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Friends In Low Places: What The Church Can Learn From Music Row

by Rick Chromey


Country music is three chords and the truth.

―Harlan Howard

Confession:  I like country music.

I can’t help it.  I’m a Montana kid and the son of truck driver. I was suckled on Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Tammy Wynette.  Later I dined on the sounds of Strait, Brooks, Jackson and Reba (to name a few).

Country music is a soundtrack to my life.

Recently, I spent a few days in Nashville and ventured down to Music Row—a famous “row” of honky-tonks, bars and dives. Daily these establishments feature bands and artists hungering for a record deal, playing to enthusiastic regulars, industry types and curious tourists.

I love this bar,
It’s my kind of place.
Just walk in through the front door,
Puts a big smile on my face.
It ain’t too far, come as you are.
Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, I love this bar.

―Toby Keith

Similar to Paul walking around Athens (Acts 17), I drew a few lessons from my experience on Music Row:

1. People follow the crowds. In the famous Tootsie’s bar it was standing (crushed) room only…and patrons waited awhile to enter. The establishment shattered every rule I learned about personal space, social dynamics and church growth (not to mention fire codes).  In seminary I was taught when a church reaches 90 percent capacity, people stop coming.  But that evidently doesn’t matter on Music Row where the volume, attendance and energy were twisted to 11.  Jesus had this problem, too (Mark 2:4).  He routinely packed out the house because people wanted what he had.

2. People enjoy how music makes them feel. In every honky-tonk, I witnessed patrons singing at the top of their lungs, freely enjoying the moment, dancing and interacting with the band.  The music was real and relevant, memorable and meaningful. Everyone knew the tune and words. There was no need for screens with projected lyrics. Those who didn’t know the song easily picked it up.  I can’t remember a single original song. The artists knew, in the end, it was more about the audience than even their dreams.

3. People are drawn to sacraments. In Rippy’s I enjoyed some fries and Coke, then listened to sermons in song that inspired dance, singing and heavy tipping.  In fact, pleas to give were unapologetic and abundant on Music Row.  A full tip bucket was expected. I witnessed couples and small groups communing around tables, sipping drinks and consuming meals.  Some drank to get past their pain.  Here’s an irony: the world eats and drinks to forget on Saturday night while the church eats and drinks (in the Eucharist) to remember on Sunday morning. In both cases a sacramental meal is happening, but for Christians it’s a spiritual experience that looks inward, backward and forward.

I also realized, rather sadly, why the church is growing increasingly irrelevant to wider culture. What happens on Sunday morning is foreign, strange and different to those living in a post-Christian, post-church world.

It struck me more than once:  What if church looked more like Tootsie’s than a concert hall and lectureship?

What if we led with love and created authentic experiences that are immersive, interactive and imaginative?  What if the church rediscovered its energy and enthusiasm? What if Sunday morning was the best time of the week?  What if the crowds passionately packed our worship experiences to learn, confess, connect, grow and serve like they used to (Acts 2:42-47)?

What if the church created friends from low places?

What if we simply got back to “three chords and the Truth?”

I love my church,
It’s my kind of place.
Just walk in through the front door,
Puts a big smile on my face.
It ain’t too far, come as you are.
Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, I love my church!

 

One thought on “Friends In Low Places: What The Church Can Learn From Music Row

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    “Music Row” is the street where a lot of the recording studios and Record label headquarters are. This is over on 16th and 17th avenues. Tootsies is a honky-tonk on lower Broadway. Lower Broadway is where you are talking about. Music Row is a completely different part of town.

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