Get Off My Lawn!

Recently, I was involved in an online discussion about the state of worship music. Most of those in the conversation were worship leaders of my generation. They spoke of the glory days, of worship experiences gone by. A few lamented that modern worship has become overly polished and programmatic. Others complained about a younger microwave generation, who had no patience to wait on God. I am overstating a bit to make my point, but the conversation was somewhat reminiscent of the scene from Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, where his lead character mutters to a group of young gangsters through gritted teeth, “Get off my lawn!”

Finally, one who I would consider a grandfather statesman of the group, a grizzled veteran who was a pioneer worship leader in the 70s and 80s, weighed in. He simply said, “I just want to hear the thunder of His voice in worship.” What he meant was that he didn’t really care what or how we sang, so long as we experienced the power of His presence. For me, that was the end of the conversation, and the beginning of a season of meditating on a theme that I feel is really important to the future of worship and of the Church.

It wasn’t too long ago, in the early 1990s, that my generation was a newly-minted crop of worship leaders. We left Bible College full of the Word and the Spirit, armed with new skills and an anointing that would impact the Church of that day. Not surprisingly, it was difficult for our spiritual fathers to accept us. These new worship songs weren’t like what the local church was used to singing. It was a bit uncomfortable for the seasoned saints during our “wet behind the ears” days. It was if they were saying to us, “get off my lawn!”

Sounds pretty familiar when we look at today, doesn’t it?

As I went through this season, I was led to read through the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. In the very last verse of the book, there is an interesting passage that foreshadows the ministry of John the Baptist:

“He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.

Luke’s gospel confirms this calling through the angel Gabriel’s message regarding the ministry of John the Baptist, that his ministry is not only to call people to repentance and baptism, but also to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and children to their fathers.

When we look at the world today, we see multiple generations of people who have been abandoned either physically, emotionally, or spiritually by their fathers. The results are devastating. We see the ravage of fatherless homes not just in the inner cities anymore, but also in the ‘burbs.

In the Church, I would posit that there is a similar epidemic. There is a lack of true spiritual fathers who are willing to impart a spiritual legacy in the next generation of Kingdom servants. Generation gaps and cultural rifts occur, I believe, when we do not impart the things entrusted to us  on to others.

Fatherless churches can lead to worship wars in which sons and daughters struggle against figureheads, and figureheads alienate their sons and daughters by failing to impart a legacy. Note the intentional usage of the word “figureheads,” because there is a difference between being a figurehead and a father. Based on the entirety of Malachi 4:6, I’m not certain that God is likely to bless these types of dysfunctional relationships.

As one who has experienced the mantle of leadership in the Church, God has been challenging me fulfill the role of a spiritual father. Like Elijah, it is critical for the leaders of my generation- and not just ministers- to accept the father role in the family of God. If we carefully read the passage regarding John the Baptist’s ministry, it is noted that he will serve in “the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” We may not feel like Elijah or John the Baptist, but the principle applies.

Perhaps you’re in a situation where those younger than you aren’t teachable. It’s not just a malady of the Millennial generation- it’s always been the case that youth brings overconfident self-reliance. I would encourage you to continue to love as a father would, extending grace where you may not deem it to be deserved.

To those young readers who are in need of spiritual fathers (and mothers!), I encourage this: Be flexible and teachable. The older generation’s worship styles may seem “hokey” to you, but to many, it is something from which you can learn. Remember that your generation’s artistic expression is always subject to the message of the Cross. When we exalt “our worship expression” over that of others, it becomes something that God never intended. Realize too, that in a short amount of time, a generation younger than you will arise with their own worship songs and emphases, and it will be up to you to embrace them and entrust those things you have learned.

When Elijah was taken away by the Lord, his protege Elisha cried out, “My father! My father!” Elijah’s ministry was blessed doubly through Elisha because of his willingness to be a father to him, AND because Elisha chose to learn from his spiritual father.  May the fathers of our generation turn their hearts to their sons and daughters, and may the sons and daughters turn their hearts back to their fathers!

I would be remiss not to say that this post has been really challenging for me to write, because there are many implications for my own life. I hope that you will prayerfully embrace this biblical model of ministry whether you are a father, or son, or daughter. God’s lawn is a pretty amazing place where we are all invited; there’s no need to tell anyone to get off of it!