I can still remember the shock at her words as she leaned away and smiled at me. The crowd continued to roll and two-step to the techno around us as I processed truth through a balaclava of alcohol and drugs. “You’re a Christian?” I managed, staring at her incredulously before gazing around at the roaring night club. “What on earth are you doing here?”
Six years later, I find myself witnessing major changes in the club scene; an environment particularly close to my heart. Recently, many clubs have closed their doors for good, and we’ve heard from DJs, producers and clubbers that this could set a doom-laden precedent for nightlife culture.
Clearly there are huge issues around drug-taking within clubs, which have got to be addressed. But the Christian view on the demise of clubbing could be forgiven for being, at best, nonplussed and at worst, somewhat triumphant. I think it’s fair to say that Christianity and club culture have always had a turbulent relationship. While some have championed a challenging and sacrificial missional engagement with the clubbing community, others might have dismissed such connection as denial and compromise, suspicious of any Christian who would want to entertain an environment that seemingly celebrates vice, lust and hedonism at 130 deafening decibels.
I’m convinced, however, that God has plans for this industry or perhaps more accurately, this community. Like it or not, for many disillusioned people both young and old, the club is their church and if nothing else. How do we engage them by being there with them, just as Jesus would have been.
Many Christians, I think, are unaware of the magnitude of dance music lovers. They represent a seven-billion-dollar industry annually and it’s growing. Dance music is unofficially lauded as youth culture’s primary music genre. These are people who are committed to their music, jealous for their identity, proud of their heritage and reliant on clubbing for fellowship, community and love. The issues are numerous and the escapist solutions can be tragic.
Controversially, I like to think that Jesus wouldn’t have shied away from nightclubs. The Bible tells of him reclining at the house of a notorious tax collector during a great banquet, at ease in the company of “sinners” and “outcasts”, holding tight to his beautiful mission statement: “I have not come to call the righteous, but the erring ones to repentance.” (Luke 5.32) I see him choose to surround himself with foul mouthed disciples (Matthew 26.74), cowards (Mark 14.50) and egotists (Mark 9.34) and yet, he called them ‘friends’ (John 16.15). Jesus didn’t hold back from fear of losing his reputation with men. He ate with the hated, drank with the wedding guests, spoke to people he shouldn’t have, unravelled religious bondage, confronted hypocrisy, walked mud into the carpets of conformity and washed the feet of those he created. A nightclub would have held no fear for him; an arena of issues, filled with those who need his love and healing, desperately searching for answers in all the wrong places. I think he would have been last to leave.
For me, the need to engage with nightlife industry relates directly to the people who worship within it. Clubbers represent a very real, often maligned and perpetually vulnerable community whose identity and culture is continually in a state of flux. For all its success and profitability, the nightlife industry is becoming increasingly influenced by insecure commercialism and rampant corruption. The people who know it as a refuge and a sanctuary are reliant on relationships, incomes and addictions adrift on turbulent waters, and the need for direction and love is probably greater than it ever has been. How do we help and show the love of God to the vast numbers whose lives and identities are built on such shifting sands? Do we take the example Jesus set and spend time with those who need the love of God, dragging ourselves away from safe, holy huddles? I doubt that the closure of clubs across the country will result in a rush of clubbers to the local church. Maybe it’s time to take the church to them?
My own testimony began in such a place. The young lady who shared her faith with me that night in a club had no idea that she was talking to a prodigal son, seven years wandering, full of condemnation, hurt and regret. In that moment on the dance floor I suddenly realised that the Jesus I had forsaken and denied had never given up the pursuit of me. At my lowest point He appeared, holy feet turning sticky floors into hallowed ground, the light among the lights, the true heartbeat amidst the kick drum pulse. He met me where I was and six months later, glorified me in Himself, seating me in heavenly realms as I surrendered my life to Him. I’m so grateful for one woman’s simple obedience that night as she followed her heart into a place she loved, not letting the surroundings distract her from a simple message of faith. I wonder, is it not time for more moments of hope for a reeling community in need of the certainty of Jesus Christ?