Confession time: I went to see the band Journey as a junior in high school. I’m not proud of that. The girl I was dating, like most of the girls of the MTV generation were smitten with them thanks to videos that were in HEAVY rotation on that channel. Pam knew that my even agreeing to go was a major concession in our relationship and offered to pay my way. Look, just because I was into punk didn’t give me license to neglect my duty as a boyfriend. I paid, I drove, fought the crowd for good seats. I got her a t-shirt. She was (and still is) pretty. She had a great time. All in all: Worth it.
That concert was a lot like most of the arena rock shows of that age: Big stage. Big lights. Video screens to help those in the back get a better view. Choreographed moves between band members. Predictable banter (“Hello, Birmingham! How you doin’ tonight?! Nobody parties better than Birmingham!”). My guess is you could name your band: Steve Miller, The Eagles, Van Halen, Def Leppard, Peter Frampton, Paul McCartney & Wings, Kiss, Rush, the whole deal, and you could follow the formula. All the above, plus an incredible guitar solo at some point, a bass solo, and a drum solo–usually with the drummer on a hydraulic lift and he’d go for like 10 minutes.
And you paid good money for festival seating and probably got your money’s worth of entertainment for the night. I know Pam did with Journey. She was thrilled with it. She heard her favorite songs. She sang along to them all. She swayed back and forth with a lighter during “Faithfully.” All very normal. There’s no question that the band was made up of quality singers and excellent musicians. They probably had the top sound & lighting engineers on the team, too.
But coming home from Journey that night was a uniquely different experience than what I enjoyed. Being in an arena with 14,000 other people. All the bells and whistles of sound & lights…and a video screen. Predictable banter. Singing along. Extended guitar & drum solos. We’d been entertained. Well, mind you. But entertainment seemed to me to be the end result.
Contrast that with a former warehouse in a seedy part of town that had been converted into a club. The 688 Club in Atlanta was almost ideal. About 300 or so could fit. Everyone there was ready for action. There would be a mosh pit where people would have their valuables locked in the car and their steel-toes boots laced up. You wore clothes that weren’t important to you because they’d most likely get torn (if not ripped off). There was a bedsheet with the band’s logo on it hung behind the drummer (who may or may not have even been on a riser). Two guitarists. A lead singer. The only lights were so you could see the band. The band was never introduced by some local radio DJ, but rather they’d just come out and play. There were never solos of any type (more on that in another entry). Any banter was usually at the expense of the crowd (“Let’s see a little more motion up here in the pit. This ain’t no country club.”). People would run on the stage and dive into the crowd. They’d run on the stage and sing with the singer. The band members would dive into the crowd during songs. Friends of the band sold the merch and ran sound and moved equipment from the van. It was mayhem. It was chaos. It was an amazing experience.
But we, as paying customers, were actually a part of the show. Not there to be entertained, but rather to experience something together as a unified group. See, punk tore down that barrier between the stage and the crowd. It wasn’t so much a band saying, “Here we are, big stars, come and watch and enjoy” but rather “We’re just like you, let’s have this experience of expressing angst and energy together.” That line between band and crowd was erased.
And sometimes I think the church has drawn that line just like the big arena bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
See, we have this class of professional Christians who are supposed to do the work of the ministry. They preach the sermons. They play the music. They run the various age-segregated life-station ministries. I had a youth minister when I was a kid who used a lot of illustrations from his own life. He’d tell us about his amazing run of consecutive days of having a quiet time and stuff like that. I remember thinking, “That’s so great. But I’m not that. I could never be that. I haven’t had a quiet time this whole month.” The exact same feeling I had when watching Eddie Van Halen play a guitar solo. I could practice a gazillion years and never be that. So, just stand on the sideline and watch him do it.
But when you watched any punk guitarist go through simple three-chord barre progressions you thought, “I could do that. I can get a guitar and maybe some friends and we could form a band.” You wanted to do what they did because they weren’t even good at it but were DOING it as best as they could.
And that line needs to blurred. The leaders need to de-centralize themselves. Sure, there are standards in 1 Timothy and Titus that must be adhered to. But they should be building up the Body to use their gifts and talents to help the Body mature. It was never supposed to be a superstar in the pulpit (or youth room or leading worship) drawing crowds to watch him/her play the solo and go home raving about the show.
That street runs both ways, too. Those in the crowd shouldn’t be coming to see the show, but rather lace up their steel-toed boots and mosh together. Recently, the student ministry I used to work for had a pretty innovative and creative deal that had a web presence. Some adults checked the page and all that and thought it was a pretty cool thing and came up to me and said, “Hey, that’s a neat way to minister. Could you put something together so our adults could do the same thing?”
Did you catch that subtlety?
They didn’t phrase the question, “Could you teach me how to set something like that up for the adults?” In fact, when I suggested that I could help her head that up, she recoiled and said, “But that’s your job, isn’t it?”
Well, no. Not at all. My job is to equip the gifted ones to do it.
But I think the church could learn a few things about de-centralizing the leadership as well as the other side of the street, a crowd not ready for entertainment but for action.
So, for today…
What steps should pastors take to de-centralize their position?
What steps should congregations take to get ready for more involvement?
How do you see entertainment vs. participation taking place in your everyday life in various ways?