“Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new….” (Isalah 43:18-19)
Let me tell you two stories, both sad, the first more than the other.
James and Cissa are leaving their church.
This couple is one you want in your church. Pastors would, please pardon the expression, kill to get them. They are young parents, beautiful, committed, sharper than you and me combined, and talented. They have hearts for serving, a willingness to hang in there when things go bad, and a submission to leaders even when they disagree. And they tithe.
But after years of frustration in their church—a congregation that is dead-set on dying, even when the Lord planted them in a thriving community and sent them several dynamic couples like James and Cissa–they have finally received the green light from the Lord. It’s time for them to find another church.
I hate, hate, hate this for their church. The decision-makers brought it on themselves by refusing to connect with their community, by ignoring members who wanted to do something innovative, and by their commitment to the church of yesteryear. The community they’re trying to reach existed during the Eisenhower years and hasn’t been seen since.
The sad fact is–these are all my observations from a distance, understand–even the little congregation that remains to administer the church its last rites, even they don’t want what they are ending up with: boring services, bare-bones programming, and precious little ministry.
That truth–that people do not want that kind of church even if their actions created it–took me a lifetime to learn, but I now believe it as strongly as I do anything.
The people responsible for stripping everything relevant and inspiring and “alive” from that church did not do it because they wanted it that way.
They did it because they thought others in the church wanted it like this.
This is what happens when non-leaders call the shots, when decision-makers operate from fear rather than faith, when no one bothers to ask the Lord of the Church–He who said “I will build My church”–what He wants.
The surest way to choke off all life in a congregation is to poll the membership.
By asking church people what they want and don’t want and then concocting programs, ministries, and worship services to fit the findings, you end up catering to the loudest voices, caving in to the most insistent, stooping to the lowest common denominator.
Meanwhile, the quiet Christlike ones sit there and acquiesce. They are so godly they feel they can worship in any circumstance, and if certain ones in the church feel they “just have to have” those hymns or that format before they can worship, then who am I to say no?
And that’s how churches become islands of deadness and dullness in the midst of a thriving community populated with troubled, hungry, needy, and responsive families and children and singles.
No one asked them what they wanted or needed. (Granted, they wouldn’t have known how to answer had they been asked. We’re merely saying someone needs to consider them in these matters.)
This downward process ends only when two things happen–
–the “quiet Godly ones” decide to become the voice of the outsiders, those who will never hear the Gospel if the insistent naysayers are allowed to cut off all new growth, resist all new ideas, and reject anything unfamiliar.
–the leadership decides that the Lord of the Church should decide these matters and not a vote of the people. Pray the Lord will send visionary and courageous pastors and lay leaders who both see what the Lord wants and are willing to take a stand and pay the price, because the insistent naysayers will not go quietly. But go, they must, if the church is to reach their community.
“Our second service is traditional.”
A few days before I was to guest preach for a friend, he called to explain the Sunday format. “The first service is contemporary and the second service is traditional.” He added that the first service, just after 8 am, is the better attended of the two.
I found out why.
The first service was alive. The music was outstanding. The organ and piano were accompanied by a keyboard, several guitars, percussions, and a number of other instruments. The selections were spirited, the wording of the songs challenging, and the attitude upbeat. The congregation was genuinely present, fully engaged.
I’m 73 years old and I loved that service.
The contrast with the second service was stark.
All the musical instruments had been removed with the exception of the organ and piano. All the upbeat choruses and inspiring new songs were missing.
We were back in 1950 again. The hymns were the ones I grew up with, and were sung in a lackluster way.
The worship leader had donned a sportcoat.
If anyone enjoyed that service, you couldn’t tell it.
One contrast still puzzles me in the two services.
In both services, I invited the congregation to fill the altar area for prayer. The first group responded so quickly the words were hardly out of my mouth before people began rising and coming forward. Soon, the entire front of the church was filled.
In the second service, I said the same words but the congregation sat there and stared. Not one person came to the altar to pray. Not one. (Two women joined the church, so all was not lost.)
One wonders if instead of naming the services “contemporary” and “traditional,” we should label them “interactive” and “spectator.” Exciting and dull?
I have a strong feeling about something.
My impression is that the people in the second, so-called “traditional” service do not enjoy that worship style either. That’s why many in the senior age group have chosen to attend the early “contemporary” service.
We have mistakenly thought because they like the old hymns that they don’t care for anything new, anything spirited, anything tuneful or interesting or inspiring or challenging. (I challenge anyone who says that the one-thousandth singing of “Old Rugged Cross” is inspiring. Ninety-nine percent of those singing it seem to be doing it on auto-pilot. It feels like home, I suppose.)
I wonder something.
What if the worship leader gradually added another instrument or two to that second service? What if he dropped in an upbeat chorus once in a while, to add some spice to the music?
But he did it gradually, so as not to shock anyone.
They would love it.
Just because we are old does not mean we are dead. Or deaf. Or have lost any sense of what is good and pleasant or old and stale.
So, what’s going on here?
I suggest that a great percentage of church leaders work from fear, not from faith.
A vocal few of the elderly in many congregations resent that young people are “taking over” the church. The great majority are thrilled, however, because those young people are their grandchildren and nieces and nephews. They are so happy to see new people entering the church. It means the church will be strong for the future.
The only problem is they don’t like to disagree with the outspoken ones who never hesitate to let their pride and prejudices be known. (Apologies to Jane Austen.)
And so, the Eisenhower-lovers carry the day. And the leaders sit back and let them.
“Dear Lord, give us leaders–pastors, staff, and key laypeople–who want to do Thy will more than anything else in the world. May they be willing to stand up and say ‘This is what I believe the Lord is saying’ and stick with it. May they stand together, be loving toward one and all, and quietly stick to their guns when the insistent naysayers try to rally their troops. Father, bless your Church. In Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake, by Jesus’ blood. Amen.”