The large church where I’d worked in 1995 had two distinctive worship opportunities for its upper-middle class congregation. I was the worship leader of the contemporary service, the first option each Sunday. Another person, a “minister of music” as it were, steered the people through their worship liturgy for the traditional Nazarene service that followed. It included organ, piano, choir, orchestra, lots of hymns and an occasional chorus most likely written by the Gaithers some time during the Eisenhower administration. We’d done it this way because the pastor had a vision of a church being like a mall, with worship styles to fit any person who happened by our religious establishment. Plans were being drawn up for more options. In fact, that Easter we had a sunrise service with drama; a liturgical service that included pastoral leadership standing on the platform wearing robes; a contemporary service with drums, guitars, etc., which started during the liturgical service; and then our traditional service. We were busier than one-armed jugglers riding unicycles.
Then the pastor’s vision changed. We all needed to be under one roof together. That fall we became “blended” as people were naming it then. I was tasked with being the front guy worship leader and our traditional leader was responsible for the choir and orchestra.
That first Sunday morning I hustled into my nice jeans, a conservative collared shirt, sensible shoes, and a snazzy belt, which was showing because I tucked in my shirt, thank you very much. The plan was in place, the choir was standing proudly in their nice robes, the drummer was excited, the guitar and bass guitar players tuned up, the small orchestra with instruments poised and at the ready. We went through all of the songs, checked microphones, pacing, levels, the proper cues, and the rest of the things that cause a service to operate smoothly. We sounded great! What could go wrong?
It was Monday when the first salvo hit in the form of phone calls to the church office. The internet hadn’t taken us over yet, so the phones had to do. Call after call came in, all wanting to speak with the senior pastor about the carnal mess of cacophonic carnage that they had experienced the day before in their very own sanctuary! It was so loud! The drums made it sound like a rock concert! And worst of all, that worship leader in the front was a maniac! He was running around, making all sorts of gyrations and antics! He was a complete distraction to the entirety of the service! “We couldn’t even concentrate on the sermon afterwards, we were so upset!!!”
That continued through Wednesday and Thursday. It didn’t really let up. It was just now secondary to the “Friendship and Worship” cards that arrived by mail to the office echoing the vitriol that was pouring through the phone lines like water tumbling over Niagara Falls.
The weeks passed by and each was the same. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday the phone was on fire, followed by a stream of postal venom. A congregational survey went out and it was clear that I was the central reason for monumental dissatisfaction towards our church. I believe I was also accused of high gas prices, Clinton being in the White House, a rumor in the possible resurgence of bubonic plague, and indigestion.
At the two-month mark I crawled out of bed and donned my usual Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothing, with one exception: I opted on wearing a tie that matched the ensemble of the day. Then I proceeded to lead worship that morning, singing and playing the same sorts of choruses and hymns we’d been doing the prior eight weeks. The day ended and that evening I was pondering a new career. Maybe a garbage truck cleaner, or a rodeo clown, or a subject for stun gun testing, or a chicken coop custodian. These seemed more pleasant than my current state of affairs.
Monday hit and I dragged myself to the office. The phones were quiet. Nothing. The same on Tuesday. I prepared for the mail onslaught on Wednesday. A few nice cards came in but none with my name on them. And then the week ended without incident, without a single gripe or complaint. What happened??? I didn’t care at this point. I just assumed the saints were burned out and figured that their cries for holy change were going unheard. But I knew these people. They would walk through the fires of hell to get what they wanted. I knew for a fact that the disgruntled rich in our family of God had withheld their tithe for lesser atrocities in the past. Then it hit me. Maybe they subconsciously saw my tie and thought we’d changed all the music for them that Sunday. Maybe they heard what they had seen rather than just listened to the things we’d always been doing.
Strange. A tie is a piece of cloth tied in a knot around my neck. Much like a noose. Clothing. If I were a practitioner of Islam I’d slap a hibab on and the people would be pleased. If a Hindu I’d roll up some cloth and plop it on my head. If a Jew a doily cap would do. Same sort of apparel if I were a Mennonite woman. So, apparently, the tie was the trick for this church. It was my uniform.
At first I was frustrated, angry, sad, and maybe a little hurt. OK, a lot hurt. But over time that subsided and I have since come to realize that certain things, though seemingly trivial, matter. I’m quite sure that I have some subconscious certain “musts” that crop up from time to time. I find myself getting angry because someone does or does not do something I believe to be necessary though I have no idea why.
I know that in that church there were a substantial amount of good people who were seeing their way of weekly worship change in a manner that was most likely disconcerting to say the least. Being someone who didn’t look or sound familiar in their church, with drums and guitar pounding their limbic systems into total chaos, with their safe hymns being unceremoniously swapped out with choruses that they were thinking we repeated until Jesus’ return…I can’t really be angry with that group.
Now that I am over twenty years removed from that situation I can reflect on that time and allow God to give me the grace that I should have had in those moments. And, as music in the church continues to change and I get older and older, maybe I’ll treat the ones unleashing their new brands of worship with the grace that they deserve. I sure hope so anyway…
(While this was happening twenty or so years past, an incredible person visited our staff by the name of David Augsburger. I told him this story and he asked me to write it out and send it to him. I recently was at a dinner with him and his wonderful wife Leann. He remembered that conversation and I promised I’d follow through with the writeup. In a following email he wrote, “Blessed be the tie that binds.” Cracked me up. David, thank you for the encouragement! Those of you who were a part of this congregation then, please forgive any lapses of memory I have on some of the more specific details. And, if I offended you at that time, please forgive me. I was much younger.)