I‘m not a Rolling Stones fan because of their music (or their sweet spirits). I only became a fan, if you could call it that, after I read Rich Cohen’s wonderful (and sometimes irreverent) book, The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones.
What struck me was how human and mortal and, often, mediocre, the Rollings Stones were (and still are). These guys have persisted to near legendary status, but yet, they’re not legends. They’re not even that special. They’re just people.
The same is often true for us–followers of God–called to serve and to be a part of a task much, much larger than ourselves (that, by the way, is what ministry is–living out the life God’s called you to).
Diving behind the scenes of the Rolling Stones, I realized that they are us. It is true, they are completely misguided–chasing all the wrong things, like a car going 180 degrees in the wrong direction.
But, in a way, aren’t we all?
Here are the 5 lessons I learned from the Rollings Stones about life and ministry:
1. Everybody’s Small on Day One (and Day 1,000, too)
They were amateurs. “Jagger’s talent began in mimicry,” writes Cohen. Even Mick Jagger wasn’t Mick Jagger in the beginning. He was pretending to be like the black blues musicians from Chicago.
And Dick Taylor, the original bassist, said, “Keith wanted more than anything to sound like Elvis’s guitarist, Scotty Moore.” (Thankfully, he worked through that.)
Most of us start as a nobodies wanting to be somebody else. And that’s okay.
Jesus didn’t call us because we’re great. Even the ones we look at as great, when we get behind the curtain, they’re not. The truth is, He called us because we’re not great.
Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God (1 Cor 1:27-29).
It’s okay to be small. In fact, it’s usually better.
2. Mess-ups Are a Fixture of Success
Even Stones fans agree, they had about five years of greatness (1968-1972). Spanning their over-fifty year career, that’s only ten percent.
But what’s interesting is why they had so many mess-ups. It was because they were constantly trying to reinvent themselves. To push through their previous limits. “The Stones have lived and died so many times,” said Cohen, “they might as well be immortal.” By the time of their “Golden Run” they were on their third life. And after that, they would go on to more.
In Spring, 1968, while recording, Bill Wyman, the bassist, played what would become the riff of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Keith started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
Keith said, “You recognize it, don’t you?”
It was “Satisfaction”–the heart and soul of their last identity as a band–played backwards.
Innovation often comes like this. Steven Johnson in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, talks about this as the “adjacent possible.” Innovation doesn’t come by staring at a blank white screen. It comes from taking what we know and contorting it and mixing it and breathing newness into it. That’s the soul of innovation. And that’s what the Rolling Stones were doing, for the third time, in the Spring of ’68.
The problem with this is that it’s risky. There’s always the chance something can happen when you leave the camp to explore the wilderness. But, as we all very well know, that’s where the good stuff is.
And truly, this is where Jesus called us to be.
On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.” Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.” Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day” (Luke 9:57-62).
Mess-ups are built into the fabric of following Jesus. Our job isn’t perfection–our job is obedience.
3. Perseverance Only Works with Support
The problem with perseverance is that it’s delayed gratification at its core.
You can push through most things for a little while, but what makes you stick with it for the long run is a deep want for it. The heart here is the want. You have to want this thing more than anything else. That’s how perseverance work.
This, at first, seems like the hard answer (how do you begin to want what you don’t already want?). But it’s not. The trick is simple: you can’t go it alone. The ones who do almost never make it. Instead, you need help.
For Mick and Keith, they both wanted Rock and Roll. But it wasn’t until they worked together that they had a chance.
Mick and Keith knew each other as kids. But on October 17, 1961, on the 8:28 to London, they accidentally reunited. Mick, enrolled at the London School of Economics at the time, wearing a suit and carrying a stack of records (his family had money), gave up a common-sense future in business.
Keith, in art school and who did “not remember where he was going” (be it metaphorically or literally) was equally driven, but less enabled. “Keith played rock ‘n’ roll for the same reasons as Church Berry–because he loved it and because there was nothing else he could do.”
It wasn’t until the two teamed up (credit goes, by large part, to their manager, Andrew Oldham, who saw this long before they did) that they both got what they wanted. For a time, anyway.
For us, it’s the same. A year ago, Perry Noble, the pastor of a South Carolina megachurch, was fired for alcohol abuse. He said, “I began to depend on alcohol for my refuge instead of Jesus and others.” It’s so easy for this to happen.
In a charge to the Church, Paul wrote:
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” (Romans 15:1-2)
There’s no way we can make it (or sustain what we have made) without each other. That’s the whole point of the Church coming together.
4. Principle: Be Shaped
Andrew Oldman, the Stones first manager, locked Mick and Keith in a room and said, make songs.
It wasn’t this way before. Mick was the singer (but he wasn’t the front man). And Keith was talented (but he wasn’t a song writer). When they began, the Stones were fronted and driven by Ian Stewart, a guy none of us has heard of. He was passionate. The Stones was his band.
Of the Beatles, it’s said that George Martin, their manager, was the fifth member. He managed and shaped and guided them. He told them where they were going to fall down, and he told them what parts they were doing exceptionally well at.
Andrew Oldman was that for the Stones. He knew Mick needed to the be the front man. He knew Keith needed to be right next to him. And he knew Ian Stewart needed to be fired. Oldman saw from the outside what none of the Stones (on the inside) could.
None of us can see ourselves objectively. Not really. We each need someone who can shape and guide us. A teacher.
From the Proverbs:
Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;
only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. (Prov 1:7)
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
so, no more drinking from death-tainted wells! (Prov 13:14)
It’s better to be wise than strong;
intelligence outranks muscle any day.
Strategic planning is the key to warfare;
to win, you need a lot of good counsel. (Prov 24:5-6)
Success is about having the right people around, and then listening to them.
5. Heroin and Cocaine are Not the Worst Drugs
The Stones know, because they did them. All of them. But these kinds of drugs are just a cover-up for something worse: pride.
In 2010 Keith released a memoir called Life. “After reading it,” Cohen said, “your first thought is, that’s the end of the Stones, there no way they can work together again.” In it Keith roasts Mick for selling out, laughs at his solo work, and even makes fun of his “tiny todger.” (Would you have expected any less?)
Today the Stones–Mick and Keith–are still a band. But their bond is only a shell of what it used to be. “When you see Mick and Keith onstage, leaning together like Butch and Sundance, you’re seeing actors.”
For the Stones, music is what they do. It might have started out as their passion. And in some way, it might still be. But the years have been hard. And pride has been harder. They still do exist, technically. But they’re not the same. They’re not the Mick and Keith that met on train platform in 1961.
That’s what pride does. It leaves enough of you standing so that you can still be framed, the one left holding the bag, while it always gets away, like an escaped criminal. But pride is the real enemy here. We don’t wrestle against each other, we wrestle again the spirits and powers that need us to fail (Eph 6:12).
God saw this coming a long time ago. Early in His law He gave His people this direction:
If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”— well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today (Deut 8:17-18).
Humility is a lot harder than pride. Pride is natural. It’s easy. And it makes sense. Humility isn’t any of that. Sam Cutler, a tour manager for the Stones, said, “they’re going through the motions. Making millions.”
But what kind of life is that? Is anything worth the hollowness of going through the motions?
The lessons here from the Rolling Stones are lessons about life. In my early thirties, that’s something I’m still new at. Leave me a comment. Tell me the lessons that have shaped you. I want to know.