I moonlight as the singer in a cover band and the majority of the time we play in bars most people don’t even know exist. Cranking out Top 40 staples until 3am for a couple hundred bucks a night. But when I’m not slumming it at the bars, I play rock and roll worship at a local churches, again a couple hundred bucks a gig. Given the musical network available to me, I landed a wedding gig in the middle of the summer, which for most artistic entrepreneurs was a slam-dunk. Great pay, happy crowd, free drinks.
I was playing at the Mega Church headed by the father of the groom. Our usual Sunday worship set is a high energy smorgasbord of contemporary worship that is complimented by a lighting set up that rivals a Sigur Ros concert. I have played at this church for probably 8 years, and had met this Pastor a dozen times or so. I think we have actually delved into the world of local sports. This all goes to say that I am not a tom, dick, or harry off the street.
Before the first dance the Pastor appropriately greets the band with a handshake and a thank you. I wait eagerly as my employer walks over to me. I’m literally beaming with pride as my band mates congratulate him on the joyous day bestowed upon his family. I extend my hand. We lock eyes. My thoughts are racing through my mind regarding the significance it must mean to him that I, a member of his staff is playing at his son’s wedding. He speaks. “Thanks for playing today. It should be a good time.” I crumble. I sink. Righteous anger fills me. This is the a man who stands 10 feet from me Sunday after Sunday and he doesn’t even recognize the band!!
I gather myself before I open my mouth. “Sir, Congratulations on your fine day. I don’t know if you know, but I play at your church. I have for some time. Thank you for inviting me to play tonight.”
His vacant expression is quickly replaced by the politician within. “I thought you looked familiar,” he chants as if slapping a high five to a bar patron. He retreats. I sink again.
I drove home in a horrible mood. The wedding was a total bust. There were strict social norms that were saturated with a healthy dose of upper Midwestern evangelicalism that was guilt laden, self-deprecating, and downright lame. And if that wasn’t bad enough…NO FREE BOOZE.
I’d like to say that my experience is unique. But a loss of community seems to be one of the trade-offs inherent to worshiping at a church with thousands of people. Although I don’t want to completely discredit the what larger churches bring to the table. Mega churches have outreach mechanisms like world class preaching, ministries for every age and interest, and professional musicians – like me- that reach people who need to experience the love of Christ.
But Mega churches can also contribute to a culture of isolation and anonymity. We currently live in a world where people are seeking more. More wealth, more friends, more “likes” on Facebook, more house, more cars etc. But I believe people are actually seeking 3 things.
Community, Genuineness, and Truth.
Community is built on many things, but first come genuineness and truth. It is the honest extension to a friend or neighbor to join you in a common bond. Our bond with one another as human beings is the most integral link in advancing our understanding of belief and faith. One of the main themes spoken about by Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament was community. I think there is a much broader meaning and purpose for this explicit focus on community besides just Loving your Neighbor.
The words of Christ, as well as the Letters from Paul to the new church spoke deeply on the difficult path that Christians would walk in defending their faith. Persecution was ever present, thus the focus on community both within and outside of the church was a much-needed point of conversation.
The whole world has changed since the birth of the Church, but I believe we need to be talking about community now more than ever. The world has become so sophisticated that the average person doesn’t really need to rely on others to maintain his or her life.
I personally can do way more on my Iphone than I could by relying on other people to communicate my needs. At the end of the day, I think most people feel alone. The local anesthetics that we use on our soul for 18 hours a day wear off and leave us staring at the ceiling wondering why we feel so unfulfilled and so very Isolated. It is time, and frankly long overdue, for the church to have the hard conversations about community. Are we reaching out to others to build valuable and meaningful relationships? Is our culture within our community one that is truly welcoming in a Christ centered, Red-letter sort of way? Is our church perpetuating the attitudes that have created a culture of loneliness?
I encourage all of us, across all walks of Faith, to begin looking at our communities and asking the difficult questions. Are we creating a community that fights the current culture of Loneliness? Are we creating communities that are built on genuineness and truth?