Last Saturday, Pastor Joe Nelms of the Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, TN gave the invocation before the NASCAR Nationwide Federated Auto Parts 300 race in Nashville. Let's just say that the prayer was was not your typical prayer. Pastor Nelms thanked God for all things from the different makes of the cars to different teams. From the gas to the tires and most importantly, in Ricky Bobby fashion---for his "smoking hot wife." The full text of the prayer can be read here:
"Heavenly father, we thank you tonight for all your blessings you sent and all things give thanks. So we want to thank you tonight for these mighty machines that you brought before us. Thank you for the Dodges and the Toyotas. Thank you for the Fords. And most of all we thank you for Roush and Yates partnering to give us the power that we see before us tonight. Thank you for GM performance technology and RO7 engines. Thank you for Sunoco racing fuel and Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track. Lord, I want to thank you for my smoking' hot wife tonight, Lisa. And my two children, Eli and Emma or as we like to call 'em, the little Es. Lord, I pray you bless the drivers and use them tonight. May they put on a performance worthy of this great track. In Jesus name, boogity boogity boogity, Amen."
Pastor Nelms' prayer has sparked a wide variety of responses. Many people say that it's the "best prayer ever!" other say that Pastor Nelms was putting attention on him and not on God. Others say that the prayer is irreverent or disgraceful. Pastor Nelms stated in the Christian Post that he was trying to be like the apostle Paul and be "all things to all men." Pastor Nelms stated he was trying to reach out to non-Christians. Pastor Nelms stated, "Our whole goal was to open doors that would not otherwise be open. There are a lot of folks who think churches are all [full of] serious people who never enjoy life and [who have] just a list of rules.”
Obviously, no one knows Pastor Nelms' true intentions except for Pastor Nelms and God. Some might say that it doesn't matter. Some might say that you don't speak to God that way or that it was blasphemous. If it was Pastor Nelms' true intention just to be on stage and make people laugh and bring attention to himself then I would agree that it was blasphemous and wrong. For the sake of argument, I'm going to say that his intentions were true.
First of all, I think you have to take the venue into account. A prayer you might hear at a NASCAR race would probably be a little different than a prayer that you would hear at mass. Just like anything, you have to take your surroundings into consideration. I would be aghast if someone tried to put humor into the Eucharistic prayer. But I think inserting a little humor into prayer at a race or with youth is acceptable, IMHO.
Second of all, there are many forms of prayer. You might have your formal prayers, such at the Lord's Prayer or Hail Mary. There are spontaneous prayers like those you may say at a gathering with several people And then there is conversational prayer where you talk just like you are talking to a friend . . . or a father.
Finally, there are different reasons for prayer. There are prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, or petitions. Or, in the case of conversational prayer, we pray so that we become closer to God. Another reason is so that people who may not normally be exposed to God are brought before Him.
So, we have Pastor Nelms praying before a race using a combination of spontaneous/conversational prayer and, among other reasons, trying to bring people to God. Was he, in part, performing for the audience? Yes, but isn't that what many protestant ministers do every Sunday? But to say that he was doing so in order to bring attention to himself and not God is a little presumptuous.
What do you guys think? Did Pastor Nelms cross the line or was this a fantastic prayer?