Bonnie Gray over at Faith Barista has been hosting a weekly blog carnival for some time now, and this month’s theme is “joy.” The prompt for today’s post is to share “something new you’re learning in your relationship with Jesus.”
Learning happens whether you’re focused on it or not. And the “new” I’ve been learning is actually something old.
Some good friends of ours are struggling with their church. They’re around our age, and have been members of their church for about five years. The congregation is long established, with lots of old money (and traditional ways of doing things like worship).
Our friends are rather traditional. They like the old hymns; they like choirs and the classical music that’s often played at worship services (I’ve heard it, and it is spectacular). For several years they’d been part of an adult Sunday School class that they’d come to love, and built some good relationships with the people in it.
Then came the change. Some consultants were brought in, and the church embarked upon becoming a “multi-site campus.” The worship service our friends attended (one of two at the church) became the “new” service, designed for younger people. The classical music and traditional hymns were steadily replaced with more contemporary music, more informality, less tradition.
Our friends faced a choice: endure the change, even if the music was hard to sing and sometimes even harder to listen to; or switch to the other worship service, which remained traditional. Switching, though, meant no longer being part of the much-loved Sunday School class.
And then, a decision was made to end all the adult Sunday School classes being held at that hour. Even though their own class had a sufficient number of people, the others were much smaller. Someone decided to end them all.
So they faced another choice: go to the more contemporary service, or remain with the traditional service and forego Sunday School class altogether. They decided to stay with the traditional worship service. They understood the practical effect of that decision: the severing of more relationships. Church would become showing up for worship service and then leaving.
And that’s what happened.
“We did raise questions about some of the things,” he said. “We were essentially told to get with the program.”
“We were scolded,” she said. “We were just scolded.”
They asked our advice. We knew how much their hearts were breaking over this. We knew how isolated they were becoming. We knew they listened to contemporary music but listening wasn’t the same thing as worshipping.
We told them this was happening to churches everywhere. Publications like Christianity Today refer to it as the “worship wars” but it was actually something far more profound than that, a deep transformation of a large part of what is called evangelical Christianity in the United States. Some people welcome the change; others react the way our friends were reacting.
But this much is clear: however you want to justify changes like this, however many studies and consultants and prayer meetings are held, ultimately what happens is this: one group of people is essentially told they don’t matter any more. It’s not what’s intended, but it’s what happens, sometimes with regret and sometimes rather ruthlessly. There’s no “win-win” when things are limited this way.
And that’s a problem, because all people matter to Jesus. Tradition can’t be allowed to strangle church life. But a desire for the contemporary and the popular can’t be allowed to drown tradition.
I expect our friends to leave that church. They’ll look around and perhaps find a place to attend worship services. If they do, they won’t join as members. They’ll be less willing to build relationships. They’ll tithe, of course, but they won’t be willing invest much of themselves.
This is the second time this has happened to them. And they don’t think the third time will be the charm.
To read more posts at the blog carnival, please visit Faith Barista.