The Voice: Lessons for the mainline church

December 19th, 2016

I’m not much for reality TV. But many a Monday night I can be found in front of the TV watching aspiring vocalists sing their way into the hearts of America. Yup, I am hooked on The Voice. The live finals were last week. Like millions of other Americans, I stayed up way too late waiting to see who won.

What I love most about the show are the blind auditions. At an early stage in the game, a dizzying array audition for a spot on a team where they’ll be coached by a pop culture superstar like Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys or Blake Shelton. Unlike American Idol or America’s Got Talent, these coaches initially can’t see the singers. Their backs are turned to them as they audition. They don’t know the singer’s age, height, weight, attractiveness, fashion style, body shape, skin color or story. They’re simply responding to the singer’s voice.

A lucky few dozen make the cut. Over the course of the season, they adopt fancy clothes and learn stage moves. But it’s always the unique quality of their voice that takes center stage.

There’s an important lesson here for the mainline Christian church. We have a unique and compelling voice. Now more than ever we must claim and develop it.

For too long others have used their voices to speak for all of Christianity. On the one side, we have people who preach fear and hate under the guise of love. And exclusion under the guise of faith. On the other side, we have those who preach abundance without accountability. And grace without growth.

We in the mainline church have been endowed with a unique voice. It’s time for us to sing our own song — loud and proud.

We know who we are. We are the church of the community. If your church is like most mainline Christian churches, you perform funerals no one else will touch. You offer love where others offer judgment. You dole out food and financial assistance and flood buckets like nobody’s business. You welcome in the weird, the worried and the waylaid. Everybody gets a hug.

That’s well and good. But are you using your full range? Are you hitting all the notes you can? Are you drawing upon all the color and depth available to you?

When we’re at our best, you can’t beat our preaching, music, Bible studies, outreach, justice-work and pastoral care. It’s informed by head and heart; personal piety and social justice; gospel and world. At our best, we’re tops at critical thinking, nuanced theology and the ability to offer more than stock answers. We even know how to change our minds! And our hearts.

We have a history of ultimately getting on the right side of social issues: from the treatment of debtors to addicts, and the poor to the mentally ill. From slavery to women’s right to vote. From the equal humanity of all ages and races to equal civil rights.

All of this contributes mightily to the richness of our voice. At our best, we’re not knee-jerk people.

This is more important than ever in a season highlighted by Donald Trump. Knee-jerk reactions aren’t going to cut it. If the incoming president means to make good on campaign promises to deport millions, scapegoat immigrants, isolate Muslims and a host of other indignities, then no voice is more important than ours.

This is our chance to really belt it out! To sing our rich and nuanced song. No more bowing out while others portend to showcase the faith on our behalf. This is our chance to strut our stuff: love and rational thought; mercy and prophesy.

No need to lower our voices if ethnic profiling is proffered as good social policy. Or if the almighty dollar seems to trump the common good.

Yes, there’s a downside to our primarily white, middle-class, well-educated constituency — at least in North America. We’re a bit stodgy. We’re not terribly diverse. We’re on the older side. We’re not all that hip. We disagree amongst ourselves on human sexuality, interpretation of the Bible and other areas. I take us to task on a lot of this in other posts.

But here’s the upside: We have privilege. We have power. We have connections. We can use all of that for the greater good.

If we use our unique and compelling voice.

Mainline church, don’t be afraid to audition. Sing your song — loud and proud. If we give it our all, I’d say we have a really good chance of winning this season.

Not sure how to engage these conversations? Join me at Discipleship Ministries for a webinar on Why Churches Should Discuss Politics: How to Talk Politics in your Church Without Being Unchristian on January 23, 2pm Central Time.

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at She is the author of The Jew Named Jesus and Green Church.

comments powered by Disqus