Would Jesus Be Welcome In Our Churches?
As a youth director in various churches early in my career, I did my best to listen to as much Christian music as possible to share some of the better stuff with my students.
There was a lot of schlocky Christian music then (there still is, to be fair), but I have to say that for the most part, the Christian music scene back in the mid-90s to mid-2000s was far edgier, theologically open, and better sounding than the stuff on Christian radio today.
Artists like the Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Supertones, Jars of Clay, Relient K, and Switchfoot were always on my playlist, as well as serious hard rock bands like Skillet, Chevelle, Demon Hunter, Haste The Day, P.O.D., and As I Lay Dying.
Sadly, Christian music today has been ground down by the dominant Christian culture to the point that pretty much everything sounds the same. The lyrics are maudlin, sappy, and absolutely forgettable.
I sound like an old fuddy-duddy at this point, I know. But I thought about all of this today after I saw a song by an artist I've always liked named Todd Agnew. Todd wrote a song called "My Jesus" that I doubt very seriously would get a lot of airplay on Christian radio in our current culture.
In fact, this line alone would probably keep it off the air:
'Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud
And I think He'd prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud
I have to confess when I first heard this song, I wept like a baby.
I wept partly because I'd spent so much time and energy trying to get the churches where I worked to loosen up and be more welcoming to youth and young adults and partly because I was convicted of my pride and unwillingness to truly love everybody like Jesus did.
My life in ministry has always been informed by the vision of the church I currently serve: To Love God and Love Everybody.
I haven't always done it well, and I'm still learning what it means, to be fair. But as I look back on the years I've spent in ministry, I can see how that vision has shaped, prodded, guided, and, at times, completely wrecked me--in a good way.
As I listened to that Todd Agnew song today, I felt myself tearing up, just like I did the first time. It brought me back to that wide-eyed, hopeful, hair-on-fire young guy who wanted to change the Church with a bigger vision of what it could be.
A wise mentor from those days once told me that being able to draw a big crowd wasn't as important to God as making a difference in the lives of a handful of students who knew you loved them and came to know that God loved them more.
It's easy to forget that sometimes. And it's also easy for each of us to get stuck in the ruts of our comfortable religion and forget that Jesus never wanted his followers to choose comfort over compassion or traditions over true love.
Bob Goff once wrote:
When love has an agenda, it isn't love any more. It's just another program. We choose to give away love for no other reason than our recognition that people are worth it.
May those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus have the courage to do so without any agenda except for Jesus' own, which he related this way: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.