My first album was released in 1969 and it was called “The Cold Cathedral” after the first song by that title about a young man who wanders into a church and cries out, to no avail, for someone to hear him and know him. It captured the fact that there was a generation of kids seeking spiritual answers to life while rejecting, and feeling rejected by, the institutional church of their upbringing. When I wrote that song, I had no idea that the church was going to be forever altered by that guy and all his friends with all their questions.
That first song was appropriately followed by another song called “The Road of Life,” about finding meaning and fulfillment in a real relationship with Jesus Christ while on the road of life. It was a fitting beginning to an era where God moved outside the walls of the church and brought many to a relationship with Himself. Many of these people did finally end up in the church, and pretty much shook things up when they came. It was as if a crowd of mostly young people were saved by Christ on the road of life, and instead of one person walking into the cold cathedral, there were hundreds — in some cases thousands — who came back to the church with their real questions and their longing to know more. It was an invasion, and there’s no way the church — at least the ones that welcomed these new believers — could stay cold.
But that was 45 years ago. Much has happened in those 45 years to change this picture, and music has been the catalyst of this change. The youth invasion of the 1970s brought rock and pop music into the church. The music that had connected to this new generation and in large part was responsible for bringing them the gospel, became the new music of the church. Soon it was no longer message music — taking the message of the gospel to the world; it was now worship music — singing praise and thanks to God in a style relevant to the music of the day. Hymnals disappeared; organs were silenced; words went up on the wall, and rhythm sections became the norm. New churches were built with state-of-the-art sounds systems, video screens, stages and lighting. No one can say that the church is not relevant to the culture anymore. Being relevant is the new mandate of the church.
But I wonder. Could it be that there is a whole new group of people with questions no one is hearing or answering because everyone is so busy now trying to be relevant? Is it possible that the whole idea of being relevant is no longer relevant? Have we chased relevancy for so long that we have lost sight of why we’re doing this in the first place? Has the “cold” cathedral become the “cool” cathedral — the cool place to be — that, despite its contemporary style, is as deaf to the cries of a new generation as the institutional church was to mine 45 years ago?
Regardless of what is happening on a large scale, you and I can be sensitive to what is needed on a smaller scale, and that is what has always been needed — people with an ear to the real cries of those around them to be heard, understood and cared for. People want to be known. Do we know our neighbors? Do we even know our friends at church? These are the questions of the day.
My “Cold Cathedral” song ended with the question, “Do you really care?” The cool cathedral song, if there was one, should end the same way.