Lessons Punk Rock Can Teach The Church, Part 4

*You can all scroll down and read the intro to the previous entries, but basically these are ramblings in which I don’t know how many will be in the series, or how often the series is going to go, or how frequently I’ll be making these entries.

You haven’t been to one.

But if you ever had been to one, you’d be glad you did.

Like every other profession, our little student ministry has conferences for “continuing education.” Some educate you on specific ways of doing ministry, usually held by churches who’ve done something well and want to show you the principles they adhered to. Others educate you on tools of the trade. Others are designed for rest & contemplation. But the mother of all of them is the Youth Specialties conference.

YS has the biggest and best of all the above and slick glossy brochures and big hotels in happening cities. And because it’s the mother of all of them, every retailer or band or speaker or writer or equipper or supplier wants to get a booth at the expo. And because everybody wants a booth at the expo and is prepared to pay, they can invite the biggest and most popular speakers for the keynote address or breakout sessions and get the most with-it bands for the nightly “thank you” concert that ends each day.

I gotta say, it’s a bunch of fun to get about 2,500 youth pastors with their skewed view of the world and their spouses who “get” not only their husbands but their husband’s career in one spot. Chaos ensues. Not necessarily like the Animal House chaos, shenanigans and hijinks. More like Full House chaos, shenanigans and hijinks. But way more fun than C.P.A.’s getting together at their conferences, I’d imagine.

Anyway, you’d find yourself listening to the Who’s Who of speakers who would encourage or challenge you or motivate you and secretly think that you’d like to be one of those folks someday. Or you’d admire the skill of the worship leader for the week. Or you’d hear a breakout speaker and wonder why folks thought they were so great.

But we’d get our picture made with folks, man. And by “we,” I mean I was usually with my staff, or sending my staff. These things were way more fun when Nathan, Wes & Lizze, Katherine, Jude and others tagged along. In addition to the good stuff we got at the conference, we’d spend five days laughing until we puked. One of the most fun things about it was that we’d run into all these folks who are big in the Christian subculture.

I couldn’t wait to tell everybody that I rode the elevator with the keyboardist from The Rock and Roll Worship Circus.
Wes joined us at a mini-session showing us video of the lead singer of Third Day heading to the breakfast buffet.
I got my picture made with Mike Yaconelli. It’s still on my desk.
I bragged when the guys from Lost and Found said “hello” to me by name (we’d hosted them at our church a couple of times) walking down the opposite side of the street.
Nathan & Wes nearly squeezed the singers of Superchick by seeing who could get closer to them (all were single at the time).
We got Dave Crowder to shout “Juuuuuuuuuude” (imitating how our students greeted one of our volunteers when he walked into the room) and captured the moment on video.
In fact, we got various members of Mercy Me, Third Day, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Derek Webb, Dave Crowder and any other band or speakers that were there to say their name & band and the phrase, “And we’d all like to say hello and thanks to all the students who go to Crossroads Bible Church.” The goal was to splice all of ’em together and make a video. Like all of us, we have miles of great video we never look at or used.

Anyway, my point is that we, and obviously I include “me” in the “we,” have a Christian subculture that has it’s very own “celebrities.”

Chuck Swindoll.
Charles Stanley.
Donald Miller.
Anne Lamott.
The Veggie Tales guys.
Beth Moore.

I could go on.

You get it.

And the lesson we can learn from the punk rock movement is that the “stars” of the movement pretty much became “stars” of the movement by accident. Bordering on reluctance. And if they did assume that role of “celebrity” they used that platform with a certain degree of honesty…or at least consistency.

Take Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Johnny Ramone and Henry Rollins as examples.

Sure, they all got into Rolling Stone…some got covers. Some got articles. But they all used the moment in punk rock ways. Exposing the corporate culture. Brutal honesty about the business of music. I’m not talking about the articles where they’ve been interviewed talking about the past. I’m talking about the interviews when it was going on.

All the interviews at the time were rude and vulgar and got beeped and banned on British television. MTV couldn’t keep a studio from being trashed and the VJ’s (remember those?) stopped interviewing them. The Replacements even submitted a video in which the camera kept a stereo speaker in frame for the duration of the song so viewers could only listen to the music.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure some of that was self-serving and playing to an image.

But most anyone will tell you that all those bands led by Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Johnny Ramone and Henry Rollins were all better bands before their leaders were “celebrities.” When corporate music leaders discovered a way to make money off the movement it all went downhill from there. What’s great is that almost all of them repented of their sins later in the game.

Anyway, I think the dangers of this celebrity Christian culture are varied:

People choose churches now because of the charisma of the preacher instead of on things that matter.
People leave churches when this leader or that leader leaves a church.
People spend money attending festivals and concerts and books and CD’s and DVD’s to entertain and enlighten ourselves and only preach to the converted.
People listen to radio and watch television produced by Christians for Christians and further isolate themselves from the world they’re supposed to be salt & light in.
People quote authors instead of Scripture.
People align themselves into camps based on which leader said this or that rather than rightly dividing the Word on their own.
People desire to become one of those Christian celebrities.
People overlook the beauty of the normal Christian life and develop unrealistic expectations because their life doesn’t look like the books even though they followed the steps.
People settle for bad art, bad writing, bad movie making, bad music instead of demanding excellence…both the artist and the audience.

I could go on.

You get it.

But the bottom line is that Christians aren’t any different than society on this. I mean, at 5:30PM, you can catch 3 different shows that spend a half hour telling me what’s going on with Hollywood, New York, or Nashville’s super heroes.

But I’d think there wouldn’t be much cash to be made on Peace, Love & Understanding. Unless you’re Elvis Costello.

And there’s got to be a better way…


…to shy away from Christian celebrity and simply use your gifts, talents and passions for the highest of ideals.