Rock the River Ramps Up
February 5, 2009 - Imagine a sunny afternoon on the Mississippi River. As you paddle along, you hear a bit of music being carried by a gentle breeze.
by Janet Chismar
But it's not the tinkling sound of riverboat music or a melancholy strain of jazz. It’s straight-on hard rock and hip hop — music that packs a powerful Gospel message.
Rock the River, an all-new event from the BGEA, will feature high-voltage music from groups like Flyleaf, Hawk Nelson and Red, and a challenging message from Franklin Graham.
So far a total of four day-long festivals are planned: July 18 in Baton Rouge, La., Aug. 2 St. Louis, Aug. 8 in the Quad Cities, and Aug. 16 in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Pastors in St. Louis are eager to join in the effort. Mike Jones, senior pastor of Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, says he is hopeful that Rock the River will be not only culturally relevant, but appeal to diversity in a great way.
"I hope that all churches from all ethnic groups will come and be drawn to the cross of Christ, especially because of the diverse appeal that Rock the River can bring to St. Louis," says Jones.
Dr. Bruce McCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, describes St. Louis as "two cities." The city and its suburbs are quite different. "But whether it is the city or the suburbs, whether it is people who are really devastated by the economy or folks who have comfortable margins in their families to weather it out, we all have at heart the same basic spiritual need and that is to know Christ and to have peace in our lives.”
McCoy adds, “Look, we have a timeless message to help these kids get set free and have eternal life, but we have got to get their attention. Jesus said to be fishers of men."
The bands, says McCoy, are a great way we can win people to Christ.
In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, pastors like Rob Ketterling of River Valley Church are praying that the event will make it easier for youth who already know Christ to get involved in evangelism. "The youth need something to energize their faith and an opportunity through music to reach their friends. Music is so powerful and so accepted that a concert can open the doors for them to talk about their faith with their friends."
Roddy Conerley, executive director of the Baptist Association of Baton Rouge, sees another benefit to Rock the River: “In transitioning neighborhoods and school systems, prejudice still exists, although it’s not as strong now as when my generation came up. If we do this Christian concert, music is one of those things that binds all kids together.”
He says that pastors in Baton Rouge want to give youth some alternatives to the violence and the crime easily found in their area.
“Franklin Graham is respected cross the board in denominations,” Conerley adds. “This could be a point whereby our churches – across denominational lines – can create an organized effort at reaching the youth. We look forward to the opportunity to following up with the decisions that will be made by these youth to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."
And that is the point. Shortly after the Lowcountry Festival ended in September, Graham gathered his team and said he had a vision for a different type of event that would combine his burden for reaching youth and his love for the heartland of America.
“The culture has shifted a lot and we want to do something culturally relevant for these kids who are looking for something real,” says J. Walker Clarke, director of programs for Crusade Ministries.
While the festival will appeal primarily to 12- to 25-year olds, the real target is a 15-year old. “Statistics show that kids who don’t come to Christ before the age of 18 are a lot less likely to make that decision,” says Clarke. “We are looking at a way to reach this new generation.”