From the Pastor’s Desk
On January 1, 2004, God sent me on a new assignment. This mission was for me to lead an ultra traditional, main-line denominational church in Metro Atlanta. When my pastorate commenced, the church was 128 years old, and the average age of the congregation was 63.6 years old. After getting the demographics of this church, it became apparent that certain national trends were a reality within my new context.
In seminary, I studied about the difficulty of having effective multi-generational ministry. For some reason, churches that were filled with an older demographic often had very little involvement, presence and participation of younger people. Most older congregations had diminished younger populations, and younger churches did not have significant presence of older people. All over America there were and still are generational wars in institutions, organizations and churches.
In older churches, dress codes, traditional music and the desire for the “familiar” sometimes prevent younger people from seeing the church as relevant. In some younger churches, many older people feel omitted and not desired. To that end, I read a book by Dr. Gary McIntosh called “One Church Ministering To Four Generations.” In this book, Dr. McIntosh addresses the importance of multigenerational ministry and gives suggestions for improving these relationships. This book validated the teachings of St. Paul who said that “older women should teach the younger women” and St. Peter who preached that “old men would dream dreams and young men would see visions.”
In 2005, our church adopted a multi-generational theme and began to creatively acknowledge and highlight each generation throughout the year. We believe that all generations are vital and important to God. Since 2007, we’ve decided that each November, for our Church’s Anniversary, we would honor people who’ve been a part of the church for 50-80 years. We also decided to have an annual moment of ‘fun’ for our church that would highlight each generation. Since I am a comedian by nature, I endeavored to determine how we could have one fun moment annually amongst the generations of our ministry.
Since 2007, at the end of our Church’s Anniversary (after praise and worship, prayer, singing, honoring older members, preaching of the Word, altar call and giving) we’d do something fun and memorable. We would highlight each generation by finding music that was unique to each generation. We would find music, secular and sacred, that was popular during the times of each generation. The secular music would have to be non-violent, non-misogynistic, non-vulgar, non-profane, non-degrading and non-sexual in nature.
On each Anniversary weekend, we ask each member to dress in the color of their generation. The “Builders” (those born 1945 and before) are asked to wear black; the “Boomers” (those born between 1946-1965) are asked to wear brown; the “Busters” (those born between 1966-1983) are asked to wear gray; the “Bridgers” (those born between 1984-2003) are asked to wear red; and the “Blossoms” (those born between 2004 and the present) are asked to wear blue.
On the Saturday before our Church’s Anniversary, our entire church is asked to do community service throughout Metro Atlanta on our quarterly “Do Something Saturday.” We feed the homeless under bridges, visit homeless shelters, minister in battered women and children’s shelters, and serve cancer and HIV patients. On the Anniversary Sundays, we have a multigenerational choir and at the end of the service we have our generational dance celebration.
For seven years, this has been one of the highlights of our annual calendar. To see our 80 year-olds interacting and with our 15 year-olds is not only extremely hilarious but also respectful, loving and kind!
We celebrate and cheer on each generation. Each generation takes pride in their own experiences. We play music of each generation that represents our “B.C.” (before Christ) and “A.D.” (after deliverance days). In Ephesians chapter 2:1-4 and in I Timothy 1:12-15, even St. Paul mentioned his life before and after Christ. We acknowledge the whole of our experiences while thanking God for sending us Christ Jesus. We teach that each generation can love and worship God in its own way.
Unfortunately, each year that we’ve celebrated ‘our’ generations, within ‘our local assembly’, some of our brothers and sisters who don’t attend our ministry take offense. Some of the ‘saints’, who don’t know us, have even sent death threats to me, in the name of Jesus. I guess their salvation allows them to represent Jesus while threatening a person’s life. Some have asked: 1) Why are they dancing in the church? 2) Why do they play that type of music in church? 3) Why have they gone so far? 4) Why are they playing with God? 5) Why are they sinning in church? 6) Why is he leading them to hell? 7) Why do they think that’s fun? 8) Do they believe in Jesus? 9) Are they holy? 10) What kind of church is that?
This type of thinking is typical of some who believe that faith is a matter of rules and not relationship. Many have seen a few moments of social media postings without full context. Some think that their way is the only way and try to make their experiences yours. Others condemn without fully having a theology that undergirds their assumptions and presuppositions. Some have a compartmentalized view of our obeisance to and acknowledgment of the Divine.
This is the type of theological understanding that causes some people to live one way in church and another at home. Here are my questions to those who damn us to hell because of our annual celebration dance: 1) Is dancing a sin? 2) Is non-violent, non-profane, non-vulgar, non-sexual, non-degrading, non-misogynistic, non-oppressive, non-objectifying music a sin? 3) Is it ok to dance to secular music at a family or class reunion? 4) Is it wrong to dance to secular music at a wedding reception? 5) Can a man dance with his wife to secular music on their honeymoon or wedding anniversary? 6) Can a married couple listen to non-gospel music in romantic moments? 7) Can a teenage Christian play secular music in their high school marching band? 8) Can a Professional Christian athlete listen to secular music in their headphones before a game? 9) Why is dancing a sin, if you believe so? 10) What music is for “saved people”?
I believe that God is everywhere! God is not just in the church, but omnipresent. I don’t believe that sin is acceptable outside of a church but not acceptable within a church. If dancing is wrong in the church, then it’s wrong everywhere. I don’t believe it’s ok to curse outside the church but a sin to do so within the church. Biblically speaking, God dwells on the inside of us. We are living sanctuaries. Wherever we go, God is there! If something is not reverent and respectful to God in church, then it’s irreverent and disrespectful to God everywhere. Too many of us live pretentious lives! We act one way in church and another at home! We’ve allowed a western milieu to make us compartmentalize God. Young people are turned off by “religious phonies” and “fake 21st century Puritans”. We should be real and not duplicitous people. We should not “act holy” in church and then live like the devil as soon as we leave. We must teach people that it’s ok to listen to certain types of music and even attend sporting events, as long as it doesn’t misrepresent the foundations of our faith. As a lad, I had many relatives who believed that we couldn’t play marbles, watch wrestling, play football, go to movies or dance. This theological “apartheid” turned many of my family members away from God. Some have never come back to the Faith. Many of them have been hurt by these unbiblical views and what they deemed as the hypocrisy of many leaders.
The hypocrisy of so many of our leaders is sad and sickening. It’s tragic to see so many condemning us and others for listening and dancing in public to the same non-threatening music that they listen to in private. It’s laughable to hear the condemning comments about what we did in public from a few men who beat their wives in private. I’ll never understand how an annual moment of clean fun in public can be scrutinized by people who prophesy in public and then turn around and sleep with men and women and anything that moves in private. It’s amazing to see that a moment of clean fun will lead to our integrity being questioned by some leaders who rent facilities to house their ministries, only to be evicted regularly for non-payment of their leases and rental agreements. I think it’s important for us to ask, “What really makes the name of God look bad?”
The main issues within the Body of Christ far exceed an annual half-hour of clean fun in our church. If we want to vehemently protest the things that are happening in our churches, let’s start with the children still being molested by leaders. Let’s work on the oppressive effects of patriarchy that still oppresses our daughters. What will we say about the hatred and homophobia that’s still pervasive in our ministries? Is any critic “grieved and crying” about the spread of HIV and AIDS within ecclesial communities? What kind of protests and outcries have these critics made concerning social justice? Have their ministries been prophetic enough to not only raise huge offerings or distribute prayer cloths, but also to speak about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Mike Brown? If more time were spent speaking out against the things that really matter, we’d have a higher trajectory as communities of faith. Our shallowness and lack of theological education has prohibited us from delineating between the essentials and non-essentials of faith.
Although we all “see through a glass darkly”, I’m comforted by the fact that God is both the knower and discerner of all of our hearts! God knows us all and has given me the message from my context. I teach that we should live the same lives wherever we go! I have absolutely no theological or biblical dissonance with our annual generational dance celebrations. I don’t believe it is a sin. The same snippets of music that were played during our celebration on Sunday, I have no problems with on Monday. I’ll forever teach people that we can love The Lord and laughter simultaneously. I’ll never live my life based on the opinions of others. I’m a Gospel preacher who preaches the Word of God. I don’t believe that “holiness” is based on how we pretend on Sundays. I teach God’s people that we should love Him and each other. I’m at peace that my approach can help people to “live with God every day and in every way”. If I am wrong, I’m comforted by the fact that God will be my Final Judge.
It’s my prayer that those who are genuinely concerned about what they deem is “wrong” would approach me about the offense (Matt. 18:15-17), pray for me and “restore me through loving kindness” rather than through public spectacle and attack. I realize that some good-hearted people, who aren’t looking for a platform to make them relevant, may not understand or agree with our approach. To you I say, “I love you” and pray that you’d still love me, though we disagree.
In the meantime, let us keep working for God and loving each other. The sheep, goats, wheat and tare will grow together. In God’s own time, He’ll do the separating.