I just returned from Catalyst Conference 2007 in Duluth, GA. It was a good conference. But I don’t want to write about Catalyst 2007. I want to write about Catalyst 1999.
1999 was the year of the very first Catalyst Conference. John Maxwell and Andy Stanley and some other leaders knew that America had a leadership problem on its hands. Young pastors in churches all over America were being suppressed and were finding themselves without the platform to do the creative and exciting ministries they envisioned. They envisioned a conference where they could tell young pastors, “God made you how you are. Use your gifts and abilities to do something extraordinary! Don’t allow the old ‘system’ to press you into its mold!”
Because that’s what happens. I grew up in a church culture that did that in all kinds of ways. It passed along messages like:
- Rock and roll music is sinful and irredeemable. God could never use it for his purposes.
- Dancing is lustful and therefore a sin.
- Pop culture is sinful. Its movies are evil, its television is perverted, its music is vile (see above), and it is therefore to be feared and avoided.
Now these may seem like fairly innocuous messages, whether you agree with them or not. Unless you happen to be a person who loves rock and roll, dancing, movies, and other elements of pop culture. That was me. It was me loving those things, and it was me feeling defective and sinful for it.
The reality is that music speaks to me in ways nothing else does. Nothing else even comes close. In fact nothing else even comes close to coming close. I can put on some headphones (or ear buds nowadays) and get lost in music for hours. I’m fascinated by its rhythms, its sonic textures, its lyrics, the way the words rhyme or don’t rhyme, and by the way some songs just capture parts of the human condition (i.e., my condition) like nothing else can. Next to God and my wife and kids, music is my first love. I’m not much of a dancer, but I love movies, several TV shows, and a lot of other pop culture as well. It engages me, stirs me, challenges me, and brings me joy (and yes, sometimes nauseates me as well, then I have a blast talking about how nauseating something was). And I grew up believing all these things were wrong and sinful to one extent or another. By way of extension, I believed I was sinful (or at least that others believed I was sinful) for loving these things.
But I can’t help it that I like music. I can’t help that it moves me like nothing else. It’s how I was made. When music starts playing, I’m a goner. I just am. I can’t go to sleep to music, or study to it, because when music is playing it commands my full attention. Music is never background for me. In October of 1999, I went to a church where music — my music — the stuff that moved me and spoke to me — was celebrated. Not just music with the appropriate number of JPM’s (“Jesus’s per minute) but music that didn’t even mention Jesus at all. Not just music that verbally declared God’s power but music that channeled that power whether the original artists understood where it came from or not. I was at North Point in Alpharetta, GA, but I was home. I was captured that day by the most powerful thing that had ever captured me. The power of music combined with the power of the church. I literally stood in awe that day. It wasn’t long into the band’s first set that I leaned over to my wife Christy and said, “Why shouldn’t church feel this way?”
The band was playing loud, and the music was everywhere, and we were enfolded in it. The song they were playing? U2’s Beautiful Day. No disrespect to Just As I Am or Amazing Grace and their ilk, but I don’t think any song I’ve ever heard in any church has ever resonated with me as deeply as Beautiful Day did on that day in October of 1999. It was a beautiful day, because that was the day I was liberated. That was the day that I realized there were churches that understood what resonated with me and were willing to pull it into the church and allow it to do even more powerfully what music had always done in my life.
My question was a good one, and I’m still asking it. Why shouldn’t church feel this way? Why shouldn’t our music reach out and grab people by the throat and say, “We won’t just tell you about God’s power – you’re gonna feel it in your bones before you leave here today.”
That day at North Point, I was grabbed by the throat. Nothing had ever felt so powerful and so amazing in my previous church life until then, and by that time I had been a pastor for six years.
So what about today? Today is 2007, and all over the community where my church is, there are people who grew up believing there’s something wrong with them for loving music, loving movies, and being moved and inspired by art and pop culture. I want Wildwind to be a place that does to them what Catalyst Conference did to me eight years ago. Every week there’s someone in our church who has decided to give church one more chance. Why should they ever come back after that? It’ll just be like all the other places that have made them feel lousy before. Or there’s someone who thinks to be a Christian is to be down on everything that brings joy into life. Or someone who’s just looking for an excuse to make fun of us and can’t wait for the music to be lame and irrelevant so they can tell their friends they went to still another church that doesn’t get it.
Think about it. The message of Christ itself is a polarizing message. It’s difficult to accept. Jesus told us that would be the case, and we’re nuts if we think we should try to make the message more acceptable than he did. But as long as I have anything to say about it, we’ll let the message be the hard part — the part people might trip over. And we’ll do our best not to trip them up with music that stinks, that is done poorly, or that is irrelevant to their lives and experiences. We’ll always seek to grab people’s attention with the music, to shake them and say, “You think this is powerful – you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
My life has never been the same since that day in October of 1999. I want Wildwind to create as many of those transforming moments for as many people as possible. Wildwind owes its existence largely to the power of that moment, where a young pastor said to his wife, “Why shouldn’t church feel like this?” and then decided to start one in our area that does. Who knows how many disenfranchised, put-off, overlooked people there are out there right now who don’t even know how deeply the church could speak into their lives? Who knows if some just might get a hint this Sunday, this month, this year, when the countdown reaches zero and the band sends the message, “We are serious about your world, your life, the things you love, and the things that speak to you. Let us show you.” And who knows, if they feel the power in that moment, how they might be transformed and who they might become. Melodrama? Possibly. Overwrought and unreasonable expectations? Maybe not so much. I believe this can happen. After all, it happened to me.