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!


What’s next?

One of my recurring prayers over the last few months has been to seek God’s understanding of what His purposes are in these days in congregational worship. One of the lasting worship leaders of our time, Kent Henry, espouses the assertion that a new generation of worship is born every 15 years or so. I can’t disagree. In my lifetime, there have been several distinct worship “movements,” or “seasons of worship”, with different emphases (both good and not so good) revealing a kernel of truth about God’s purposes.

In the midst of this prayer of mine, over the last few weeks, I have been consistently been drawn back to a passage in Isaiah 61. This passage has led me on a chase through the scriptures as I sought to understand its impact. Isaiah 61 starts with a very familiar Messianic passage that we understand was fulfilled by Christ. The end of the chapter, verses 10-11, are my focus. It is generally accepted by scholars that these two verses are Israel’s response to the promise of the Messiah:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

There is so much in this passage, but to summarize, we have the prophet Isaiah speaking for Zion, declaring delight and rejoicing for having been given hope of salvation, restoration, and right standing before the Lord, especially in a season of judgment. The last bit of the passage, though, is my focus.

The passage is apparent that God’s purpose is to cause “righteousness and praise spring up before (in the view of) all nations.” The words of this passage speak of something new coming to life. In this context, it is the renewal of right standing with God and new expressions of worship. True worship is always accompanied with a right heart. You can’t separate the two. True worship also makes an impact on those who do not believe- the nations. Israel’s mission was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” representing God before the nations. This mission was extended to the church through the work of Christ.

As we enter the spring time of the year, we are beginning to see the tender shoots of flowers beginning to sprout up from the ground. Soon, little gardens will be planted in suburban back yards. It’s always amazing to me to see this miracle where there was no apparent life, but now there exists a young, new expression of God’s creation.

As the flowers of the field are of a cyclical nature, so are seasons of worship. I strongly believe that the current season of worship expression is wrapping up, having fulfilled God’s purposes for it. I won’t get into detail with this current paradigm, but one of the strengths of this season is that it has exposed the worship of God to the world, very much in keeping with God’s intent for His people. How many times have we seen one of these reality TV singing talent shows be blown away when an anointed musical servant makes a musical declaration of faith over the airwaves- and they have not been cast in a mocking light? It has been unprecedented, for certain.

With this in mind, my prayer is that a new sprout of worship will grow from the seeds of this passing generation, with a heart for God and for the nations. Adjoining my prayer is that the next generation of worship will be infused with a fresh sense of joy. I feel that this is essential to what comes next. Our days are filled with the world’s anxiety and dread. I believe that the church and the world are craving for songs and expressions of worship that inspire joy. My second prayer is that it will be indwelt with a deeper understanding of the presence of God. My consistent message in ministry always has been that the Lord can do more with one second in His presence than we can accomplish in our lifetime. When we pursue afresh the presence of the Lord, then truly, believers will be transformed, and unbelievers will be confronted with the living God!