High Five Your Neighbor…or don’t

Hey all! First and foremost, I ain’t talking about your Pastor; I’m talking about that other dude. There, there’s my disclaimer…

I’m a Church kid to my core, my earliest memory is being dragged to choir rehearsal at about age 4 or 5 when I’d rather have been playing in the yard with my friends; then dragged to church meeting on Wednesday nights when I wanted to stay home and watch TV, then dragged to my mother’s choir rehearsals on Saturday nights because that’s where everybody else was. Most my memories as a kid are of being dragged to some church function against my will. But as I got into my teens I began to love church and all that it represented for me and my family, the friends that I started to make there, and the developing teenage girls that sang in the choir with me. More than anything though, yes even the developing teenage girls, was the nuances of all the things that made up the Black Church experience. The ushers, the deacons, marching around for offering (does everybody do that?), and Call and Response…especially Call and Response.

It is common knowledge that Black preachers need to hear back from their congregation early and often throughout the sermon. If you want to get on your pastor’s bad side let him see you sitting quietly in the pew while he’s going in on a sermon; I bet your choir won’t get that extra loot to go on that bus trip to the Outlet Mall this summer. Honestly though, for the good of your pastor’s ego, not to mention pumping him up so he wraps up in time for the 1:00pm kickoff, you need to get with the preacher in order for him to, as my mother likes to say, “Get on ‘cross the field and finish that sermon”. Somewhere though in the not too distant past, some congregation didn’t get the memo and they sat quietly, probably for a couple of Sundays in a row despite the preacher’s best efforts, and something had to be done. “What can I do to engage these people”, thought that frustrated preacher. And then it came to him, “If they won’t talk to me, I’ll make them talk to each other”. So he likely tried it that Sunday and it went well but it was still lacking a little punch, so then he thought, “Talking to one another was good but it needs something else”, then, “Physical interaction! That’s it!” And thus began the “High Five Your Neighbor” era.

Now if you’ve never been to a Black church before you may not know what it is I’m talking about. Basically it’s when a preacher turns his congregation into Ecclesiastical “hype men”, first by telling the gathered flock “High five your neighbor…” and then following that up with a statement punctuating the point he just made. Example:

“High five your neighbor and tell them God is gonna make a way for you!”

Harmless enough, right? Problem is there was probably a preacher there that was visiting from another church and he said, “Hey! That’s great!” and took it back to his congregation, then one of his boys from across town saw him do it on the DVD so he borrowed it, then a visiting preacher in his pulpit saw it…and so on and so on. By the time the act swept across the country, preachers had gone from one high five to something like…

“Now go high five 7 people and tell them that your breakthrough is coming, your family will all be well, your prayers are heard, restoration is right around the corner, maybe next Tuesday, and that you will have financial increase so your Rottweiler can have Iams food instead of Kroger brand.”

…not only have you forgotten all that by the time you get to the third person but by the time you’ve finished 15 minutes have passed. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but only by a little bit, but what probably started as a harmless attempt to engage a congregation morphed into a way to get other people to do your job…which is to engage the people. I’ll stop short of saying that it’s performance acting, but it’s dangerously close.

It’s very much like Steve Harvey said in The Original Kings of Comedy about rappers. 90% of rap concerts are the worst; a bunch of dudes with microphones screaming out instructions to the audience…

“Throw your hands in the air…”

“Say make money money, make money money money…”

“All the ladies in the house say ‘owwww’…”

“All the brothas in the house say hooooo…”

…and this goes on for the whole show and at the end you realize that you said more than the dude you paid the ticket to see. But then you see a real eMCee on stage that is able to command a crowd with nothing more than his music and a microphone without the rest of the histrionics and you say to yourself, “hmmm, that was a better show than the one with all the audience participation.”

Now, this comes from a dude raised in a traditional Baptist church notorious for not varying too far from the script as far as church services go. There used to be a time that sending an appropriately timed “Amen” or a “Hallelujah!” up was about the extent of crowd participation. And I know that in this age of attention deficit disorder sometimes a preacher might have to go to certain lengths to engage some folk; however I think that person in the pulpit should be able to drive a message without having parishioners search out 5 people to fist bump 4 times per sermon.

Perhaps it’s a new millennium attempt to inject a measure of cool into church service for people that weren’t raised going to Church on Sundays. Perhaps it’s an updated show of the joy that all people should and ought to have. And maybe, just maybe it’s all a legitimate effort to punctuate a point and not just a show. At the end of the day though, it’s about the Word in that book and not the gimmicks you wrap around it and certainly not how many people chest bump in the aisles. I ain’t no preacher nor do I profess to want to be one but I do know one thing, when I die and get to the gates I’m pretty sure the first question I’m asked will not be, “how many people did you high five on the first Sunday in February?”

Unless St. Peter has a really great sense of humor.

~thanks for reading

Skrap is a life long Baptist, still enjoys going to church, and no longer digs on the girls in the choir because they’ve all got children at this point, plus Church relationships ain’t really a good look in the first place. If you or someone you know has been offended by his High Five rant, you or someone you know should stop being so serious. 🙂

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  1. I know I should be in bed, but I have been sewing and I had to check my favorite writers, blag for the day, and boy is this a good one. I HATE THE TURN TO YOUR NEIGHBOR THING. Thanks for addressing it in such a nice and humorous way. It sounded real funny, but it is so true, and I would love for the command to be given one Sunday and everyone just sat there and looked at the preacher. I wonder what would his response be. That will never happen cause you got the people who thinks that if the preacher said it its gospel and needs to be done quick fast and in a hurry. Well Ive had my say and to tell the truth I DONT DO IT. Next time lets talk about if you are a tither hold your envelope in the air (and wave them like you just dont care LOL) cause God likes a cheerful giver. Its not really wave in the air, but I think about it everytime I hear the envelope thing. Good night baby I am really tired Im beginning to ramble LOL. Love Mom.

  2. Thanks honey I enjoy your observatinos, you are kind and gentle while I on the other hand not so much LOL.

    I too am no stranger to the early church life, my self. There was a church I visited the congregation was instructed to hug 3 people. Yeah not as good an idea as you may think, the men were a little too friendly checking out women they were willing to hug *sigh*.

    Love you much

  3. I visited my church back in NYC last weekend and the preacher said, “Turn to your neigbor and …” I looked straight forward like I was deaf…every time… waiting for him to continue the sermon. After the 3rd time I began to dose off from sleeping 2 hours and driving straight to church in NY. I couldn’t hang as it was and he was asking me to move around. SMH Wasn’t working.

  4. Thank you for this post. I’m so tired of and annoyed by the constant “Turn around and tell your neighbor” antics that I periodically conduct a Google search to see if anyone is just as tired of it. I’m fifty-seven years old. I grew up in a Baptist church where we never had to run around high-fiving our neighbor; saying “amen” was sufficient. I love to hear sermons. If I had to pick a favorite part of the service, preaching would be it, but of late, I’ve begun to dread it because of the constant commands to turn to your neighbor. Oh how I wish preachers would go back to spending the necessary time to prepare a sermon instead relying on having 10 – 20 minutes of the allotted time filled with all the running and turning around and telling your neighbor this or that!

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