On this blog, I intentionally stay focused on supporting worship leaders and teams with ideas, inspiration, and hopefully raw encouragement that keeps us strong in doing what we do for the long haul. But some things get going out there that ruffle feathers, cause confusion, and even stir fear in us. The recent news items about Michael Gungor and his questions about Genesis, and Vicky Beeching coming out as gay, have had quite a ripple effect. My response here, as usual, is not focused on my perspective on either Genesis or homosexuality. My opinions run strong on both issues, mind you, but something else felt more important than those.
A few weeks ago, an interview resurfaced on the interwebs that respected artist and worship influencer Michael Gungor questioned the idea that the Noah story literally happened. Drama ensued. As well, Vicky Beeching, a respected UK/US worship leader, songwriter, and now social media maven, told the world she is gay.
The web blew up (at least in the Christian contemporary world), babble and banter flew into the cybersphere, and many of my friends around the world were confused on both issues. Opinions flared, as they should have. We are people. Opinions, expressed harshly or softly, are the way we work our inner world out.
Gungor, Beeching, And Moving On From Christian Celebrity Culture
Here are my thoughts, touching on both topics as we go, but focusing more on how we think about these things rather than what I think.
1. Both Gungor and Beeching are people in process, just like you and I. Let’s focus on own our own development rather than living through theirs.
The fact is, Vicky is a friend of mine, and I’ve seen this moment coming for years. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard for folks, a surprise, or challenging to those who elevate her to a place of significant influence in her life. Popularity has never meant someone is right; it just means they have influence (remember junior high?).
Gungor is an inspiration to me, and many of you. And? He’s a guy in process. We’ve probably read some of the same books, and not read some of the same books. And? He’s a guy in process.
Reality check: Vicky is a woman of our age, and her decision is what it is. Her influence is not what should be shaping your worldview or mine, either direction. It’s the young ones we need to always care for, and help discern in our crazy time in history. Our walk with God should be shaping our view of the world, and our passionate study of God’s word, the history of the Body, and the culture of our time.
After having reacted to these news items, stemming from people in process who have a public face and responsibility, let’s get back to faithfully leading worship, studying the Scriptures, and serving God’s people with our best understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Hard decisions will come. Make them with your best understanding, and be open to learning as you go.
2. Artists think in metaphors, and push boundaries by nature. Their passion or popularity does not make them right, or wrong.
In my home, my kids think I’m the opposite of literal. I usually take this as a compliment, but it can get in the way. I find it hard to just accept things I probably should. My wife carries the innocence, trusting, and believing factor far more in our home. I want to be like her. But, in many cases, I’ve come to embrace most biblical stories as literal (C.S. Lewis suggested that takes more imagination at times than making everything a metaphor). Truth is, Gungor can think what he wants about Noah. He doesn’t ultimately know. You and I don’t ultimately know either. We’re guessing based on our best understanding of the text (scholars have strong opinions, and after my study, so do I), tradition, and more.
I studied Genesis significantly over the years. I needed to for my work in the Essentials In Worship study. Of course there are those of us who believe Adam and Eve are literal figures, and others who don’t. The text can take us those places; both are scary for those who don’t approach the text that way. They are scarier places if we don’t study toward landing well on what we believe.
Reality Check: Gungor is a guy, an artist, and a human being in process. We all are. He has an opinion. And he makes great art. And? Our problem is that we give way too much weight to his opinion. Why? Because contemporary Christian approaches to working out our faith have not included aggressive reading, thinking, and fighting for understanding. In today’s spiritual goulash world, this kind of faith, processed in heart and mind, is deeply needed. Instead, we live vicariously through others who are popular, have passion, read, and fight for these things. There is no worship leader who should not be reading, watching, or thinking about theology. Full stop.
There’s too much at stake to be all heart and little mind today. Postmodernism and Post-Postmodernism will force you off the platform, eventually. Both/And. Both/And. A thinking heart and a feeling mind, as a friend of mine always says.
3. These things matter, but our Christian celebrity culture makes them matter too much. Let’s move on. Really. Heroes are heroes. But let’s move on.
Of course what Gungor thinks about Genesis, and what Beeching sees as normal Christian sexuality, matter. Those things matter to them, and to those who love and respect them. However, the industry makes them larger than life, which is helpful in business, and unhelpful in the end to the Body of Christ. Larger than life platforms generate revenue, but what people do with their platforms is ultimately in their own hands. The industry has no intent of mitigating that.
The fact is, they are people like you and I. God knows the influence they have/He has given them, and they’ll need to work that out with God just like you and I will.
Reality Check: There should be 10K Gungors, and Beechings, in faith, talent, skill, creativity, and forcefulness of passion. Among those, there should be many approaches to faith that root us in orthodox faith and inspire us to tell God’s story in a 1000 ways.
But the reality is, our Christian celebrity culture, and our truncated contemporary Christian worldview of sacred and secular, make them just a few of the “special” Christians people look to.
We should all move on, and get great at what we do. Then we should study, grow, discern, listen, pray, and humbly lead in our sphere of influence.
Let’s Have Opinions – But Better Yet, Let’s Have A Vision
Should we exert our opinions about these things, and seek to diminish confusion in our homes, churches, and those with whom we work and serve?
Should we turn our energies to creativity, honing our craft, studying the Scripture, devotional living, incarnating the Gospel, and discipling 1000 others who are as artistic and passionate as Gungor and Beeching, and yet have other ways of seeing faith and the world around them?
Let’s get a vision for what that creative Christian worship leader, songwriter, or artist of our age looks like, then embrace studying the Scriptures, church history, and our creative craft with passion so we can become it – and disciple others.
May the God of Grace and Wisdom lead us as we lead others in worship.
Question: Without explicitly stating your opinion about either of these issues, can you articulate what you envision to be the characteristics of the “optimal” worship leader/songwriter/artist, who follows Jesus, of our time?
Resource: Essentials In Worship Theology hits on both these areas. It’s an easy entry point into worship study that relates to Genesis, human identity, and current cultural issues as they relate to our worship worldview. Also, Worship White Noise unpacks how we can dis-entrench our vision of worship from the industry and misconstructed sacred/secular worldview today. My goodness.