In one of the congregations I worked in last year I ran across a story that had become legendary in that congregation. It seems as if the pastor had told the story many times so the detailed authenticity of the story is suspect. However, I have learned that some of the most profound truths are seldom in the details.
The central character in the story is a twenty‑something named Jerry. Jerry played lead guitar in a band that played in a night club every Saturday night. As the story goes, Jerry played a mean guitar. At the end of each gig, Jerry collected his $200 and went home in his smoke ridden clothes to his wife of a few years. Jerry’s wife waited tables in local diner to help make ends meet.
One day a friend of Jerry’s called and pleaded with Jerry to play his guitar in their church band on Sunday because their guitar player was ill. They couldn’t pay him anything other than their gratitude. Jerry owed his friend for years of friendship, so he agreed to play, just that once. After all, Jerry didn’t believe in religion of any kind. Religion he thought was for weak‑minded people.
That morning when Jerry played in the band, he actually enjoyed the company of those weak‑minded people. He was intrigued by the closeness of the group. The fact that they prayed before they played fascinated Jerry. Why would they do that? No one needs God’s help to display their talent. But Jerry was also bothered. After the prayer, the group gave each other a big hug and had tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces.
Several months went by. Jerry continued to play with the night club band. One afternoon his friend called him and asked if he would consider playing in their band regularly. The regular drummer had moved to another city and they thought Jerry would be a good replacement. All they could pay him was $50 a week. But the group really like him and would be honored to play with him.
Jerry was surprised that they asked him to play with them in church since he was open about not being a Christian. He and his friend had talked about his feelings about religion several times. But Jerry needed the money. So he accepted.
A few months later Jerry confided to his wife that playing in the club band on Saturday night until 2:00 and then being a church at 7:30 was getting to be too much and that he had decided to quit playing at the church. He also confessed to his wife that he hated to do this because he enjoyed playing at the church more than in the night club, but they needed the money.
Jerry’s wife responded in a way that took Jerry by surprise. “I would rather you quit the night club job. I like you much better since you started playing in the church band. In fact I like the change so much, I’m willing to take a second job so you can quit playing the night job. I’ll even go with you on Sunday.”
Jerry took her up on the offer because he really enjoyed the people in the church band. But he felt he had to warn his friend. So he informed the band that they needed to know that joining them did not mean he believed in organized religion or even in God. However, he acknowledged to them that he knew he was not the same person that he used to be.
The group gave Jerry all the time he needed because they knew that Jerry had begun the long, post‑modern journey to Christ. They continued to have prayer and Bible study before ever practice and always invited Jerry to join them. They secretly banded together to love and nurture Jerry and above all to role model Jesus before him.
At first, Jerry came to practice after the prayer and Bible study was over. Over time, Jerry began to show up early for the Bible study. Then one day he joined the group for the prayer time. He had grown curiously close to this group and could not get enough of what they had. He wanted to feel the way they felt.
Two years later, Jerry looked back on the journey and confessed to his wife that somewhere along the way his life had radically changed. He knew beyond doubt that Jesus was now a vital part of his life and that nothing would be the same for him ever again. So describes the spiritual journey of many postmoderns.
Several implications can be drawn from this story. For one thing, it is hard to not be struck by the spiritual, evangelical depth of the young people in the band. They saw their role to be far more than just making music for the worship service. They were a community of believers who were living out their faith through their music. Their primary role was to nurture Jerry along his journey into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Does your choir have prayer and Bible Study before practice? I don’t mean an opening prayer, but fifteen to thirty minutes of prayer followed by Bible study before ever looking at the music? I can just hear someone say “that’s not why I sing in the choir. If I wanted to go to a Bible study I would go to one. I want to sing.” I can just hear some choir director say “I’m a musician, not a theologian. I didn’t sign on for that.” Maybe that’s part of our ongoing spiritual dilemma. We have too many musicians who wouldn’t be caught dead in church next week if they weren’t being paid to direct the choir. What we need are more musicians who love God more than their music and understand that the only good music is that which transforms lives. Would it change your church if people were converted in your choir practices? Would it make a difference in the ministry of your church if the choir waged war on evil rather than on one another?
Second, we seem to be moving from a time in which many people had a dramatic Damascus experience of conversion to an Emmaus type of experience ‑from salvation being more of an event to it being more of a journey. Instead of a dramatic, immediate conversion, people are taking two to four years of befriending and role modeling before they come to the awareness that Jesus has come into their lives. What we need today are less “truth tellers” and more “experience validators” like Peter and his experience with Cornelius in Acts 10.
Third, notice the gentle way the band members befriended Jerry and allowed him to progress on the journey at his own pace. They were not out to put another notch on their conversion belts. They were about loving him because God first loved them. They wouldn’t consider themselves evangelists, just people who were head‑over‑heal‑ in love with Jesus. They knew Jerry needed what someone had helped them find in the past.
Finally, somewhere, somehow, someone had instilled in the band members that the role of a Christian is to lovingly and relationally pass on to others the grace that has come into their lives. Their role as worship leaders was far more than just making good music. Their role was to make disciples, and they knew it.
What would happen in your church if every leader understood that his/her role was to make disciples using whatever gifts they have? Would that change things? I can hear the skeptic say “that’ll never happen in this world.” Well, my friends, I see this happening all over the place, unfortunately rarely in established/mainline churches because that is the role of the professional hired gun . . . the preacher.
This brings us to the heart of the problem for three out of four churches in the western world . . . the leaders of those churches have become people of bricks and mortar instead of Disciples of Jesus. Their hearts are turned to stone. They exist for what their preacher and their church can do for them. They seldom ever contemplate the words, “Go make disciples.” They do not exist to give themselves away as light and salt to the world. They simply go about tending to their buildings, singing in their choirs, going to their meetings . . . and they wonder why so few people find new life in their churches.