MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Christian-identifying church in Tennessee that is a part of the Acts 29 Network recently celebrated their 15th anniversary with offerings that included revelrous, club-like dance parties as the audience bounced, jumped and swayed to secular hits like 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” spun by its young adults pastor—videos of which were also posted publicly to social media.
Fellowship Memphis held a series of parties throughout the city this month, including at the Crosstown Concourse, the Railgarten and Levitt Shell. The events included food, a silent auction and a variety of music, including a jazz quartet, soul music, and two dance parties.
“Hey Fellowship Memphis. Can’t wait to party with you right here at Crosstown Arts,” lead pastor John Bryson said in a video explaining the event at Crosstown Arts, which he noted would include a dance party with J.D. Wilson, Fellowship’s young adults/connections pastor, who is also a disc jockey.
“We’ll start our dance party right around 8:30, 8:45 or so. We want everybody to sprint to the dance floor and we’re going to have a great time, a fun night,” Bryson, who holds a doctorate in leadership from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, said.
According to the site Soul for the City, an organization that seeks to “recruit potential outreach workers and place them in urban ministries throughout Memphis,” Wilson says that he uses block parties and dances, among other means, to reach the youth for Christ.
“Our main goal is to help students develop as whole people—reconciled to God and using their gifts and talents to change the world. Each day we host after-school programs aimed at providing kids with exposure, experiences and role models. Whether it’s an evangelistic block-party style club like Club 61, dance, or garden club, everything we do is filtered through those three lenses,” he said.
On Nov. 16, Wilson and others created a club-like atmosphere at Crosstown Arts as Fellowship Memphis celebrated its 15th anniversary. A number of online videos show a large crowd—mainly, but not exclusively, comprised of young adults and teens—bouncing, dancing and swaying to the beats as the dance crew and emcee led members to bust a move from the stage.
Some of the videos were uploaded by members, and some were shared by the pastors and/or posted to the Fellowship Memphis social media pages.
“#fm15 Fellowship Memphis Anniversary par-tay. Hit the volume. I love our people,” one Facebook post from a member reads.
Another video shows a number of the dance party crew on stage dancing wildly and citing the 901, referring to Memphis.
“Our staff is cooler than yours!” a caption over the video reads.
Wilson, who d.j.’d the event, mixed dances that included “The Tootsee Roll” by 69 Boyz and “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson.
While the video clips from the event were brief and only included a short snippet of what was played—such as the video where “The Tootsee Roll” was playing only featured the left, right, front, back motions and “slide, baby, slide”—the lyrics to the song in its original form state, “Let me see that tootsee roll,” “Just make that tootsee roll” and “Keep on workin’ that derriere.”
“Uptown Funk” says in its lyrics, “Gotta kiss myself, I’m so pretty/I’m too hot (hot [expletive])/Call the police and a fireman … Stop, wait a minute/Fill my cup put some liquor in it/… If you sexy then flaunt it/If you freaky then own it/Don’t brag about it, come show me/Come on, dance.”
A third video at the event, which was either recorded before or after the dance party, shows a young man singing along to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” which says, “Under the lights, where anything goes/Nowhere to hide when I’m getting you close.”
“15 years of @fellowshipmemphis and we threw a massive party to mark the moment! Such a fun night celebrating together with our faith family by turning [it] ALL THE WAY UP!” Wilson tweeted.
A video published to the Fellowship Memphis YouTube page on Nov. 19 also spoke of a “family dance party” being included at the church anniversary celebration at the Railgarten.
“This is the stage where tonight we will have a couple of performances as well as a massive dance party about 6:15, 6:30. It’ll be family-friendly, so you’ll want to get your kids out here, you out here, everybody ready to dance,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
Fellowship Memphis is a part of the Acts 29 Network, a “global family of church-planting churches,” which was founded by Mark Driscoll, former leader of the now defunct Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. It is currently led by Matt Chandler, who oversees The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
“The whole atmosphere and the behavior of those involved speaks of the world and not the church,” Stephen Hamilton, pastor of Lehigh Valley Free Presbyterian Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, told Christian News Network.
He also expressed concern with jokingly touting “our staff is cooler than yours,” “especially if it is supposed to be a reason why a person should attend one particular church over another.”
“This is just naked pride,” Hamilton opined. “It is the kind of thing associated with the worldly marketing of a product or type of entertainment rather than anything to do with Biblical Christianity.”
Speaking generally, Hamilton said that he sees a trend among churches to offer activities that are man-centered and not God-centered.
“It is not, how can we please the Lord, but how can we attract people? ‘Let’s make church appealing to the community out there’ is the idea (‘Looking for a friendly church? Your search is over.’),” he outlined. “Look at Exodus 32:6 & 19. Here the focus of the Israelites was on themselves and how they could be entertained while doing something ‘religious’! There have been many ‘gimmicks’ employed through the years, even by so-called fundamental churches, to get folks along to church and to entertain them when they got there. This kind of approach is carnal and has a deadening effect upon true spirituality.”
“A very common idea now is that the church has to be ‘culturally relevant’ and ‘innovative’ in its worship, and that it must engage with people (especially the youth) in ‘a language they can identify with,'” Hamilton continued. “My concern is that we have always a Biblical view of worship. Someone rightly said that worship as entertainment often prevails over worship as service rendered to God.”
“It should promote reverence, and the consciousness that God dwells upon a throne before which we should prostrate ourselves, and bow down—if not literally, certainly in our demeanor. Worship, contrary to what some might think, is not about us, or how we feel, but about God!” he said. “How often is this forgotten in this ‘touchy-feely’ age—true worship is about bringing God what is due to His Name. It is about what HE gets from it—honor, glory, and praise.”
Christian News Network reached out to John Bryson and J.D. Wilson, but no comments were received by press time.