"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children.” (Matthew 11:19)
A few weeks ago I found myself at a punk rock show at a bar in Salt Lake City, Utah. Admittedly, it was one of the last places most people expect to find a Christian pastor. I’m not saying that to make myself look cool, edgy, or controversial. It’s just the truth. And many Christians and Christian pastors have a hard time swallowing the idea of a pastor hanging out in such a place. Some standouts for the evening included the headlining band mockingly reciting what we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer, young men with pentagrams and morbid pictures of Jesus dead and rotting tattooed on their bodies, and the celebration of personal autonomy and being the God of one’s own life. In addition there were the staples of punk shows which include men and women getting totally plowed on booze, weed, and other drugs, and trying to convince each other to sleep with one another during, or after the show. Again, the above incomplete list of overtly sinful and sad things makes many Christians wonder if any follower of Jesus should ever be found in such a place, perhaps particularly Christian pastors. Let me throw out some reasons why I went and perhaps from there you can share your thoughts on why you would or wouldn’t go to such a place or event.
Why I Go to the Punk Rock Shows
1. I like the musical style and its worship to my ears
Having played in punk, metal, and hardcore bands, I still have an affinity for the styles. And whether people get it or not, I believe punk, metal, and hardcore music to be God-originated. I don’t mean in the sense that He inspires the specific progressions and so on that the bands play, but in the sense that He is the originator of creativity and all music in general. The largest book in our Bible is a book of songs (Psalms). In the Psalms our creative God who has made us creative in His image is praised page after page through music, lyrics, and poetry. Most of the lyrics sound like they’d be found on an Oh Sleeper or As I Lay Dying Album than a Christ Tomlin or Michael W. Smith album. Our ability to create any kind of music, including those found in radical subcultures, comes from God. All music is an amoral vehicle which can be used to worship the creature or Creator. When I hear music I enjoy of whatever style my enjoyment of it never terminates on the music itself, but on the creative God who made the music possible in the first place when He made human beings creative in His image. That means I personally am able to go and listen to an otherwise pagan metal band and yet worship God through the experience, because whether the band understands where the capacity to play the awesome music they do comes from or not, I do. And what’s more, I can share that truth with them or anyone when I’m in the right context for opportunity.
2. It’s where I come from
As stated above, the punk, metal, and hardcore music scenes are where I come from. I’ve grown up playing in and listening to those kinds of bands. And even though I’m a follower of Jesus now, I don’t want to forget where I come from, or where He found me. Much of my time is spent at these shows praying and weeping internally (mostly) over the kids I see in those places who don’t know Christ. The shows are places full of pagan worship and humanism. And when I’m there I often feel like Paul did when he saw the man-centered and destructive pagan worship going on in Athens. Acts 17:16 says, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.” That’s how I feel at those shows. I feel provoked, not against the people, but against the sin, darkness, and evil that has consumed them, which also once consumed me. That spiritual provocation compels me to be there with them praying for them, and remembering I’d be one of them but for God’s amazing grace.
3. These people aren’t coming to church any time soon
The idea of “going to church” to most people in these scenes is laughable. They see organized religion as suspect. It isn’t uncommon to see shirts and hoodies at shows these days with the slogan God Free proudly displayed. Put simply, these people aren’t going to come to us, so we must go to them. I believe that is one reason why Jesus, as noted in Matthew 11:19 above, drank with and hung out with “sinners.” He never got drunk or sinned in any way, but He was with them! He was a friend to them. He went to them when they weren’t going to otherwise come find Him. And when Jesus’ people go to the lost in the darkest places, Jesus continues to do that incarnational work today through us in those contexts. I for one am glad Jesus didn’t look at this lost and dying world and say, “Oh man, I’d like to save them but I can’t be seen in that world, with those people, who do those things. What will the angels think if they see me drinking wine and eating with sinners? What will they say if they see me talk by myself with that adulterous woman who goes from man to man and bed to bed at the well? I’d better just stay in My heavenly cul-de-sac where I won’t get crucified or misunderstood for what I do while trying to reach people.” No! Praise be to our Christ that He came into the sickest places and talked to the sickest people. Otherwise, I for one would not be saved.
4. To reach out to old friends
Some of the people at that show who wouldn’t darken the door of a church unless circumstances obligated them to do so were old friends of mine. I ended up hanging out with two guys I used to play in bands with and another old friend and his new wife who were there that night. This is the only kind of context in which I would ever be able to see them all at once. The opportunity to start rebuilding a relationship with them through this old connecting point (the punk rock show) was worth the entire experience alone.
5. I know my weaknesses
There was a time when it wouldn’t have been good for me to go to such an environment even for ministry. When I was first a Christian I wasn’t strong enough or mature enough spiritually to be in that kind of place without succumbing to temptation. For that reason, it is good I spent some years growing in a church instead and separated from my old scene. And I recommend any Christian who has a heart to reach those in the subcultures where Jesus found them to be careful about timing. You need to be able to handle what you’ll face in those old environments before charging back into them. But on the other hand, you do need to charge back into them when you’re strong enough and the time is right. Jesus didn’t save you to live in the Christian subculture where you’d never be around “the bad people” again. That’s religious foolishness. If you won’t go to and relate to them while displaying the heart and grace of Christ, who will? Walk in wisdom, know your weakness, grow in grace, and storm the gates of hell from which you were saved.
What kinds of people, places, or things represent your time of sinful living and separation from God? What do you think about hanging out in places like bars, punk shows, etc. for the sake of worship and mission? And remember, be nice. We’re all friends here.
Note- For more discussion of art/music and culture in worship visit: www.the-incarnate.com