Beloved, if we don’t start taking an honest look at our churches and how many of our younger people find little value and overt joy in the corporate worship experience, eventually our local churches will begin a decline into spiritual mediocrity which is likely to proceed a slow and painful death. Don’t just take my word for it. Take a fresh look around and see who is actually participating in the life of your local church. How many “20 Something” parishioners inhabit the halls of your religious institution? How many kids feel they are truly an integral part of what is going on?
Many years ago a rather famous contemporary Gospel music composer and performer, Fred Hammonds, sang this lyrical phrase. “When the spirit of the Lord comes upon my heart, I will dance like David danced.”
I tell you this because I read an article recently from a very passionate member of the clergy who is absolutely sure that by facilitating “contemporary” music into the church’s worship services all goodness and grace will leave — and all vulgarity and blasphemy will enter into God’s house like the proverbial “mighty rush of wind.” One of her basic arguments relies upon the misguided notion that one of the church’s primary roles is to stand guard at a symbolic gate of entrance into the very presence of God. This overprotective and often harsh view has reared its ugly head far too often in the historical life of the church and every time it does it reflects a dying and decaying body of fearful, ignorant and bigoted people who have regretfully mistaken the “innate presence” of God with symbolism of the institutional church.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that there shouldn’t be standards of decorum or outward limits of decency when it relates to Christian activity. It is certainly reasonable to say that, “not everything belongs” as a part of the corporate worship experience. Without question there have been attempts to harm “the church” by intentionally fostering sophomoric and erroneous teaching. By stating this, I am agreeing, to a degree, those who have been trained scholastically, awakened spiritually, and have an honorable sense of tradition should stand up for what they believe is right. However, when we mistakenly make ourselves the gatekeepers of all that is Holy and Right in God’s kingdom on Earth we have quite literally usurped not only God’s authority but also the genius of the Deity’s creative majesty.
How arrogant of us to try and limit how God’s Holy Spirit is experienced — or even initiated. How overtly bigoted can we be when we become so afraid of hearing something new that it is immediately thrown away as useless or improper? Just because something seems to be new it doesn’t mean we should automatically feel uncomfortable. Whatever the “new thing” is it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t valuable and sincerely offered.
How quickly we forget that what we currently find valid, authentic and sincere was at one time thought of as being new, radical and void of any respect for traditional values. Carefully look through the scripture below and allow it to guide our understanding.
12 Now it was told King David, saying, “The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with gladness. 13 And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. 14 Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.
16 Now as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. 17 So they brought the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:12-16)
In the above scripture we are told that King David was moved to dance, to sing and to praise God openly because of the partnership he had experienced with the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of praise. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon his heart, David wasn’t able to conform to what others thought was socially acceptable behavior. Because of his connection to the Divine, David was unable to hold back his praise. He couldn’t keep it locked up inside a “proper” demeanor. Thank God Almighty he never felt he had to remain artificially stifled. Given this basic understanding of how God’s presence prompted David’s freely offered reaction to it, I want to share with you a tremendous privilege I had when a reenactment of Biblical praise was publicly played out at a concert I attended.
Songwriter, vocalist and musician Jenn Christy was performing. Ms. Christy was presented on this particular evening to offer her musical gifts and graces in support of a local church choir fundraising event. On this night people were busily gathering in pleasant anticipation and they were taking their seats in hopes of experiencing something wonderful. As approximately 200 folks took their seats, Jenn and her three band members started displaying their musical gifts in the most powerful and joyous way.
Within the crowd there were people of all ages, ranging from infants in diapers to elderly using supportive canes. There were couples holding hands as well as families with young children. It only took a few songs and Ms. Christy’s playfully flirtatious personality had the crowd gleaming with positive emotions. During the course of the evening, a young friend of mine, and anxious audience member, Andrew Ryan, became locked in an undeniable covenant-of-spirit with Ms. Christy that was quite intoxicating for all to see.
Once Andrew became completely intertwined with Ms. Christy and the musical experience she was leading the evening quite literally became the Jenn and Andrew Show. Andrew became prominently involved within the musical experience and with this open and obvious involvement the event took on more than its original intent. It became a display of tangible evidence of what happens when the blessing of music empowers those who have been touched by its innate genius.
My friend Andrew is a special needs child who is an absolute delight. He has an envious habit of being openly loving and sincerely authentic in his emotional expressions. Once Andrew connected with Jenn Christy’s music, he couldn’t hold his feelings inside. The power and the pull of the music became too great to resist. His mother tried for a while to curtail his unfettered expressions but she couldn’t. After a few songs his gentle father took Andrew down to the front row where together they listened intently to the band. Andrew clapped and shouted with utter glee at the sounds as well as the atmosphere he was experiencing. Eventually, he rose to his feet and started to dance. He started to move, sing and praise openly. While others in the theater were hindered by an artificial decorum, my friend Andrew couldn’t contain his feelings and reactions to what he was experiencing.
After several songs Andrew actually ended up leaning on the stage directly in front of the songstress — absolutely entranced and completely connected with what she was doing….and the audience LOVED IT! At a break in the music Andrew, who was only about four feet away from Jenn, loudly told her that she was wonderful and as she responded to him personally Andrew must have forgotten that there were 200 other people there. For Andrew it was just he and Jenn interacting. Jenn told Andrew that she “just loved him,” and he responded in-kind. The crowd applauded with immediate appreciation for the sincerity of the moment. Andrew looked back suddenly as though he was being completely validated and he clapped right along with the crowd. Ms. Christy looked back at Andrew and told him that she was going to play another song and before the downbeat could happen Andrew asked her to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” just for him.
She did and it was a truly magical moment.
I have known Andrew Ryan for several years and I thoroughly enjoy him. My friend Andrew reminded me of something profoundly important that night. Andrew and his impromptu partner Jenn Christy reminded me that we have got to connect with our children and music is a powerfully obvious way of accomplishing the goal. All of us “gatekeepers” need to relax, take a cleansing breath and learn to enjoy their innocence, enthusiasm and the power of music in their lives.
Beloved, we must stop trying to make them in “our image” when God has already taken care of the image He wants them to reflect. God wants all of us to freely and boldly praise His name. We need to encourage not only our young people but everyone who is willing to sing, dance, praise and emotionally move to the powerful presence of God through the music that is connecting to them. Peace.