So we had a meeting at my church last night. Our church has decided to participate in a program designed to help your church become a thriving church. Our meeting last night was a precursor to an upcoming weekend where the program will tell our church what it needs to do in order to stay away from a decline. There was a statement made in the presentation that has been stuck with me all day, “The message is sacred, but the style and form are not.”
Essentially what was being said was that, as long as we preach the gospel and bring people to Christ, the way we do it is almost irrelevant. Now I know there are somethings that we shouldn’t do in order to further the gospel. For example, I don’t think we should go out with a group to a bar, get smashed, then attempt to teach about Christ. We are called to stay away from doing that, so it probably should be marked as not a good practice. But I think that this statement has stuck with me by some of the response in discussion, especially one in-particular.
The discussion got to musical selection. The presenter made the comment about how musical tastes have shifted over the last 50 or so years. And what he was hinting towards was some sort of addition to contemporary worship music (especially something rock sounding). Now my church is very musical. Aside from myself, many of our members are musicians. One man, who is such a member, stated “I have a problem with taking a pop culture genre, like rock, and attempting to bring it into the church. I just do think it gets the message across.” As my church’s contemporary worship leader, I got pretty offended because in one statement, this man trashed everything I’ve been charged to do. But now that I’ve had sometime to cool off, I thought I should talk about it a little.
This man is caught up in what church “should” be and now what church “can” be. We are called in 1 Corinthians to be flexible and relatable in order to reach more people. “For though I am free from all me, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22 NASB). Now I know that gets a little confusing, so I bolded the most important part.
The most important function of the Church is to preach the gospel and make new disciples. I do not believe that Paul’s call for us to be all things, applies to us on an individual level. As the Church, it means that we must adapt to people, otherwise they will not connect with us; and if there is no connection, we cannot effectively preach the gospel and make new disciples. So that means that the form and style of our services might have to change, or simply add a new service. Churches with long standing traditions of piano and organ music, may have to look at adding guitar and praise team music in order to reach more people. The church cannot remain a mold that we have to fit people into. Rather we should be looking at how we can change to fit the culture, in order to preach.
Worship styles are definitely the biggest battleground in churches, and I’m not trying to advocate for one and demean others. I simply am saying that culture plays a part in how we can reach people. Jesus called us to go out and make disciples from all corners of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20). I’m sure we can ask any missionary that travels abroad that the same tactic that may work in New York City, is not the same that works in Tanzania. So why would we think that the same tactic that has worked for the church 50 years ago, still works for people today. It’s a new world my friends, and I think it’s time for some of us to question what is really important. Is it more important that we reach out to new people to further the gospel, or stay within our previous practices because it is what is familiar to us?