Young Worshippers Thrive On Relationships, Crave Sense Of God's Mystery
Photo by Chris Hansen/Baylor Photography
by Craig A. Bird, Special Contributor
Hearn Symposium sessions are available via streaming video at BaylorTV.com.
The faith of their fathers doesn't impress the Millennials very much. But the faith of the Early Church Fathers is a different story.
And it increasingly is their story as a generation starved for stable and genuine relationships, and entranced rather than frightened by the mysterious nature of God, "do church" their way, participants at Baylor University's "Music and Worship in an Emerging Culture" heard repeatedly Oct. 4-6.
"How dare we talk about the Church 'emerging' when that happened thousands of years ago?" Randall Bradley, professor of church music and director of Baylor's Center for Christian Music Studies, asked in the opening session. "Because we see that the Church is obviously changing today, and it may not be recognizable to those of us who don't get out much. But there is no evidence to suggest we are ever going back to the way we were--or the way we think we were.
"In this new place we run the risk of vastly misinterpreting our surroundings. We can take two extremes. One, that all change is evil, or two, that all change is good. Neither is accurate. We need to hear from the prophetic and learn how to ask new and bolder questions and learn how to preach and worship Truth in a world that questions if there is truth."
To that end the second Hearn Symposium on Christian Music brought together a wide-ranging selection of musicians, authors, pastors and academics to provoke and interact with an estimated 450 conference participants that crossed denominational, geographic and age boundaries.
The Millennials, also tagged "the Bridge Generation" and "Mosaics" by sociologists, number between 70 and 75 million, depending on where the starting point is set between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s--roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population. They have more formal education and are more racially mixed and multi-cultural than any previous generation. Heavily influenced by the Internet, they process information differently and think more globally. They have grown up in a society of broken marriages and dysfunctional institutions.
They ignore traditional Christianity in massive--and growing--numbers and when they do pay attention it is increasingly in churches with strange names and diffused organization; congregations that stress relationships and where music and art and dance meld with short interactive conversations about truth and the sacred.
Not surprisingly, traditional churches often are unsettled, at best, and frightened and angered, at worst, by the variations from their norm.
Which leads to an unexpected historical parallel--the reaction of the establishment church in the 1960s to the Jesus People movement and, within evangelical circles, the appearance of the first Christian youth musicals. Ironically many of today's church leaders who as youth battled to get guitars and drums into the sanctuary now distain Millennial innovations as irreligious.
"The church is as rigid today as it was in the 1960's," Peter York, whose roster of Contemporary Christian Music artists include Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, the Newsboys and Switchfoot. "There is the same sort of fear and confusion about what young people are trying to bring into the church."
Three bloodied veterans of the 1960s church worship wars, Ralph Carmichael, Kurt Kaiser and Billy Ray Hearn shared their experiences. Though they good naturedly kid back and forth about who should get credit for originating the concept of Christian youth musicals, they agree on the reaction.
"It was brutal," Carmichael said. "After Kurt and I wrote 'Tell It Like It Is,' Billy Ray set up 50 workshops over the next year all across the country--and at each of those 50, right before we got started someone would stand up and say, 'I know this young man thinks God has told him to do this--but this is of the devil and I'm leaving. Who will leave with me?' And some would leave--and we had to do a workshop after that."
Hearn, who later headed Word, Myrrh and Sparrow record companies, debuted Tell It Like It Is, "one night after summer at Glorieta (Baptist Encampment) during music week," he recalled. "The next day in all the workshops, no matter what the planned topic, the discussion was about how evil it was. No one defended it. But a year later they were all performing it at their churches and asking for more." Eventually even the bookstore at Moody Bible Institute was able to stop "selling copies of the album from under the counter and wrapping them in a plain brown paper bag lest anyone see them selling that sinful music."
Chuck Fromm, founder and publisher of "Worship Leader Magazine" and a central player in the Jesus Rock that also developed in the 1960s, drew a comparison/contrast with the 1960s Christian youth music and today's emergent Christian music. "'Tell It Like It Is' had a rebellious core to it," he said. "Remember that chorus that said 'quit talking about the good old days?' Now the young people are telling the church 'please start talking about the good old days--but not your old days, the days of the early Church.' It's a creative plundering of the past for things that communicate to them about God."
Brian McLaren, perhaps the best-known commentator on the emergent church movement and a pastor from Washington, D.C., reminded that such challenges to the established church are not new--and that four of them were ultimately successful.
In AD 50-100 "the gospel was liberated from cultural Judaism and the church flourished" because of Paul's work "of disengaging from but not rejecting" the Jewish culture; In AD 300-500 the Desert Fathers and Celtic Christianity disengaged the church from the Roman Empire--and the church flourished; By AD 1500 Christianity and the medieval world view were enmeshed but the Protestant Reformation disengaged them--and the church flourished; In the 1900's faith was enmeshed with rationalism but evangelicals disengaged them--and the church flourished, he pointed out.
Now the church is, he said, enmeshed with modernism. The question then becomes, "will we be part of the fifth reformulation/rebooting/disengagement?"
"We may be far more confused about our message than we realize," he continued. "Before we talk about marrying the Post Modern culture to the church we need to figure out what went wrong in the marriage between Christianity and modernity--a movement that was anti-Christian in many ways. We may realize we are so damaged from that earlier marriage that we need a lot of counseling before we marry anybody!"
While that question is still up in the air for many if not most churches, the tenor of this gathering was that "worship leaders" had key roles to play both in welcoming in the healthy and Holy Spirit-inspired innovations of the Emergent Church and in providing balance and correction.
"We need to be both priests and prophets," Fromm said. "As priests we protect the institution of the church but as prophets we hang out with the movements. Some things need to be preserved but some need to be examined. Remember that brass snake that Moses made at God's command so that people who looked at it in faith could be healed? Well a few hundred years later Hezekiah had to destroy it because people were burning incense to it and worshipping it instead of God. The Emergent Church is asking us to check if we are worshipping the right way."
The Emergent Church also can call the church back to the community it originally was several speakers noted.
"We're not in church together because we necessarily like each other," Marva Dawn, a teaching fellow at Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. "We are in church together because how else are we going to practice loving our enemies? You shop at stores because you like the other people there but you go to church to worship with the other children of God...We should all learn from each other and that is what the Emergent Church does so well."
Using her own misshapen leg as an example, Dawn noted that, "because my leg is curved it would snap if I didn't wear this brace. But if it were straight I could walk and run like I was created to do. In the same way if we don't have in common a doctrinally sound 'leg bone' then our churches will splinter. But if that bone is straight and strong then the flesh, the different styles of worship, can grow on it in all kinds of interesting and healthy ways."
Asked to clarify what a "doctrinally sound" bone would be, she replied, "The scriptural teachings that Luther and Calvin and Wesley and the Pope and the Orthodox agree on. And the Anabaptists!"
Hearn, who endowed the symposium, described the two-day event as "bringing together intelligent and devout Christians to talk and philosophize about important things--not 'how to' sessions but to ask 'what or why.' We usually are so busy planning the next service we don't have time to discuss and reflect. That is what this is for."
"I think our time together brought a smile to God's face," Bradley said in closing. "From that I can draw great joy that can sustain me. We heard many, many prophetic things; chased a lot of rabbit and even caught a few. It's like a box of rich chocolates. If I try to digest it all at once I'd probably throw up. But if I bite it off an idea at a time and work on it that way I will be enriched and can go out and help the Church be what God intended for it to be."