While I was enjoying Thanksgiving break at my folks, my dad pointed out an article in the local paper about a Christian country music artist and his idea for making church more accessible to country music fans. Why not have church in a bar? Not just any bar but a country line dancing bar? The musician has convinced his pastor and congregation to support the idea and has begun organizing monthly services. The services take place on Monday nights since those they are trying to reach are sleeping in on Sunday morning.
My first inclination was to dismiss this approach as yet another American, evangelical “innovation.” But I didn’t. Maybe it was the result of the residual warm feelings of Thanksgiving. Maybe my critical thinking skills had been dulled from too much dressing and cranberry salad.
Whatever the cause, I tried to set aside my skepticism and imagine how I might react differently if this Coors Light Church was taking place in a beer garden in Berlin rather than a line dancing bar in my hometown. Would I be so quick to criticize some missionary in a foreign land who was trying to work with the culture instead of against it? Was it a form of my pride which was offended by the idea that my country is a mission field?
Of course, we all should be trying to reach the lost. But somehow when I think of friends off saving the lost in Thailand or Columbia or some other far away and exotic place, the lost of those countries seem different somehow. I imagine them living in a darkness of disbelief based on ignorance while the lost of America seem more willfully disobedient. Surrounded by churches of all sorts and sizes and the freedom to worship as they please, it feels naïve to see them in the same light as those who have never heard the name of Jesus, never read God’s words in the Bible, never heard the Good News. But geography has little influence on the slavery under which so many labor. Surely the human heart is no more or less rebellious in the heart of the heartland as it is the depths of the Amazon jungle. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, right?
In my imagining, I began to examine what it said about us as a nation that this type of service would appeal to so many. (The article reported that more than 600 people attended the first service.) I conjured up the cultural orientation which might take place in order to ready missionaries for ministry among us. While certainly southern, country line dancers are a distinct subculture. I think a few of the lessons can be learned about the indigenous population as a whole. Perhaps keeping these things in mind can help us as we search for the lost sheep among us and try to keep from becoming lost ourselves.
- We are a people desperate for relationship. Though the message was not printed in its entirety, it was summed up by the pastor as basically “God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you.” Now I don’t know exactly what type of relationship this pastor is talking about but I am pretty sure that God doesn’t want just to have you “friend” Him on Facebook and move on with your day. And there lies the source of our starvation for relationship. We don’t want to give up anything, of ourselves, of our time, of our resources in order to relate to other human beings or even the Creator of the universe. One of the premises of the service was that people wouldn’t want to give up being out all night long on Saturday in order to attend church on Sunday morning. If we are to reach our culture, we must convince them that in order to fill the great void of loneliness from which they suffer, they must be willing to make great sacrifices.
- We care a great deal about our own comfort. The article stressed that the people in attendance were those who wouldn’t feel comfortable in a normal church setting. Why is that exactly? Are churches really such scary places? I have been to a lot of churches in my time and while a few have been cold or intimidating, I have often found the problem with churches is that they are too friendly. Jim and I once made the mistake of visiting a small church struggling to attract new blood. I didn’t think we would get out alive, or at least without promising to come again. So what is it about church that scares people? Maybe it isn’t the other people they fear encountering, but rather they fear encountering themselves. There is little time for self-reflection in our media-soaked society and sitting a pew for an hour or two certainly gives one time to take stock.
- We don’t care too much for the sacredness of place. We are a nation of transitory people, always on the move and so the idea that place has meaning and value is odd to us. Combine our nomadic ways with our utilitarian tendencies and it is little wonder that people have no problem worshipping the Almighty amidst Jeff Gordon signs and mechanical bulls. (I can’t confirm the mechanical bull, but I have my suspicions.) I know God is everywhere but I do think the way and where of worship matter too. It’s why I make my boys wear shirts with collars and jeans without holes on Sunday morning. And it’s why we don’t pile up on the couch to worship but pile into our van and enter a place of worship. But certainly we need to take care to make all feel welcome in that place, sacred though it may be.
The name of the establishment in which this service took place is “Cotton-Eyed Joes” and since I read the story I haven’t been able to stop mumbling a portion of the song by the same name. I thought to cure myself but actually looked up the lyrics and stumbled across this verse “He brought disaster wherever he went; The hearts of the girls was to Hell, broken, sent; They all ran away so nobody would know; And left only men ’cause of Cotton-Eye Joe.” Rather ominous words for a fluffy country song but perhaps there is a warning there for us all. For just as we should be seeking the lost, wherever they may be found, there is another who is seeking them as well. He brings only disaster and brokenness. And if we don’t find the lost, he certainly will.