In the Defense of Grumpy Old Men
As a youth, we attended a church that had a large focus on college students. If you moved to town, and began attending our church in the summer, you would find a small community of a few hundred gathered regularly and living life together. However, the moment students began to arrive at Mississippi State University for the fall semester the church would begin to burst at the seams and the congregation became numbered much closer to the thousands, with the median age being around twenty.
It turns out that back in the 80’s our church was Evangelical, Missional, & Intentional – much like what it seems many church’s today are seeking. We were contemporary, relevant, – I mean, seriously, we called ourselves Contemporvant before being called Contemporvant was cool. You don’t know what Contemporvant is? Watch the video!
All right, we were perhaps not quite Contemporvant, but we were all about the mission; our mission was to reach college students and we did that extremely well. The amazing thing is that it looked a lot back then the way it looks today. We embraced contemporary Christian music, we focused on creating a corporate worship environment that would appeal to 19-22 year olds. I don’t believe that we sacrificed the Gospel in doing so; rather, with solid integrity, we managed to impact the lives of thousands of young and maturing adults.
Being a teenager through the 80’s, the whole experience was right up my alley. Drums and guitars on the stage during the singing portion of the service, heck yea! Let’s get Petra back in here for an encore! Well, to be fair, the morning services were fairly traditional with piano and organ accompanying the traditional hymns sung in the traditional ways. It was the evening services that were the cool ones, and Wednesday night prayer meetings, and the Friday night gatherings.
Sunday morning didn’t tend to look too much different from Pawpaw’s church out in the backwoods. Except we pushed a thousand people trying to squeeze in, and most of them weren’t dressing in their interviewing clothes, much less their Sunday best. However, I remember clearly the dichotomy between the Old Guard and Young Bucks. The youngun’s wanted guitars and drums, the more mature members of our congregation desired A Capella renditions of A Mighty Fortress, Old Rugged Cross, and Amazin’ Grace. There was one summer, around 1985, that I remember being particularly contentious.
We had a fresh young contemporary music director start that summer, and he was on fire for the mission of reaching those college students. It was his opinion that we should make the morning service more contemporary. Being a teenager, I thought this was a fantastic plan, the dude was a visionary, give me more drums please, and perhaps (being Mississippi State) some cowbell! I was all about rocking out that morning service. Unfortunately, many of the older folkswere against it. Not just a little bit against it, but very much, with a passion, against it.
I was confused by the whole ordeal. Singing Amazin’ Grace with Electric Guitars and steel drums rocks, there is no teaching in Scripture against doing such a thing, and it will certainly attract more people than listening to a bunch of old folks croak out the song A Capella. It wasn’t just random old folks in the church that were up in arms, it was the men who were at the heart of Church. Stalwarts of the faith, leaders, not some guy on the fringe who showed up at Christmas and Easter.
I decided they were silly and dismissed them as absurd. Old men crying about how a particular song is sung. When that new music director finally won the battle, and they set up the drums permanently on the stage, I felt like everything was correct in the world. About half of those old men, and their families, left the church over it. I felt justified in dismissing them as irrelevant, ignorant, backwards old fogies; besides, for each one that left, we surely replaced them with numerous additional college students – and that was our mission, right?
Since that summer, I’ve had an overwhelming curiosity to understand how a man could be driven to leave a congregation he had invested years in. For twenty something years I’ve continued to dismiss it as an ultimate silliness. Something is broken in men, there is some sort of pride issue, I’ve never been quite sure what it is, but I have been certain that it is a sin of some sort. Seriously, who doesn’t want to wear flip flops, get a tattoo, and sing contemporary songs in order to reach people for Christ? Then it happened, the good Lord saw fit to show me precisely what sits in those men’s hearts by revealing to me that I myself have become one of those grumpy old men.
I was attending a service at Exodus church, where our family is heavily vested. My good friend, whom I love dearly, Nathan Chapmen, introduced the next song we would sing, and my heart leapt for joy, my soul was igniting in anticipation of singing this song in worship, and to the glory, of God. The song happens to be extremely precious to me, stirring up memories of worshiping Christ with men who significantly impacting my life. I can not sing such a song without considering Pawpaw (maternal grandfather for some of you), his love of music and his love of God. While there are numerous things about my Pawpaw that I do not appreciate, these types of songs bring out the best of the memories painting a compelling picture of the man I desire to be. My brother wrote an article on Facebook last year, about this time, on somewhat the same topic.
I simply can not sing such a song and not be reminded of standing next to my dad on Sunday mornings and singing alongside him, it reminds me of how he loved Christ, trained and encouraged me to press into Christ. When I sing these types of songs, I can almost imagine transcending to heaven for a moment and standing between my Dad and my Pawpaw (both of which are long since passed away), surrounded by a throng of Christian men who have passed on, and singing praise to the Lord. So there I am, on fire and burning with an anticipation and passion to begin worshiping Christ through this song we are about to sing.
The music starts, and something isn’t quite right. No worries, I’m still on track, I’ve got this. This is going to be A W E S O M E !! I’m already correcting the rhythm in my head for them, they will adjust, any moment now. Yep, just, any … moment …. Tracey is nudging me at this point and telling me I’m singing it wrong. I suppose I should be thankful, we were about half way through the first stanza, and I’m not one to whisper a song I’m excited to sing. Folks in the seats near us must have been wondering what I thought I was doing. At the time, I didn’t much care, I felt like my heart had been ripped out of chest, through my stomach, and that everyone was then dancing on it. Anger was the immediate response, and I had to struggle mightily to choke it down.
It turns out that the song in question was sung (and has been since) with the same words, but a different tune. Let me affirm here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, many songs I personally enjoy differ in tune from the original writings. The difference being that I learned the rewritten version first, so the original sounds odd to me, as opposed to the other way around. Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong, or sinful, or otherwise against God in doing this. Yet it pains me greatly. It hurts incredibly. I find it nigh on unbearable and would go so far as to say it is the emotional equivalent of the physical sensation produced by gout. I just want to get up and walk out and never return when we sing certain songs in this manner.
There is a cerebral part of me that looks at myself and asserts, yer a silly old man Bubba. I mean, seriously, who gets worked up about singing a song to a different tune? How absurd is that? Yet, at the same time, it hurts. Something very precious and dear to me is subverted and abused. I don’t enjoy it and I desire to find joy in my worship of Christ. I long for the opportunity to worship Christ through those songs in the midst of the corporate assembly in a way that does not hurt, but brings me to the place where I might imagine myself in the throne room, amongst the godly men who raised me up.
That isn’t likely to happen, much like that summer in 1985, the new kids like the remix. There are more of them than there are of me. I now need to learn how to sing an old song, in a new way, to the Glory of God. Please pray for me, I write this with tears in my eyes, because I really, deeply, just want my song(s) back.
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