Before making my point, let me begin with the dream I had on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.
- A PhD colleague and I were in what appeared to be St. Catherine, Jamaica (one of my home parishes), driving to Western Jamaica.
- It was late evening, and we encountered traffic. My friend decided to pull over into a church yard, to wait for the traffic diminish.
- We happened to pull over into a Baptist church yard (could have been any church denomination however) and it was having a late evening service.
- I pointed out to my colleague that this church was the denomination of my wife as a child, though not in this parish (she's from Western Jamaica).
- I suggested that we could go inside and sit and take in some of the service.
- So we went inside and sat in the pews at the back.
- The people were in worship with a lead singer and a live band leading them in song.
- After listening to the praise song for a few minutes, my colleague got up, and to my surprise (and everybody else to that matter), grabbed the cordless microphone from the female lead singer and said "Thank you, sister". (My colleague was not a Christian based on my knowledge).
- He then brought and handed the microphone to me.
- So I began to speak "Bless the Lord..."
- Before I could finish my sentence, the lead, grabbed the microphone back and said "you have no right to speak!"
- My colleague departed and I followed him.
- For the rest of our journey in the car, I embarrassingly sought to explain to him the actions of the lead and about how different denominations regulate who can speak during worship services.
End of dream.
I will not render an analysis of the dream, but on the other hand, I find it useful to make a point. The point that I think it can make is that we need a new Christian community and way of being to meet the needs of a new generation of skeptics and Bible doubters.
The Christianity that I was raised in has served its time. While Christianity rightly assumes that God exists and that the Bible is his revelation to humanity, the way that we go about our worship services and our mission needs to be more oriented around the teaching aspect of the great commission, and less around music and songs. Our church experience can not just be oriented around sermonizing and acknowledging God through music and liturgical ceremony. The needs of my generation no longer fit with the model in which we conduct our services or ministry. No longer are people certain that God exists and that God is good. Further, they are not so sure about the Bible.
My generation wants a community that provides answers and respond to concerns that they have about the goodness of God and the difficult passages in the Bible. My generation wants to believe in a benevolent God and want to believe in the Bible, but there is no guide or shepherd to help them process doubts and questions. Our church services do not help. Structuring it around music and praise do not meet the needs of this new generation, who need teaching and a forum for questions and answers. We need more church services structured around teaching with live Q & A.
This model is not alien to Christianity. Jesus, our chief example, did "sermons" where unbelievers could ask questions and where he gave candid answers, questions or parables in response. The church in Acts, also provide evidence that the apostles spent more time teaching and expounding upon Scriptures and the life events of Jesus than in any scripted music, song and liturgical ceremony. The early dynamic community of Christians had lots of teaching and doctrine, and seemingly had less good singing and music.
Further, if we are going to speak to each other in song, as Apostle Paul admonishes us, shouldn't we sing songs that speak to the needs and themes that we have to deal with today? The hymns of yesteryear cannot be sufficient. And contemporary songs must address the skepticism and the spirit of the age.
This is why I argue that the Billy Graham generation is over. "Crusade" style worship and evangelism will not win the souls of my generation. Today we need new anointed teachers and singers that do things differently. Teachers and singers that shake up our deeply held traditions and formats for Christian service or ministry. Teachers and singers that will centre our services, ministry and worship around Bible reading, teaching and questioning. To centre our worship around discussing the Bible and God's goodness in a world where many have questions and doubt.