A conversation in the parking lot

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top by jack o'diamonds

Easter Sunday, two days ago.

The energy as people gathered and greeted was crackling. The worship was spirited, enthusiastic. The message was Christ-centered, pointed, life-giving.

After the first service, I greeted a couple I’ve known for a few months. They’ve been attending our church for about a year. As they were leaving, they asked if they could talk to me. They pointed at the speakers outside our church which were, just then, blaring out some song by ZZ Top.

I need to tell you a couple things about me and this music.

First of all, for some reason that’s largely a mystery to me, I have come to love this kind of music. About an hour before this conversation took place, I told one of our pastors that, deep inside, I am a blues musician. That if we could ever figure out how to get that out to my hands and feet, we could have a lot of fun.

My second point is that rock’n’roll and blues is hardly my musical background. My education was in classical and church music. We didn’t do ZZ Top at either of my schools.

I just thought of a third point. I long ago decided that I was getting to an age (I am 58 and have followed Christ for some 37 years now) where I wasn’t coming to church in order to get my needs met. I was coming in order to help people meet Jesus and to help them grow. That means that I’m all in on whatever music meets the need of that audience. And, surprise, I’ve come to like it.

But here I was—on Easter Sunday—with a couple who were unhappy about the very music I was enjoying to that point.

“That is the way we used to live.”

“Do you hear that music?” the husband asked.

I have no clue what message was being conveyed by the expression on my face.

“This is the music we listened to before we became Christians—”

“We don’t listen to it any more,” his wife added. “We don’t even have secular music in our home.”

It’s funny, I had no trouble hearing and understanding the heavily-accented words of this European couple, even over ZZ Top and the enthusiastic crowd behind us in the parking lot. Still, I leaned forward so I could understand their concerns and maybe learn some of their history.

“ZZ Top…that is the way we used to live. We cannot go back there.”

Is it possible to agree to disagree?

I am privileged to be part of a church whose burning focus is on reaching people for Christ. We have a saying at our church that “we will do anything short of sin to reach people for Christ.”

I tried, as best I could, to explain to my friends why this kind of music was playing in the parking lot of our church. About all the people who’ve come, who I’ve come to know, who have been transformed before my very eyes.

None of it would wash.

Is it possible, I asked, that it might be necessary for us to have different kinds of churches for different kinds of people? They acknowledged that it was possible. But they’d invested a year going to this church. And in view of the playing of this ZZ Top song, things were trending badly there.

Interestingly, whoever picks the music to play over the loudspeakers had played ZZ Top before. Many times before. Stretching well before this particular Easter morning, even before these friends had started coming. And they had never noticed.

A conversation we need to have

I’ve been pondering this situation a lot during the last two days. That very morning I had read a passage of scripture that had immediate application to conversation I had with my friends in the parking lot.

I think maybe I’ll share what I’m learning about this and then some conclusions that are forming in my mind.

In the meantime…

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Just yesterday I read a blog post by one of my newest Twitter friends that addressed this very thing. Why don’t you read that—and read the comments as well—and then talk about it here?

Thanks so much!

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12 thoughts on “Testing the Limits of “Y’all Come!”

  1. Yes, I have seen this as well. Reaching folks is the primary goal, and reaching them where THEY are at.

    But most of what we have taught folks about being a Christian is about what NOT to do. Even breaking with our former life isn’t about taking up the cross, but about no longer “doing” “listening” or “watching” stuff we used to. Yes, sin is still sin, but we can focus on sin instead of grace and love.

    I really think we have two groups to reach. The church-ified group who have been indoctrinated into churchianity, and the lost. Why both groups? Because the churchianity group is unfruitful and the lost are still lost.

    • Thanks, Bob. I know you keep up with these dynamics and I respect your thinking. There is a bit more to the conversation I had with my friends that I hope share in the follow-ups that validates much of what you’re saying.

      What I’m going to try and do is make use of the Berean Filter (remember that?) to sort this out. You can probably guess at least one of my tentative conclusions by the title I chose for the post.

      Pray for wisdom and clarity–for ALL of us!

  2. Are we called to “reach people for Christ” or “make disciples”?
    What is the difference?
    I’m starting to see a trend in the church that reinterprets Luke 9:23 to be something like: (Jesus speaking) “If anyone wishes to come after me, do what you want, as long as you show up at church and fit in. Bonus points for looking spiritual (raising hands and using Christianese) Don’t think you have to deny yourself, or take up a cross, as that is old-school. Making friends in Jesus’ name is the important part.”

    • Rick, thanks for sharing so honestly, which I realize can be a risky thing on a public blog.

      I have been in churches much like you describe. They are certainly common enough.

      This particular church doesn’t happen to be one of them.

      However, you’ve given me some grist for the mental mill (btw, what is grist?). I think you raise important points I can explore in future posts.

      Very helpful. Thanks!

  3. I am reminded of a story told by Paul Little in his book, “know why you believe.” It was an experience with he and a friend at a conference where he was one of the speakers. It involved a man who had been a baseball freak and worked six months straight very hard so he could give his all to baseball the other 6 months. He confronted the two men when he found out that they were going to a ball game after the conference. In his mind, that was what he had been saved from, So the two men did not go to the game but did spend time in fellowship and in teaching about freedom. My guess it will take time for this family to learn lessons about freedom and maybe not every church is for every body.

    • I remember that story, Tony. You’ve hit on something that’s key to this whole thing.

      The question that arises for me is this: How sensitive should we be to the sensitivities of our church members? Some of the teaching I’m going to be writing in the follow-ups is very clear about the responsibility of the “more mature” individual, but doesn’t really address large group behavior quite as clearly.

      Your thoughts? George? Rick? Bob?

  4. There’s no way any church can reach every person. What one church does will be less appealing if not offensive to some while others will simply love it. Whatever niche you have found or been led to do for the cause of Christ is what you should do till you are led to do something else.

    There are 3 stages of Christian maturity spoken of ; little children, young men, fathers. With little children in the faith everything is FOR them. With young men it is all about what they can do in their own strength FOR Christ. With Fathers, the most mature stage, they realize all they do is about and for others, whether it is harsh, loving or otherwise. Some are always going to be little children, some will get stuck at young men while some, painfully few I’m afraid, reach full maturity in Christ as Fathers. Get used to it, that’s just the way it is.

    Do not misunderstand. I’m not equating those folks who don’t like ZZ Top music applied to worship as ‘little children’… I don’t even know them. You must see that God has them, as He does us all, on a very particular, personal journey with Himself and He is leading us all on the paths of this life as He has purposed for us, for His reasons. You may yet see those who disdain secular music in church, come round to it later in life and see it’s redeeming purposes, but if they never, it’s all okay, they are no less one’d with Christ than we are.

    • George, I think you make some really good points. Couple of them will probably end up in one of my follow-ups.

      I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself on all three levels (little children, young men, fathers) at the same time in different areas. I suspect my friends in the parking lot are the same way. In my post, we’re seeing them bump (rather painfully) into a difficult issue for them. But we really don’t know them well enough to discern much else.

      We need to give each other a lot of grace, in my opinion.

      Your point about churches not being able to reach every person is true too. It reminds me of a meeting I had with the adult ed people at The Church in Cityview. One of the things I tried to get across to the team was that every decision we made was either a funnel or a filter. Just as important, the more effective the funnel (those things we did that drew folks in), the more powerfully that very thing acted as a filter, repelling those who were looking for something else. There’s an evangelistic operating principle at work in this I want to get to in my follow-ups. In fact, it will probably shape the content of this blog for quite some while.

      • I am torn by this discussion. For me at a small country church, I would have to consider very strongly changing what I am doing, if I could just as easily do something else. For example, I might change the kind of music, or even enlist opinions so people have input. Because losing someone in a small church could be costly and even damaging for the church as well as myself. There is no doubt that there needs to be a way to help Christians learn that regardless of the church we attend and the Christians we fellowship with, disagreements will be a part of the body. We can either dialogue and learn from our disagreements and hence grow closer together, or insist on our own opinion bring hurt to the body and to ourselves. As leaders we too have a responsibility to put ourselves in their shoes.

  5. Instead of thinking “different kinds of churches for different people” think of different kinds of meetings for different people. There are basically three types of meetings that I can think of: worship, teaching believers, preaching the gospel to the lost. It seems that the problem in a lot of churches is that they try to have all three types of meeting in about an hour. I once went to a church for a year that had worship for one hour, testimonies for an hour, then a teaching message for an hour, followed by personal ministry (prayer, counseling, laying on of hands for healing, etc. That same church had an evangelistic outreach whereby they sent teams out to share the gospel with unbelievers every week.

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