One recent morning I was having a cup of coffee with several of the leaders of Brentwood Baptist Church. I had been the pastor of this church for more than fifteen years, and things were going well. We were continuing to grow, several of our programs were getting national recognition, and we were meeting the budget. The conversation quickly turned to all of the changes we had witnessed over the past few years. In 2002 our church had relocated to a new campus, and with that relocation our church had experienced exponential growth. Of course, more members meant more demands on my time. My leaders, with the best of intentions, were advising me that I might be getting to the point of being overcommitted. I understood their point. We have two services on Sunday morning. (We've recently added a Sunday evening service.) We are in a building program. I teach on Wednesday night. With the usual weddings, funerals, and crisis counseling appointments thrown in, I end up with a pretty full week.
“Have you thought about giving up Kairos?” one of my leaders asked.
“No, I haven't,” was my answer.
“Well, then,” the other leaders offered, “perhaps you could let one of the other ministers preach for you more often.”
“To be honest,” I replied, “we tried rotating teachers before, and it didn't work. Besides, if you push me to give up something, I will give up Sunday morning before I give up Tuesday night.”
My leaders laughed as they looked at one another. They thought I was joking. I wasn't. One of them leaned back from the table.
“Why would you rather preach on Tuesday night than on Sunday morning?”
“Think about it,” I said. “The kids at Kairos get there early. They sit up front and save seats for their friends. They bring their Bibles, take notes, stay afterwards to talk about the sermon, and they e-mail me during the week with what they have learned. And if we go a little long, no one worries about it.”
Who wouldn't want to teach a group that hungry for truth? Who couldn't look up and see, as Jesus said, that these are fields white with harvest? Who wouldn't want to invest their time in such a challenge?
Kairos is the Greek word meaning “right time.” New Testament Greek has two words for time. Chronos, from which we get our word chronology, means exact time like that measured by a clock. Kairos, on the other hand, means “appropriate time” or “fullness of time.” Kairos describes the right time to tell the punch line of a joke or the right time to pick a piece of fruit from the tree. Kairos, the young adult worship experience on Tuesday night, is about creating that right moment for someone to encounter the risen Christ. Kairos is the moment Paul mentions in Romans, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6 NASB). This is just the right time for the church to reach a generation with the peace, healing, and purpose promised by Jesus Christ. And like most things in my Baptist experience, it started over food.
Several years earlier I had found myself sitting in a local restaurant, surrounded by several leaders of the singles ministry at Brentwood Baptist Church. Like most churches BBC had struggled to find the right structure for our singles ministry. Because singles are mobile—that is, there is nothing to keep them from moving from one place to the next—and extremely diverse in their interests and needs, most churches find it difficult to establish and sustain an effective ministry for singles. Recently our church had been seeing some success as we structured our singles ministry around small groups. One of the small groups had developed into a relatively spiritually complex group focusing on prayer and worship. During their meetings they had begun to form a vision of a way to reach the entire young adult population. They'd started to dream about a midweek service that wouldn't be constrained by time or “church business,” a ministry that would be free to speak the truth to a new generation and provide opportunities for young adults to respond to the truth they had heard in authentic worship.
This was the story I heard and the yearning I heard in the presentation several of them had put together. They had PowerPoint slides on a laptop, handouts to back up their points, and one audacious dream. These four or five members of my church wanted to start a citywide worship service for young adults.
Getting me to support it was the first step in their plan. Their presentation was impressive. They laid out the demographics. There were now thousands of young adults living in the greater Nashville metropolitan area. The proximity of several universities and colleges meant that a lot of young adults moved to the area and, due to the quality of life, ended up staying here. With growing companies in health care, banking, and, of course, entertainment, a lot of young adults were starting their lives here in middle Tennessee. Most of them were not attending church. Perhaps worse, they didn't see the need to be connected with any Christian fellowship. My young friends thought our church should do something about that.
The visionaries I was talking to were prime examples. Leigh had grown up in our church, gone off to college, and then moved home to become a rising vice president of a local public relations firm. She was confident, creative, energetic, and quickly becoming a powerful player in her organization. She was in her late twenties and spent more time in airports than she did at home. I had known Leigh and her family since I had become the pastor of Brentwood. Leigh had been a babysitter for my children. Leigh had used her personal connection to get me to the meeting.
Shaun was a major accounts manager for a large CPA firm; the others were also in significant positions in their professions. Talking with them, I understood that it would take a person of significance to get the attention of these young adults. It would require an even more significant investment to hold their attention. Each of them had full and busy lives, but the need to find an authentic expression of their faith was important enough to bring them to this meeting.
I had a few questions. Well, actually I had a lot of questions and more than a few serious doubts. First, there were already several contemporary worship services in town. Many of them were located much nearer to the places where young adults were living. Brentwood, while changing, is still a bedroom community. People move to Brentwood for the nice homes, the excellent school system, and strong community support for raising their families. Parents are involved in their children's lives; between school, soccer, music lessons, and summer camps, families are busy, even to the point of being stressed. This area is not a community where young couples buy starter homes or young adults just getting started get an apartment or their first condo. Where were all of these young adults going to come from?
I had another question: our church was a good, progressive, and growing church; but we were successful in reaching people who were in our circle of “average drive time.” Churches determine the areas they are able to reach by measuring the time potential members are accustomed to driving to work, school, and shopping. Because we are a bedroom community, our average drive time is relatively short, usually about ten to fifteen minutes. There are very few young single adults in that circle of drive time. Where were all of these young people going to come from? They weren't in our church, and they weren't in our community. Suburban churches primarily focus on the ministries that engage families. Our strongest programs are aimed at preschool, children, students, and their parents. Brentwood Baptist had a singles ministry, but it was not a major focus of our church. The community simply didn't have the need.
The next problem I raised for them was a personal one for me. I didn't have time to help them. If they wanted this idea to take off, they would have to do it. I was too busy taking care of the multiple demands of a large suburban church to be involved in this start-up ministry. They agreed; in fact, they'd formed a leadership team that was already meeting. Would I help them get a place like Wilson Hall, our multipurpose facility? Would I help them choose a night and time? (We decided on Tuesday because at that time there were no good television shows on Tuesday night.) I agreed to get them started and teach a series for the first nine weeks. Then we would rotate the leadership of the services among the other teaching ministers of our staff. (This doesn't work, by the way, but it was our first plan.)
So we started. We lined up chairs in Wilson Hall, plugged in the guitars, and began to worship. Our first Kairos met on the second Tuesday night in January 2004. We started with about fifty or so in our first few weeks, but soon we were bumping over one hundred on a regular basis. The young people were having a lot of fun, and I was enjoying the teaching. But the only thing we had done was move Sunday morning to Tuesday night. Because we had guitars, we thought we were cool, but we'd kept a basic Sunday morning structure. We had not done anything to create a unique, galvanizing experience for young adults. By the end of the spring, we had peaked about 130 in attendance, finally falling back to fewer than forty in May.
It looked like this was not going to work. Yet a spark of something caught my attention. Something was going on here although we couldn't put our finger on it. Kairos had a rawness about it, an honesty that you couldn't find anywhere else. We were discouraged. We were disappointed, but no one was ready to give up. We knew this thing could work, but we were going to have to do something different.
We had planned to take the summer off so we had several months to evaluate and rethink what we were doing. At this time the leadership of Kairos wanted to go on a retreat and think through the future of Kairos. Because the retreat was planned over a weekend, I couldn't go, so the team invited Cathy Patterson. Cathy was my administrative assistant at the time, and because of my involvement in Kairos, she ended up being involved. Cathy is a people person with a lot of drive and organizational skills. If you want something done, then Cathy is the one to do it. Two important things happened when Cathy went on the retreat. First, she caught the vision of what Kairos could be. Second, she agreed to help these young adults make sure Kairos happened. (Actually, a third thing happened: I lost a good administrative assistant in the process! But the kids gained a faithful mentor and tireless leader.)
This gave the young adults someone who could work the systems of BBC. If we needed money for sound equipment or staging, Cathy could find it in someone's budget. If we needed round tables and candles, well, we suddenly found round tables and candles. Cathy can remember when we needed candles for forty tables. Surely in a church as big as ours, we could find the money for forty candles, even if they were $25 each! But we didn't have a budget, so we didn't have $25 for even one candle. Cathy led the team to sit down and ask God to provide. That night she went home and found a flyer in her mailbox from a local store, advertising the very candles at $7.88 each! It was a huge lesson for these young leaders to learn that ministry is not about human efforts. It's about trusting God.
On that first leadership retreat Cathy led the team to do a SWOT analysis of the ministry. On big posters, they listed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to Kairos. They sat on the back porch of the cabin they had borrowed, and they prayed over those posters. They listed the strengths; then they prayed. They listed the weaknesses; then they prayed. And so Cathy led them, wisely, to begin all over with prayer as a primary strategy.
Cathy also brought a strong accountability to the Kairos leadership. If you had agreed to do something, then Cathy became the enforcer. This allowed me to focus on the content of the teaching and the flow of the worship service while Cathy handled all of the details. For the first three years Kairos was run out of our office. Just the two of us were in charge of the fast-growing ministry. And yes, we still had to handle the regular duties assigned to the senior pastor of a growing suburban church.
That summer several key decisions were made. First, the decision was made to bring Kairos under the preaching ministry of the church. That is, the pastor's office would become responsible for the supervision and execution of Kairos. With that decision we made the statement that Kairos would be a worship service whose primary function was the proclamation of the Word. We would not be a singles ministry or a Bible study but a worship service. This sent another message to our singles and our church: we were serious. If the pastor was willing to get behind this, then Kairos must be a significant ministry.
The next decision we made was to transform Wilson Hall, a multipurpose meeting room, into more of a café destination with food, drinks, and good coffee. Instead of chairs lined into neat rows, we sat around round tables decorated with candles and studio lighting in the room and on the stage. Again we had no budget for this. But like Radar in the television series M*A*S*H*, Cathy knew how to work the systems of BBC to get us what we needed. The leadership team prayed over every detail.
Week in and week out, God was faithful. Little by little, piece by piece, we found what we needed. Lighting, staging, sound systems, laptops, people to design Web sites, background singers, musicians, and greeters appeared as we needed them, never too soon but never too late. We were learning that God always seemed to give the manna we needed for the day.
A few weeks later I was having breakfast with Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler, two of the founders of the contemporary Christian group FFH. Jeromy and Jennifer were members of Brentwood Baptist Church, but because they were on the road so much, we rarely saw them on Sunday morning. When they were in town for a few days, we had learned to find some time to get together. I had always loved getting together with them and hearing what was going on in their lives.
While most of us envy people of talent like Jeromy and Jennifer, I had begun to see life on the road as the grind it could be. One day over lunch, the two of them were talking about how they felt disconnected from the church. When you are gone every weekend, it's hard to feel a part of a typical congregation. Jeromy mentioned that he wished there was a way he could give back to his church. Thus began our conversation about FFH becoming the worship leaders of Kairos.
At first Jeromy wasn't too high on the idea. The last thing he wanted was to come off the road late Sunday night or early Monday morning and have to prepare a show for Tuesday. I assured him I didn't want another show. Kairos was not about a concert. Kairos was about honesty. I wanted Jeromy and Jennifer to show up and bring the worship from the place where they were. If they were down, then just be honest and worship from the shadows. If they needed to celebrate, then let us celebrate with them. Personally I had grown tired of the trend of entertainment-centered services with carefully choreographed transitions and exactly timed lighting cues. Sure, these types of services are inspiring, but they are “in the box” moments. We go, we watch, we are moved; but when we leave, we leave our worship in the box where we experienced it.
Kairos needed to offer something different. We needed to teach worship to young adults who didn't understand worship. And we had to design the service to be portable. That is, the teaching, the music, and any study aids handed out had to be usable in the hectic, everyday lives of these young adults. The worship service had to fit on an iPod or a PDA.
The last thing Kairos needed was a group of professional musicians performing for Kairos. One of the great lessons we have learned at Kairos is that there is a difference between a worship leader and a performer. Nashville has many gifted musicians of all types and genres. The running joke around Music City is that no one really works in Nashville; we just have temporary jobs while we wait on our big break. But worship leaders are harder to find. An authentic worship leader, first and foremost, has to be a committed worshipper. Worship must define their walk as followers of Christ, not be something they do in front of other people. A worship leader cannot take a congregation to a place of worship if the worship leader has never been there. (At BBC we train “lead worshippers” rather than “worship leaders”.) While talent certainly helps, being a worship leader is more than just about talent. An authenticity to their presence is essential, or the congregation will not follow them into the presence of God. This is partly a spiritual gift, to be sure, but it is also a reflection of a Godward-lived life. Those who attend Kairos instinctively and quickly discern the difference. If the leader is not a person of worship, the hypocrisy is felt by the congregation, and they will not follow. So a worship leader must first be someone who worships.
A common misconception about worship leaders is that they have to be gifted musicians. This is not true. In fact, being an excellent musician can work against the effectiveness of leading worship. If the voice is too beautiful or the playing too moving, the average person in the congregation cannot sing or play at that level, so we turn into spectators and not participants. A worship leader must work to create a vertical vortex that draws people from the horizontal focus of their daily lives to the vertical focus of God's revealing himself to his people. This doesn't happen naturally but reminds us the most important task of worship leaders is to prepare themselves by worshipping and to prepare an environment that invites people to connect to Christ.
I was convinced Jeromy could be such a worship leader for Kairos. I had been to an FFH concert and watched Jeromy not only perform but also lead worship. During the invitation portion of the concert, Jeromy gave a direct, passionate, and compelling call to the gospel as well as any I have ever heard. That moment of honesty and transparency made me know he would be a gifted and fitting worship leader for Kairos. Still Jeromy wasn't convinced.
“So you don't want me to do any preparation for Kairos?”
“Nope,” I answered. “I want you to spend your time preparing yourself and let your music and worship come from that.”
“So what about rehearsals?” he wondered.
“That's up to you,” I said. “As far as I'm concerned, you can do a sound check and go.”
I didn't want them coming to Kairos with any pressure to perform. I wanted two people, serving Christ in the push and pull of the world, bringing worship from the story of their own journeys. If things were going well for FFH and Jeromy, their worship would reflect their honest joy. If things weren't going well for them, they could show us how to worship in the valleys.
I told them, “I want you to lead worship from the place where you are.”
The change was dramatic, but the change wasn't in quality; it was a change in depth. In Jeromy and Jennifer and the rest of FFH, the young adults of Kairos found people who were just like them, living lives in their world, trying to keep a career and a marriage going amid the pressures of life, praising God in the context of real life.
Jeromy and Jennifer led Kairos until they accepted an invitation to go to South Africa and train other worship leaders. When they left for the six-month assignment, Michael Boggs, the lead guitarist for FFH, took over the worship leading responsibilities. Like Jeromy and Jennifer, Michael brings an honest and deep heart for worship to Kairos. People listen and respond to him because they recognize a fellow traveler who has learned to worship along the way.
I want to be sure I am clear in communicating the need for an authentic worship leader. I know Kairos is fortunate to be in Nashville where we have access to a lot of gifted musicians, but an authentic lead worshipper isn't necessarily going to be a gifted musician. The effective worship leader is going to be someone the congregation identifies with who brings their own authentic experience of worship with them. The best worship leader is the person who says, “I know where you are, I live where you live, and here are some ways to find God in the middle of the chaotic moments that make up our reality.”
In Kairos you can come, lean against the back wall, sit, stand, pray, not pray, watch. How do they know this? We tell them all the time. When you come in here, it is a safe place. We take seriously the trust you show us by coming. We will do nothing to violate that trust. When we come to the worship and the prayer time, you participate in whatever way you choose. If you want to sit there with your arms folded and watch, that's fine. If you want to lift your hands in worship, if that's who you are and where you are, just keep it real. Don't lift your hands because you think that's what cool people do or because you think this makes you more spiritual than the guy sitting next to you. (It has happened when Michael is singing; someone will get up and start dancing. It has been OK as long as it didn't distract others.) We think vertical worship is good because it is directed to the Lord and is between the person and the Lord. If it's horizontal, we don't like it. We teach about the difference between vertical and horizontal worship.
When we first started Kairos, we had some big-name people come in to lead worship. They were well recognized and would sell their CDs. But the kids would not follow them. They recognized immediately that this was a horizontal show, not a vertical offering. We have had some lousy musicians who authentically loved Jesus that these kids would follow to hell and back.
A common misconception is that the leader brings the worship, that I can go find somebody who will bring worship to a congregation. That's dead wrong. You cannot conjure up worship. The individual brings it. Worship is the response of a living person to the living God. The worship leader can provide the moment. He can provide the tools, the structure to give me a good place to express my response to God, but he doesn't bring the worship into the room. This is an important thing for us to remember, particularly in settings like Kairos, because people may come in and stand in the back with their hands in their pockets. How do we measure their response? We can't put the burden on a worship leader to try something cooler next week because we don't see people participating. Manipulation is not worship. Leaving somewhere with a feeling but no change, no encounter with God, no new step of obedience is not worship. We need a worship leader who is confident enough just to worship in front of people whether they join him or not.
By 2005 Cathy Patterson was assuming the leadership for day-to-day details of Kairos. For almost a year she ran everything in my office and hovered over the details of setting up Kairos. When we made the decision to start using round tables to encourage conversations, Cathy put together the team that oversaw the decoration and set up of the tables every week. She put together the volunteers and made sure each team of volunteers knew their assignments. We had greeters at the door, tech crews, and people responsible for the food and coffee setup. We had counselors prepared to talk to those who needed a friend. Volunteers ran all of it. When we took our summer break the second year, we had really led Kairos to a good place. Teaching and worship were going well, and our crowd was beginning to settle in at over three hundred.
When we started our third fall, we were in for a shock. Without any kind of warning, more than five hundred young adults showed up for our first Tuesday back from summer break! While we had done the usual bulk mailings and e-mails, we had no indication we were getting ready for that kind of jump. As we began to talk to our friends in Kairos, we found out that while the blast e-mails and direct mail pieces had been nice, the real growth of Kairos was coming from word of mouth. Young adults were telling other young adults about what was happening on Tuesday night, inviting them to “come with.” Friends were bringing friends who were bringing other friends. People were getting to Kairos early, saving seats for their friends, and comparing notes afterwards.
Whether we had wanted it or not, Kairos had become a church. For one thing, numbers of people have jobs that keep them away from church on any given Sunday. Roadies for touring companies, musicians, nurses, police officers, and firefighters have to work on Sunday mornings. People in these professions were finding out about a Tuesday night service, and this was becoming their moment of worship. College kids were finding us. Finally, there was always “the friend of a friend” who wasn't attending church anywhere and found a place at Kairos, a place where they could have their honest questions honestly addressed. In our recent surveys, one third of those attending Kairos told us Kairos is the only church they attend.
What does a typical Tuesday look like? There is no typical Tuesday night. We're always mixing and matching the different elements of worship, but a standard service will always have at least three elements: musical worship, teaching, and an extended prayer time. Sometimes the worship leads to prayer that leads to teaching; other times prayer leads to worship, and that leads to teaching. And sometimes the teaching leads back to more prayer and worship. When we ask for feedback on our services, prayer is always rated as the most important time of the service. Not the teaching, not the music, but the extended time of quiet we give them for reflection, confession, and individual praise and thanksgiving.
I've been shocked to find out how many of them wanted to pray but didn't know how, and how many of them were afraid to pray because of the judgment they had felt in previous times of their Christian life. Often during Kairos I will instruct them to sit quietly and comfortably, closing their eyes. Then I will walk them through a prayer time. This way not only do they pray, but they learn a process to practice for the rest of the week. In fact, this has become an important time of teaching. As we will discuss later, many of these young adults have deep and painful issues with their fathers. As a result, addressing God as Father requires some pastoral attention. I will usually stop and remind people that Jesus was trying to give us a metaphor, a word description of how much God loves us, and that we shouldn't allow our own experience with our earthly fathers to discolor this rich portrait of God. I have to define confession and intercession; I have to define proper and improper guilt. And I do it in the few minutes of a guided prayer. You don't have to give a doctoral dissertation but a few sentences clarifying that prayer is an honest and frank dialogue between God and his children. My conversations with my own father or with my own children happen in all kinds of ways. So do our prayers. Sometimes they are quiet, sometimes they are loud, sometimes they are filled with music, and other times the weight of the pain crushes any words that would try to carry it. This is the honest experience of a believer. This is the simple, profound truth of God being with us that we try to teach at Kairos.
Since it is a worship service, we try to incorporate every facet of worship, including baptism and the Lord's Supper. One night, after a difficult and intense series on dealing with families and forgiveness (a series in which I encountered the troubling current of anger that flows in most of their lives concerning their families of origin), we observed the Lord's Supper. We'd set stations around the room, tables with the bread and cups so they could be served individually as they were ready. This night we had planned the service a little differently. In the back of the room, we had placed washtubs filled with rocks. Those in attendance were instructed to go back to the tubs and grab as many rocks as they needed to symbolize the pain, hurt, or burden they were carrying. They were to hold these rocks, and as they held each one, they were to pray for healing, for the ability to forgive, for the person who had wounded them—whatever the rock symbolized for them. They were to hold these rocks until they were through praying. Only then could they come and receive the Lord's Supper. They were to come to the table, lay down their rocks, and open their hands to receive the cup and the bread. The moments that followed stunned me. All over the room people knelt down, clutching their rocks, holding them tightly against their chests as they prayed with tears coming through clinched eyes. Slowly, one by one, in small groups, they would approach the table, carefully place their rocks on the tablecloth, and reach for the bread and cup.
What remained after the service was a sight I will never forget: the Lord's Supper table, with the used cups stacked lazily to the side, half-empty plates of bread, little purple stains of juice on the white cloth of the table—and all of it covered with rocks.
I remember kneeling down next to one of the tables and begging God to help me find a way to help these young adults find the peace of the gospel. Writing this book is part of that prayer. I am praying you will find yourself asking God to help you do whatever you have to do so these young adults can find a safe and sacred place to lay down the rocks they clutch so deeply within them.