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August 10, 2013 / Pastor George Fike

The Unusual Birth, Unlikely Rise, Untimely Death, and Unforeseen Resurrection of the Dead Beatles

Dead Beatles bgd 2Sometime in the autumn of 2005, our church launched a men’s group.  It had been long overdue.  As the associate pastor who sponsored the new group, I was very involved in planning the program with our key lay leadership.  In those seminal days I would open our breakfast gatherings with a little bit of worship, accompanying our singing with my guitar.  It was a welcome outlet for me.  I had led worship in several churches over the course of my nearly thirty years serving in churches.  In my new church, however, I had certain responsibilities that prohibited me from serving in this way.  Our men’s breakfast now afforded me the opportunity to serve in the manner that had initially led me into vocational ministry.  I was soon joined in leading worship by another of our men – John – who had become one of my dear friends.  John likewise played the guitar, so at each  meeting John and I would play and sing our hearts out.  And our men loved to sing, more so than in any other church I had previously served.  It was a joy to be able to facilitate these men’s worship experience.

Dead Beatles 2Inevitably, a few of our attenders made note that “George and John” were the dead Beatles (you know – Harrison and Lennon) so they found it easier (and funnier) to refer to us as the “Dead Beatles.”  A few short months after our fledgling men’s ministry had begun, we planned a men’s camping trip in the fall.  John and I brought our guitars, and we enjoyed a time of worship under the stars singing with the men.  As we began sharing our stories with one another, we got to know a young man named Dwane.  Discovering he had an interest in playing bass, we added him into our men’s breakfast band, along with Stan, who felt at home on drums or percs.  So now we had our Fab Four.

But it didn’t end there.  Soon we made the acquaintance of Rene, an amazing saxophone player, who added a jazz dimension to our worship style.  Some men with no musical experience (save in their own living rooms) began hanging out with us and often were apprenticed to play with us at the monthly breakfasts.  Over the years, something was happening with the Dead Beatles beyond the music – something called koinonia : true fellowship.  Fellowship is not a Christian form of partying; it means partnership, a commonality of belief that says “we belong together.”

Our church had begun an early Sunday worship service in the venue where we held our monthly breakfasts.  It was set apart from the other weekend services.  Its purpose was to create a place for attenders who desired a quieter service, with some traditional hymns included.  Let’s be honest; they felt our older members would like it better.  For a time it was treated like the red-headed step-child.  None of the regular worship personnel wanted anything to do with it.  In fact, at times they resented it as an intrusion on their preferred schedule.  They tried to populate it with a regular worship leader and band members who were, let’s say, “less in demand” on “main stage.”  So the service limped along in its first year.

As I mentioned at the top, my regular pastoral responsibilities had prohibited me from participating on stage at our weekend services.  But this new and separate service opened up an opportunity for me to serve musically again.  I began to lead worship there in the rotation.  Observing that leading worship actually recharged me in a way counseling troubled individuals never could (I know – shocking, huh?), my supervisors asked me if I would like to take over that service.  I gladly agreed.  Newly commissioned, I asked the worship pastor what pool of musicians were available to me.  He said, “I think many of the guys you have been using at the men’s breakfast have developed their skills.  Feel free to use them.”  And so, the Dead Beatles moved into a larger level of musical service.

I would say over the course of the next few years, our pool of band members swelled to 20 or more.  But this was more than musical collaboration.  We were a family.  No longer just men; several women were enlisted to sing or play.  And we did much more than make music.  Early on John, Dwane, and I would meet to practice but end up in an extended period of prayer for each other.  Throughout our experience, we would take the time to pray for each other.  When any member of our band was going through a trial, the others would rally around him.  It was Acts 4 being lived out:

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them.Dwane and George at Classic

On numerous instances when bandmates were in financial distress, I merely sent word, and generous donations flowed in from their fellow musicians, even when I kept the need confidential.  Whenever one went into the hospital, I scarcely made it there to visit without hearing that 2 or 3 of the other Dead Beatles had been by already.  Our small worship community became known for our close relationships, and other of our church’s worship leaders would talk to me about how we had built such a strong camaraderie.  Several musicians who had enjoyed serving on “main stage” began to ask if they could get scheduled to play with us.

In the first few years of our service I noted that we had not built this worship service around the elderly people that the pastor had envisioned as the target group.  We had actually attracted the same demographic of all our services – all ages and “classes” were well represented.  Perhaps that led to our demise.  I was never privy to the decisions from the ivory tower of church leadership, so I can’t really know for sure.  It could possibly be that the suppositions that gave rise to the service were no longer considered relevant: it was not a service for old people, therefore there was no reason to keep the noise level down.  In the years I led the service it had grown gradually, even without promotion from the pulpit.  Our only limitation had been seating, but attendance had continued to grow. Finally we had received new equipment, extra seating, and decor that transformed our building from a “gym”-like atmosphere into a truly nice “cafe” venue.  Then one of my superiors proposed to me that I could use a well-deserved break from leading.  I had been conducting every service for many months without a break, spending 5 evenings a week away from home at the time, between the worship service and my other pastoral duties.  I definitely needed a breather.  But after taking a break for a few months, an invitation to come back and lead a service never came.   And I discovered that the new director was going solo – no band.  Why? To “rebuild.”  Well, ok.  But as months passed, few of my teammates were ever invited back either.  After a half a year had passed, I verified what I had suspected: I had not been given a “break”; I had been replaced indefinitely with no opportunity to ever serve in a worship capacity again.  There was no option for discussion.  A decision had been made. No gold watch. No “thank-you’s” to the men and women who had built this remarkable service.  Just “ok, we’ll take it from here.”

Machines grind along.  It wasn’t long until I removed myself from the machinery of the church altogether.  Other cogs were inserted into my place.  It doesn’t take long if it’s a well-greased machine.  It just marches on.  People are discarded and forgotten like expended HD projector bulbs.  The day of the Dead Beatles had ended.

So, here I am a year later, working a “secular” job after 35 years in vocational church ministry, and I get a call from one of my “kids” – that is, one of the men who had been in the youth group in my first place of ministry, and a great bass player who had been part of our band of merry men.  He wanted to meet for coffee.  As we reminisced over the thirty-plus years that we had known each other, we settled on discussion of that early Sunday service.  He said, “You know, there was something very special about that service.  It was more than just music.”  I agreed.  He said, “If you ever find a place to lead, I’d love to play with you again.”  After we each departed, I thought about an opportunity that had been in the back of my mind and said, “What am I waiting for?”  I made a few calls, and a few weeks later, a remnant of the Dead Beatles were enjoying fellowship again as we led worship in a venue very much like the one we had formerly called home.  Whether it happens again, I know not.  But it sure felt like what I have been missing.

What made The Dead Beatles so unique?  Reflecting on this, I think it was 3 things…

Care extended beyond the rehearsal and worship service…

We were deeply concerned for one another.  We often spent extended time before or after the rehearsal to lift up one another in prayer.  Members freely gave of their resources and talents beyond the music.  One band member would help another with an air-conditioning problem.  Some would take another to specialized doctor’s visits.  I could name example after example.  It was truly a congregation within the congregation.

The band OWNED the worship service…

They took pride in what happened in our rapidly aging building and poorly maintained stage.  They would bring their own equipment and leave it.  Without a word, they donated what was needed, even if they no longer were using it themselves.  They looked around each Sunday morning and went the extra mile to do something to improve the worship experience of everyone who came to the service.

They gave their loaves and fishes…

I know that sounds similar to the aforementioned, but this is what I mean.  These were guys (and dolls) who played their hearts out.  They didn’t have equal skill, but each one brought the best he had.  We made it work because unique people with distinct personalities and abilities have always been placed by God into the church in such a way that their brokenness and rough edges make a beautiful mosaic.  We tried to utilize each one in his/her strongest area.  We made a joyful noise.  A band doesn’t need to be made by cookie-cutter.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 1st Corinthians 14:26

God takes what I have… what you have…  what our brother has… and HE puts it together to make a joyful noise!

deadbeatlesshirtEnjoy this video that I think captures the heart of what it means to be a Dead Beatle.  The videographer went around the world and found street musicians, who each collaborated – in their venues on their particular instruments and with their unique styles – a message of reconciliation and community:


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