Antiques and iPhones

Frank Sinatra was a fantastic singer. Old Blue Eyes lit up the airwaves with his silky smooth, heavenly voice. To some degree all of us have either heard him or know a song he made famous. My parents introduced Sinatra to us when we were growing up. And although I was far more a Van Halen and Rush fan, I enjoyed some of his music. I remember the first sermon I ever preached was based on his song, “Strangers in the Night”. I hijacked the line, “doobee, doobee, doo” in a musical effort to illustrate the need for being over doing. Some people seem larger than life and Frank Sinatra was one of them.

It was fun for my brothers and I to talk to my Mom about the music she enjoyed. What I remember most about Sinatra and her was both funny and awkward. Whenever we would ask her if she liked Frankie, she would smile and with dreamy, googly eyes - kind of like a bobble head but with just the eyes - wiggle her brows up and down in an attempt to make them move as much as possible. It was absolutely hysterical because she wasn’t very good at it and it really screwed up her face. We would ask repeatedly just to see her eyebrows dance until she’d had enough and kicked us out of the room. But it was also awkward to learn who our Mom had a crush on! No young boy wants to hear about that! I still laugh at this today.

Last week, on March 16, Frank Sinatra Jr. died. Now, everyone eventually dies but not everyone will get international attention. And although his crooning career was far less than anything his father accomplished, because of who he was related to his passing made headlines. As I read the CNN article I was struck not by the fact that he died, or that he was kidnapped and held for ransom when he was a child, but by his matter-of-fact acceptance of his less-than-stellar career. According to the article, he conceded his lack of success rather pragmatically.

If you’ve read much of my blog you’ve learned that my faith is central to my life. I’m not big on religion but I am big on Jesus. To me religion is man’s way of controlling others. Jesus said he came to set people free and the Apostle Paul reiterated that - the motivation was freedom for freedom’s sake (Galatians 5:1). If this is true, and if Jesus is true, then we should be eagle-eyed focused on getting the song of Jesus broadcast so that as many people as possible desire to listen. But in my travels, and I've done a lot of it in the lower 48, I’ve come to realize that many American churches are not Old Blue Eyes, but unimaginative Jrs., singing the song the same way their father’s did, clinging to things of the past and the success of their ancestors in a failing effort.

Here’s what Frank Jr. said was the reason for his nominal fame:

"'I think in my generation, when I came along in the early '60s, the type of music that was in vogue in society in those days had moved on to another kind of music,' Sinatra told the newspaper. 'I was trying to sell antiques in a modern appliance store.'"

And he failed!

Years ago I was in Wilsey, Kansas, where my mother-in-law grew up. Just a few months after I took these photos, the railway in Wilsey, which was the lifeblood of the town, was torn up. Wilsey failed to keep up with the change in times. It's demise was both saddening and predictable.

When I read this quote, which I must point out was first discovered by my wife, we both agreed that many churches are performing the same way. Culture has moved on, not so much in regards to the message but in the method. And just like Frank Jr., they have some achievement but not nearly as much as they could.

Now, a few weeks ago I’d read an article on how being “relevant” is a huge mistake many churches are making because it caters to the culture rather than being true to the message. I didn’t agree with this. But, I wasn’t able to articulate why as precisely as Frank Jr. explained his career. When I think of a “relevant ministry” I think of Jesus’ street ministry. What really seemed to tick off the religious leaders was Jesus meeting the people where they were. “What can I do for you?” Jesus often asked. “Heal my eyes”, “cure my son”, “raise my daughter from the dead”, were the responses. If that’s “relevant” I’m all in!

I think the church has something uber-fantastic to offer, far better than anyone else. But its tactics are all too reminiscent of the past rather than having a clear understanding of the approach needed for today. I do think some churches have gone too far, elevating style over substance, creating a cacophony that pretty much drowns out the message. There are many churches who have properly and appropriately made the adjustment, but it took clear thought and execution. I’m concerned with those that cling to their personal style and preferences, seeing them as "objective truth" rather than subjective leanings, believing they’re winning a Grammy while not realizing that very few are even listening.

As part of the church, I write this not to condemn or be critical but because I love the message of Jesus. I believe it's the only song that can transform a life for today and eternity. I learned from a very good mentor that a leader’s primary job is to define reality. Doing this takes courage, insight and intentionality. I pray that leaders, especially church leaders, would be brave enough to realize when they’re singing like Jrs. and not Old Blue Eyes; selling antiques in a modern appliance store.