What MTV and Churches Have in Common

For those of us who grew up in the 1980's, MTV became our lodestar giving us the latest music, telling us what is cool, and connecting our generation.  The VJ's were like big brothers and sisters that you felt you knew well.  And of course, the music was awesome.  It started in 1981 and very few people had the cable system to get it.  It was always a special treat to go to someone's house who actually had cable (and MTV).  In 1985, I begged my mother for MTV.  She was against it and said "no."  But in the end, she caved and gave in in 1985---and I'm glad she did.  The music of the 1980's has been one of the great joys of my life. I loved my bands: the Police, The Cure, U2, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, and more obscure groups like Kids in the Kitchen or Big Country.  It was a short-run though.  By 1989 MTV completely changed its programming.  Gone were the constant videos and video shows, and all of a sudden there were game shows, lifestyle shows, and a new thing called Reality TV exemplified by the ground-breaking series "the Real World" whose editing style is still imitated on every reality show today--down to the exact kind of camera shots.  MTV became a regular channel--not a music channel.

I can't tell you how disillusioning this was for me.  No longer could I see my regular bands on a regular basis.  The videos weren't very good either.  And soul and rock were getting completely replaced by gangster rap and its monotonous tones and uninspired lyrics.  I was vexed!

But it got even worse.  The bands I loved where breaking up!  The Police broke up in 1985, Duran Duran lost 2 of its members and never made a great album again.  One of my favorite bands only made 2 albums and called it quits.  And other bands that I liked started to make really bad music.  What happened?

I was not prepared at all for the fact that things change.  I thought music and my bands would stay exactly the same forever.  But that's not true.  The average life-cycle of a band is 7 years.  That's how long the Beatles lasted with their famous line-up.  Furthermore, it's hard to keep producing great music year after year, and people's tastes and interest change.

For MTV, they reached a point in 1989 where they realized the younger generation behind me, was not interested in watching videos 24 hours a day.  The novelty had worn off.  They would rather watch real people even if that meant less music.  And they did not want old fogies like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan on their channel.  So those guys were sent packing to VH-1, which eventually abandoned videos as well.

The same thing happens to us in churches.  We are absolutely convinced we will sing songs the same way.  We will hear sermons the same way.  And how people understand and hear the Gospel will stay the same way.  But it doesn't and it never has in the history of Christianity.  Throughout Christian history the church has had to change and embrace diversity to survive.  This is certainly the case as it's been transported to cultures far beyond the Near East.  Yet for many of us, it's an absolute shock when our favorite pastor moves on, or new musicians lead the church, or a new generation doesn't find our favorite programs interesting or challenging.

One of the things we remind people of in our 3W Seminars is the wise words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  "The church you were born in, is not the one you will die in."  How true.  My own home church has changed so much demographically and in other ways.  Never did I think it would change, and truth be told, I didn't want it to change.  But it did and it will.

One of the most important things for churches to internalize is that change is a natural part of life and we need to embrace it.  It doesn't need to mean that our core message and core identity needs to change, but it does mean that how it all looks and is presented may have to be up for discussion.  And this is normal and healthy.

The following video from the show Portlandia captures so very well how 80's kids like me feel about MTV.  If we could, we would stage a revolution and kick these young people out of our MTV and bring back the good old days (really I wish we could).  But it's not right.  Life moves on, yet the Gospel message stays unchanged.  We need not live in fear.