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I am proud of the ideas we came up with for Easter holiday services back in the early nineties. As a “creative team” we truly owned our title. And, it was our sincere desire to come up with new – dare I say sensational – concepts for Easter Sunday worship.

For instance, one year we created a full-length dramatic presentation featuring Wayne and Garth (Party on!). Another year, we based the entire service on the Fox TV show called Herman’s Head. Full-length, original scripts. Theater lighting. Elaborate sets and staging. No matter what the theme, we always included six to eight “special musics” performed live by very gifted musicians.

My own unique contributions to our holiday worship brainstorming sessions include such brilliant program titles as: Get Off Your Keister, It’s Time for Easter and Stop Laughing… Easter’s Not Bunny.

(Right now seems like a good time to pause and watch one of my favorite YouTube holiday videos: Incidentally, this is a great example of how the right soundtrack – “Aviva Pastoral” by Nathan Larson – can make or break a video. Contrast to this version.)

In many ways, our creative brainstorming was driven by our goal to reach the “lost”. We knew that mid-Spring every year all the Chreasters* came out of hiding and decided they had better go to church. This reality always seemed one of those blessed examples of divine grace, that God would place in the hearts of so many heathen the notion to attend a local church instead of sleeping in.

It was a no-brainer that if we were going to put so much effort into our Easter programs, we ought to make sure people knew about them. I mean, a lot of local churches were starting to climb on the willow-creek-model-band-wagon and we were all trying our best to create an artistic and effective ‘show’ in order to see lots of true conversions on Resurrection Sunday.

In short, there was a lot of competition.

So, our church did what any other strip-mall chinese food restaurant or small claims insurance lawyer would do: we made flyers.

And, we put them everywhere. On car windshields in parking lots. On cork boards in the local coffee shops. We even did some door-hanging. Of course, occasionally people were home when we came to ‘hang’ in which case we would verbally make an invitation. But generally, the flyers did the job for us.

Now, fast-forward about 15 years. Last week, I came home to find several colorful little pamphlets hanging in plastic weather-proof baggies on the main door to our apartment complex. I assumed at first that it was the newest campaign from Dominoes. (You do know they just changed their recipe, right? Oh yes they did!). In fact, it was a flyer inviting me to a Good Friday worship service at some local church.

I sort of cringed. No wait, I DID cringe. It took some internal reflection to tease out what exactly spawned my visceral reaction. Here’s what I found deep down inside…

It’s simple: I just don’t like being invited to an event by a piece of paper. I REALLY don’t like to be invited to a church service by a piece of paper. Is there a more impersonal way to invite someone to a gathering that, in theory, is supposed to be of the utmost importance? Being invited to church by a flyer is like being invited to your own wedding by a magazine ad. (Actually, that might be kinda cool if you could pull it off).

Come to think of it, this invitation didn’t feel like an invitation because it actually wasn’t an invitation. Though it used words like, “We invite you…” on it, and it included similarly personal and friendly language inside, I am convinced that what was really going on is that I was a consumer being targeted by a seller. Instead of Chinese food or dirt-cheap lawyering, I was being sold religion.

When we call it what it is, we quickly see how wrong it is. Still, somehow we have learned to justify our religious marketing by naming it part of our ‘strategic evangelization plan’. What has caused us to resort to such tactics?

We need to stop and remember that we are the Church. We are the People of God, his manifest presence in the world. We are empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses of the good news through both word and deed. The Trinity has entrusted us as ambassadors of God’s reconciliation mission (2 Cor. 5:17-20). Jesus is making all things new – women, men, children, and all of Creation. The old has gone. The new has come!

Does all this sound like an appropriate topic for a door-hanger flyer?

Undoubtedly, some may think I’m making too big a deal out of this. “So what?” you may say. “It’s just another culturally relevant way to let people know that the Church is there for them.” Some may even reason that a flyer is better than a relationship since it gives people space and an opportunity to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation and conversation. After all, human contact is often messy.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that the Gospel is not a product for sale. Nor is church simply a building in the neighborhood to which someone can be invited. The Church is people. It’s living, laughing, loving, people. It is humans serving one another in the manner and example of Jesus. Once this reality is fully grasped, the absurdity of mixing worship with marketing flyers becomes painfully obvious.

Maybe it’s too late for you to ‘take back’ all those Easter flyers you put out this year. That’s okay. God is widely known for repeatedly redeeming our poorly chosen actions and methods. So, take heart.

Meanwhile, remember that every day is a “holy-day”. Will you choose each moment to become a real live ambassador of reconciliation and good news (a.k.a. a vital part of the Church in the world)?

Or, will you remain an evangelical marketing executive with a flare for graphic design?

*Chreasters = people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter.

My son Asher is almost nine months old. He really likes music. I know that all children have that ‘musical gene‘ or whatever it is that is programmed into them that makes them gravitate toward organized sounds. Asher is no exception.

Usually, when I carry him into the living room where our stereo is, he looks right at it and sometimes even grunts a little. All I have to do is carry him in the direction of the speakers (which are not yet on) and he begins to get excited – kicking his feet, shaking his legs, and a moving his arms all around. Once I select some music and hit ‘play’ he smiles and wants to ‘fly’ in the air, his body members in quivering vibration.

Today, I chose to put  a music video on the TV instead of just playing a CD. We haven’t yet exposed him to many movies or video, but I have noticed that with the choice between a children’s TV show and a musical performance video he seems to prefer the latter. I realized this when he was in his bouncer a couple months ago and I had the live performance called From the Basement by Radiohead playing on my iPod. Though he was at least five feet away, he was mesmerized by the tiny 2.5 inch (diagonal) screen and all of the musical action taking place on it.

This morning I put on Sting’s “The Brand New Day Tour” video from 2000. Asher sat in my lap for about five minutes straight watching the musicians play. A dynamic feat for one his age (his attention span is only about 2 minutes shorter than mine).

I hadn’t watched this performance for a while and I noticed something that really bothered me. Sting had three ‘back-up’ vocalists on that tour. Apparently, they also existed as their own music group called Scream (though, I can’t find a link anywhere to this group). The producer of this program – not sure who that is – had these three women dressed identically in extremely tight-fitting, brown-sequined, mini-skirt dresses. They danced (maybe this is the wrong verb) in perfect mechanical unison, swaying their hips sensually from side to side in an almost figure-eight motion. They did not deviate from this action for as long as they were on camera – for numerous songs in a row.

The performance of these ladies was reminiscent of a Robert Palmer video, about a decade and a half previous. (Incidentally, I’ve always thought Palmer looks like he’s trying to stifle a belch in between each phrase on this video… “When I took… (look away, belch)…/You out… (look away, belch)…, etc.”

My point is, the women – who are at least real musicians in the Sting video – have been reduced to mere automatons. This is boring. It is boring and it bothers me. I don’t like it because this choreographed reduction of personality limits the contribution by these ladies to the larger whole. It not only makes them appear nearly useless as musicians, but depreciates Sting’s overall performance, as well. Ironically, Sting may have been the very one who pushed the Palmer-esque dance routine idea for his 2000 tour.

I realize that Sting (one of my very fav musicians by the way) is a different generation from me. He was “Born in the 50’s” as The Police song says. I am part of the “Unplugged” generation. My idea of an interesting music performance to watch includes musicians in a stripped-down (at least theatrically) environment where each performer is free to emote – both physically and musically, and above all – naturally.

This does not necessarily mean each performer in this kind of environment would act rhapsodically. But, I would expect at least some variation in facial expression from person to person and minimized pre-sychronization of movement.

I realize, those who are fans of dance might argue that synchronized movement is just as artful as synchronized music performance. However, in the context of a concert, this kind of action communicates uniformity rather than creativity as it involves the contribution of the individual performer.

All of this may just be preferential musing at this point. But, when one considers how this kind of choreographed music presentation has influenced contemporary church music, I think we can arrive at a critical conclusion.

While authenticity in artistic expression may not be a preferred quality that spans generational gaps, authenticity in musical worship – it can be argued – must necessarily be presented with utmost genuineness. This is because the kind of performance undertaken in worship leading is not the kind meant to impress with synchronized hip swaying (not to mention the potential sexual insinuations contained in these actions) nor is it meant to ‘wow’ the ‘audience’ with the latest costumes and greatest light show.

The most impressive thing that musical worshipers can put forth involves a real presentation of music that originates in the depths of their spirit and is expelled through truthful (read: authentic) action and sound.

I haven’t asked him yet, but I’m pretty sure Asher feels the same way. Or maybe his generation will have an altogether different idea of legitimate musical stage presence, inside and outside the church.