Gene Simmons, famous for his theatrical rock shows with his band, Kiss, has declared “rock music is finally dead.” What he’s actually saying, when the interview is more carefully read, is that the rock music industry is dead. “It’s very sad for new bands. My heart goes out to them. They just don’t have a chance.” He’s not talking about rock and roll. He’s talking about the the institution of the recording industry.
That same assessment could easily apply to the Church: The institutions of Christianity are struggling. But the reality is that the teachings and truths and practices of Christianity are alive and thriving. And so is rock and roll, for that matter. It’s a little tougher to find. And authenticity is a difficult standard to apply. It just doesn’t look like it once did.
Still Good News
The good news is that there’s still Good News. And, as that great prophet, Billy Joel, once said, “Everybody’s talking ’bout the new sound; funny, but it’s still rock and roll to me.” You don’t have to have the accoutrements of Christianity to experience Christianity. The problem with confusing the accoutrements with the central tenets of the faith is that you end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater — or worse, throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.
You don’t have to have a building that functions a certain way. You do have to inhabit a space where heaven and earth draw nearer to one another. As NT Wright puts it, ““Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.”
Gene is decrying the death of big-dollar, stadium-venue rock and roll. Today, rock and roll performance seems to be returning to its roots in clubs and smaller venues. And the genre, like other musical expressions, finds its denizens branching out across the internet through services like Soundcloud and other indy startups. But the industrial mindset is still prevalent. Major corporations are already getting involved and trying to monetize the model.
You don’t have to meet with a Sunday School class anymore. You do have to have intentional life together with accountability for learning and practicing the disciplines that result in God’s transformation of your life. The christian culture has been rediscovering small group life. That’s where it started: Jesus and twelve of his closest friends, leading a few hundred in discipleship. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two, there’s no indication that they were part of a band of disciples. But, if you divided them amongst the Twelve, each disciple would, theoretically, have six disciples to teach and lead in turn.
If that’s not Wesleyan structure, I don’t know what is. Enough with piling everyone into a massive class that one merely “attends.” Get into a small group, roll up your sleeves, and do life together.
To carry on the notion that you don’t have to meet with a Sunday School class anymore, take a look at the scheduling of meetings of Christians across the span of the ordinary calendar week. I have a small group meeting every Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. When do you meet your small group?
The idea that Sunday is the only day comes from the ancient practice of celebrating worship on the same day of the week as the day of the Resurrection. While this practice of worship and study became the norm, it is not the mandate. The busy lives of the people around us may not always take tradition as priority. To reach more people with these life changing ideas and practices, those who are intentional about making disciples and being disciples must stretch and bend a little more.
The More Things Change
As all of this transition and change come about, the folks who have been faithful to the traditions are wondering if they’ve been abandoned or betrayed. It certainly seems like the Church is moving away from those who faithfully carried the torch and endured the vacillations of culture and society without wavering.
But, looking carefully, we see that the changes that are becoming the norm are really part of the broad and sweeping movements of the Church over the last two millennia. Our goal is not to preserve the institution, but to drive our introspection into the heart of what it means to live as Christ. Our goal is not to keep doing what we’re doing “no matter what,” but to follow after Jesus “no matter what.”
So I can understand the difficulty Gene Simmons is facing. His industry is changing around him just like the Church is changing around some of our veteran pastors and members. But the rock industry was never about the industry. It was about the music.
And the church industry, such as it is, never should have existed in the first place, in my humble opinion. The Church should have been and should always be about the work and words of the Christ and how we, as followers of Jesus, can put those words into action.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend and they live in Kentucky. Joey serves Mayfield First United Methodist Church, the Purchase District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.