Boogity! In Appreciation of Pastor Joe Nelms

If you have an internet connection (and I’m taking a stab that you do) it’s likely that you’ve seen this prayer by Pastor Joe Nelms before a NASCAR race in Nashville.

It’s become an internet sensation, getting songified by the Gregory Brothers (warning: it’s unbelievably catchy),

From this spawned further versions in Gregorian chant and hip hop. It’s got so deeply in my head this week that I can’t begin a prayer “Heavenly Father” without hearing a Tennessee accent in my head, nor end a prayer with “Amen” without thinking “Boogity boogity boogity.” I write this post as a kind of exorcism – perhaps I can get it out of my head by getting it into yours…

It’s an amazing scene. A pastor is asked to lead a crowd of 170,000 people in prayer, and he comes out with that! What was he thinking? We don’t know. But we do know:

(1) The prayer was surely “inspired” by this hilarious/outrageous scene from the movie Talladega Nights (warning: unsuitable for children, unsuitable for parents).

(2) The philosophical phrase “boogity boogity boogity” was the trademark of legendary NASCAR commentator Darrell Waltrip, who marked the start of each race with “Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys!”

(3) Interviewed since the prayer, Pastor Nelms stated that he didn’t receive a corporate cent for name-dropping thanks for Dodges, Toyotas, Fords, Sunoco Racing Fuels, GM Performance Technology, R07 Engines and Goodyear Tires (“which bring performance and power to the track”). He told the Christian Post that he was only trying to show the joy Christians have in Jesus Christ. “Our whole goal was to open doors that would not otherwise be open … There are a lot of folks who think churches are all serious people who never enjoy life and [who have] just a list of rules.” He added, “We who have been saved by Christ, we know that living has just begun. When I accepted Christ, that’s when I really learned what joy was.

So was Pastor Nelms’ prayer a silly stunt, a mindless sell-out to consumerism, and a mockery of Christian faith, as some have decided? Or was it a fine piece of contextualized mission, proclaiming in the middle of a hyper-commercialized setting that God is the giver of all good things? Was his ridiculous language (to most people) actually full of meaning to that particular sub-culture?

My point is this: We don’t know. And it’s hard to tell. That’s the (often unexpected) price of contextualization – the fierce criticism of quick-to-judge Christians towards whom the ministry is not aimed. It reminds me of “He eats with tax-collectors and sinners.” Those who step out to name Christ outside the church deserve at least our admiration for being there and having a go. To Pastor Joe and others like him I say Boogity boogity boogity!

Posted on August 16, 2011, in Culture, Evangelism. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Not only does the Tallageda Nights scene provide background for this incident, but the reverse holds – the fact that there are public prayers at motor races goes some way to explaining the prayer in the film.

    In Australia the motor racing subculture is further from the Church than average, so we can give him some slack. But if he has to pay a dollar every time a youth group prayer time is derailed by someone praying for a smoking hot wife…

    That Songify track is superb!

  2. Brilliant stuff. (Prayer, songify, Tallageda clip, your blog, the lot). I think Ps Joe succeeded in his intention. Offending the religious police is probably a sign of someone who hangs out with Jesus 🙂 Great article AT.

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