A Gift That Keeps On Giving

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One of the perks of growing up and working in ministry is that I’ve gotten to meet some really passionate, genuine ministry leaders. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to counsel with and pray for them on occasions.  When you serve side by side with these folks, slaving and laboring with them for the lives of their flocks, strong friendships are forged.  

 

 Quite a while ago now, one of my youth pastor pals planned a huge Youth Revival at his church. He called me to request prayer and planning assistance. And I happily helped—mostly with cheerleading from the sidelines as he struggled to plan his event in a church that has been well-known for its old-fashioned and borderline legalistic ideologies.  On the opening night of the Youth Revival, I drove three hours to “stand on the wall” and support them in prayer. I knew I’d be facing a bit of a battle there, but I really wasn’t prepared for the reality and the gravity of the situation. 

 

A phenomenal praise team had been invited to lead praise and worship. They, in clean jeans and modest t-shirts, led with songs like, “Salvation is Here” and “Oceans Will Part.”  It was mild, mellow, and contemporary in style, and the Spirit of the Lord was so palpable in that room that He was almost tangible.  The youth pastor and I stood in the balcony sound booth, weeping because the Spirit was moving so strongly.  But looking down from the balcony, we could see the battle lines that had been drawn: the youth stood in the front two rows, captivated, but hesitant to worship.  The adults stayed toward the back, seated and unmoved.  Many of the adults sat with stony faces and crossed arms.  The youth sensed this and seemed to be afraid to let go and worship the Lord.  Partway through the service, I felt moved by the Spirit to “be a match.”  I went down and joined the youth pastor’s wife in the third row.  I sang along with the music and raised my hands.  When I looked around, I was one of only four people (myself, the speaker, the youth pastor and his wife) who were praising the Lord outwardly. 

 

The speaker was excellent. Anointed. Captivating. And at the end of the service, he gave an open invitation to the altar.  The teens fairly ran down to altar.  Almost every young person in the church came down and prayed at the altar that night as the praise band played.  Since there were few altar workers, I prayed with three of the girls, then stepped back and looked around.  Every single adult that wasn’t at the altar with the youth had left the room.  They had gotten up and LEFT!  In contrast, the teens were at the altar, basking in the presence of the Lord.  When the senior pastor walked past me, I stopped him and said, “Pastor, isn’t it exciting that the young people don’t want to leave the presence of the Lord?”  He never answered me, but instead, turned and walked away.  I left there that night, concerned about the attitude of the pastor and many of the other adults, but knowing that we’d obeyed the Lord and that those youth had experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

The next afternoon, the youth pastor’s wife called me, almost in tears, to tell me about their Sunday morning service.  Their senior pastor had gotten up in the pulpit that morning and harshly criticized the Youth Revival.  He apologized to the church for having invited the speaker and the praise team. He condemned the way we’d worshiped, the songs we’d chosen, the instruments we’d played, the volume we’d played at, and even what we’d worn.  He announced that from that time on, no contemporary worship would be allowed in their church and that if anyone didn’t like it, they could leave. 

 

When the youth pastor’s wife and I discussed this incident, I was so grieved!  When I shared it with my friend Joell, her comment summed it up.  She said, “How Jesus’ heart must hurt!”  My grief wasn’t about being personally rejected.  My grief was about the fact that Jesus wants us to have a relationship with Him, but instead of cultivating our relationship with Him, we choose to focus on rules and regulations.  We try to put God into a box and tell Him what He can and cannot and must and must not be.  We beg our youth to come to Christ and then hold up a picture in front of them of our skewed idea of Christianity.  We tell them to give up their God-given personalities and live up to an impossible standard.  Then, at the end of the day, we hold our heads in our hands and wonder why they don’t want any part of it.

 

The enemy is trying and sometimes succeeding in seducing the Body of Christ into a counterfeit religion to replace their relationship with Christ.  When a church is so focused on making sure that their kids LOOK right that they forget to make sure that their children know Jesus, there is an obvious problem. If we only give ONE gift to our kids, let it be the gift of allowing them to be WHO they are while also knowing WHOSE they are.

 

About Sarah Salter

Comments

  1. Again, I defer to Rob Bell in that some people are bricks. They think God is a certain way, and they build a wall based around that ideal. Then, if any ONE brick is moved or dislodged, their whole religion is a sham.

    Whereas, we should be like springs. Able to flex and bend. Able to test what we believe and what we don’t and it’s okay for new things. (Velvet Elvis)

    But, so many people are determined to fit faith into a brick wall… that they miss the GLORY and the WONDER that is the crucified God, almighty.

    This story is sad, and even more saddening is the fact that it’s being played out all over the world right now. We can only pray for those people. That their hearts being softened. That they could experience everything that God has set in front of them, and dance.

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Brian, thanks for your insights (and thanks to Rob Bell, too!) I agree that it’s sad. And it’s even WORSE when it’s kids. The statistics grow worse every year about how more and more kids make their decisions for Christ before they’re even old enough to shave. That makes it even more crucial that we get it right with them!

  3. This reminds me of Chris’ post about how the boy didn’t want to go to church because he didn’t have the right shoes… if only he were accepted and welcomed with open arms, shoes or no shoes…

    It angers me to hear these things, and I think “How Jesus’ heart must hurt” really says it all!

    Thanks for the ‘rant’, Sarah! 😉

  4. This was very sad. It bugs me when people seem to think that God prefers 18th century music to 20th or 21st century music. Don’t get me wrong, I think the old hymns are beautiful. Some of them I love even more than contemporary ones. But I hate it when we put our taste in worship above worship. There are many gifts, but the same Spirit. Why not many ways to worship using our gifts?

  5. I’m imagining the feeling of just having received God’s grace with all your friends, then going home that night to your parents and having your bubble burst. Utter teenage confusion. We have to meet these kids where they are. Rules, schmules. Nobody was more radically rule-breaking than Jesus himself. Let’s let them learn from the best.

    Your rant is justified, Sarah.

  6. I wonder how many of those kids will never step foot inside a church again because they will remember feeling condemed by a bunch of New Testament Pharisees. Very sad that those adults sat in judgement of those kids and the people reaching out to them instead of embracing them and their desire for a relationship with Jesus.

    And that pastor..well, I’m not going to say anything else because this kind of thing really ticks me off and it’s probably best if I just keep my mouth shut.

    And Sarah, you just keep doing what God leads you to do. Those kids need people like you and others with hearts for them.

  7. You and your YP friend isn’t going to like what I have to say here. The YP knew what the church was like when planning the revival. Did he talk to the Senior Pastor and make sure he was informed about what to expect?

    When a church is closed to this kind of thing it isn’t reasonable to try and push them into it. More importantly the SP is in charge for right or wrong.

    That is why I am so grateful that my SP supports me 100% even when I draw in more fire. I resolved after going through a church split before I came here (so yeah I’m in my second) that I would support and serve my SP and if it came to a place that I couldn’t I would leave instead of causing strife.

    The YP needs to sit down with the SP and work it out as a servant. If this isn’t possible he needs to find out how to serve God in a different place. If he is called to those students in that city then a different church or maybe even a non church ministry.

    I know it would seem like I would say something different .. and I am outrageously angry that people exist like this, but instead of letting them marginalize us I say we push them to the irrelevant % of Christians. We can’t do that if we don’t hold to the highest standards an that means not behaving like them.

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Nick, I don’t dislike what you said. Your points here are valid. But to answer your question, yes, the YP had talked to the SP. The SP had heard the praise band before (though not in his own sanctuary) and knew the speaker before and told the YP he approved of them. I guess that when he heard that type of “foreign” music in his sanctuary, it just struck him differently than when he’d heard them elsewhere. (“Foreign” meaning “not what he’s used to within his own sanctuary.”)

  9. This is just one more example of why non-Christians and fence-sitters turn away. They see reactions like this from the SP, file it under “judgemental thus-and-so, Christian,” and keep moving on to find someone they feel is real, rather than a hypocrite. I realize it’s very hard to balance the need to stand strong in belief with the desire to reach out to others where they are, but I fear there are too many in the Christian community who can’t see beyond their “brick wall” to their effect on those they so desperately want to see saved.

    Good post, Sarah. It’s a necessary part of the dialogue.

  10. Just remember the forces out “there” that are only trying to divide us. As they say, sometimes we are our own worst enemies. The church needs to be careful not to argue over such things. We have to stand strong, even if we disagree in these details. There are enough things fighting against us.

    The way to worship is a personal preference, not something mandated by God. We have had this battle in our church for years. And obviously it’s in others as well since you always see signs that state a time for a “contemporary” services. I’ve been at my church for 18 years and I’ve seen the pendulum swing back and forth from singing mostly singing hymns to only contemporary, to them trying to find a balance.

    Personally, I like a little of both. But either way, I’m not going to fight.

    I think that what happened to you was awful. And obviously the SP lost sight of what you all were trying to do in the first place. But alas, he is human, too. And just trying to do what he thinks is best for his congregation. (Remember that rule of submitting to leadership? Yikes. But the leadership also needs to remember who is really in charge.)

    Thanks, Sarah.

  11. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks, Becca! I love the way you put this that it’s part of a dialogue! I love much of the traditional-style worship I grew up with and I love much of the contemporary-style worship I have in my current church. The key is not to get bogged down in fighting over worship styles, but rather to have an open dialogue over the REAL issue: cultivating our relationships with Christ and encouraging and assisting others with their relationships with Christ.

  12. Sarah Salter says:

    Ginny- “Personally, I like a little of both. But either way, I’m not going to fight.” — Amen! Well said!

  13. I don’t know what to say… It’s so sad.

    Also, I think this post was passionate, but it didn’t feel like a rant to me. :)

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