    Thanks for all your words they are a great encouragement even though I am struggling/ grappling with their implications just now

    Blessings Neil

  • todd_nethery@hotmail.com' Todd Nethery says:

    Agree completely Mike. She has the uncanny ability to write and sing what we all think and feel at some time during life. She can find our letters and read them all aloud. Though a whole generation apart, I admire her talent and approach. Great points for the church on leadership and relationship.

  • […] Mike Breen. Opprinnelig publisert på bloggen hans, Discipling Culture. Oversatt og publisert med […]

  • billberger32@gmail.com' Bill says:

    Mike, love that you recognized these elements about Taylor Swift, I couldn’t agree more. She is undoubtedly passionate and uses her platform to bless and connect.

    Now I will unashamedly admit that I am a “Swiftie.” 🙂

    Thanks Mike.

    Bill
    Seattle

  • Jeknoch1@gmail.com' Elliott Knoch says:

    Hey Mike how’s it going?

    Can you think of any real historical or present examples in which this kind of following happens when the leader is from a separate generation as those whom will follow them. It seems that the Swifty’s are mostly if not all Taylor’s age! This to me starts to provide a baseline for how she has affected them so profoundly. Namely she has allowed them to hear from her (in her music) what has affected her in that season of her life. That being said it would make since to me if the only example you can give is one of Church History, in which the things strike our hearts loudest can not be categorized into age or season of life. Namely God’s miracles, The prince of the Holy Spirit in his believers, and the trials they endure together for the name of Jesus.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • Mike Breen says:

      Interestingly Elliot I think all the evidence suggests that although the Millennials listen to the voices of their generation they really long for mentoring/discipling from those of an older generation. They have been raised on Yoda and Hogwarts as fundamental to their call to a heroic journey. My experience is that if we offer Millennials will always say yes to mentoring so I think it’s happening everywhere. In the 3dm movement we have a ‘Form’ year that does precisely this and its always well subscribed. Hope that helps brother. Funnily enough I’m going to write on this for next weeks article! M+

  • gecarrocci@hotmail.com' Giulia Carrocci says:

    Thank you for this, I am at the moment doing a high school religion assignment on Modern Day Prophets and I have chosen Taylor Swift, and this piece is extremely helpful. 🙂

  • Jeremiah@JourneyChurchTampa.com' Jeremiah says:

    Great article! Thank you so much for this insight and encouragement!

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