Thursday, April 14, 2011

Something Old, Something New

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.

Eventually, they switched worship services. They found a new Sunday School class held at the same time as the more contemporary service. They didn’t know the people as well, but the teaching was good and they liked the people. And things were fine for a time.

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.


David Rupert said...

Music has been such a point of disagreement lately. I really feel for the older people. If they want it, it seems the only place they can find it are at dead churches or liberal ones. There are exceptions, of course.

I like how you balanced the two sides -- unfortunately most people don't. And thus we have a chasm. We are losing our older saints, who could be contributing their wisdom and love

Louise Gallagher said...

This doesn't just happen in churches -- it happens in most groups. As we 'evolve' we also let go of what has served us well. We 'evolve' and alienate and come full circle -- but in the process lose something of the richness that was there in the past.

nice post Glynn. Very well-laid out and fair -- and so reflective of the human condition.

Unknown said...

I agree with David & Louise - well balanced!

When David led worship we went through this. Leadership wanting one thing, congregation wanting another, the older friends wanting hymns...

Tough one. Please people or please God. We chose God and still you lose people. But, God led us all to His perfect place for each of us and we're all in touch.

Prayer, grace, more prayer and more grace.

Maureen said...

The disagreement in our church is not so much over traditional v contemporary but the quality of the music, which can be painful to hear and no matter the piece, sounds exactly the same: like a dirge. Many people "turn off" to it while others vote with their feet and do not attend. I can only think of one or two other issues that present so unfortunate a rift.

H. Gillham said...

It's a national epidemic -- our church has had the "worship wars" and the young won.

We have adapted.

Then we had a severe pruning. Church split.

We're trying to hear what God wants us to do. Right now, we're staying.

We're in prayer here over the changes facing "our" generation as it seems we are being pushed aside for coffee cafes, louder music, and casualness.

We are adapting and praying.

Churches did not change for a hundred years, and in the last twenty they have changed severely.
Is it just general acceleration or revival?

We're praying.

Thanks for this post and give your friends HUGS.

Fatha Frank said...

Hmmm, we've taken the middle road with the worship war- we mix both traditional with contemporary. Sometimes the transition between is jarring, but most of the the time it feels like we're just a group singing different songs to the Lord

To the broader point: you nailed it when you said they don't matter anymore. Recently my wife raised an issue and was told "I don't have to answer to you." I was literally speechless. We're fighting, but I don't know for how much longer. But we fear just what you say: we won't "join" wherever is next and our relationships would be more guarded. Right now, that's not worth the risk.

HisFireFly said...

"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."

I have seen that happen time and time again, over music style or other things.. and I have grieved.

Now.. my husband and I, not known as "church hoppers" find ourselves in that very same place.. not because of worship, but lack of vision and focus and blacks and whites being turned to shades of gray.

We covet your prayers for us during this time, as we seek His will and where He would have us gather and fellowship.

Mama Mpira said...

A dilemma beautifully explained. And it begs the question: do we gather at a church building for the primary purpose of worship, or to meet with the body of believers which IS the Church? Hopefully both, but it doesn't always work.
So sad that pastors do not seem to be caring for the people.
In the end, surely our primary focus must be to worship - and perhaps your friends will have to find their community of 'church' elsewhere. A pity.

katdish said...

That's just so sad. My previous church is going thru the same thing. Lots of new members, and they're doing good things, but that feeling of more traditional members being made to feel that they don't matter? That's exactly it.

Maybe the problem is that churches look to other churches who are experiencing growth and then try and follow suit by making the same changes. But each community is different. I remember Rick Warren wrote in his book The Purpose Driven Church, "Don't try to be like Saddleback." And then everyone did exactly that.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

I love to worship with contemporary music. For one thing the instruments are loud and I can sing as loud as I want and people can't hear me very well. : ) I do have a secret tho... I have some old hymnals on my shelves and like to sneak in and sing a few classics by myself.

You asked what we're learning in our relationship with Jesus that's new. Today I started reading and writing about the Easter story on my blog. I've read the New Testament through. Blogging gets me to think more about what I'm reading. But for some reason (maybe how we celebrate with the services), I thought of Palm Sunday as a single event- Jesus rides the donkey, the palm leaves, the kids sing, "Hosannah." What I learned today is that Jesus was riding to the Temple and the children sang inside. People who were sick and lame followed Him in. He healed from within the Temple of Jerusalem. How awesome is that? It's such an image of Heaven, our King. Probably old news to most : )

Anonymous said...

this couple has lost their umph brain muscles...what is stopping those adults from meeting? duh! so what do you think the underground christians would think of these adults that fold-under so easily?

what would that church do if that group decided to secretly meet for their bible study anyway, in one of the rooms of the church, at the hour they wanted to meet?

and just who is stopping them from meeting in a house before service?

brother, we have to get a lot more cunning than this if we want to meet together and are told not to.

come on brothers and sisters...let's use those brains that God gave us.

Anonymous said...

cunning, playful, sneaky, inventive, creative.

instead of fighting....have a little "fun" with it.

pull a leg or two.

hire a blue grass band.

a sing o gram in a monkey suit...

Anonymous said...

people get way to serious at church and forget their funny bone at home.

and for some reason their brain quits working when they walk in the door.

tell them all to write a poem.

Anonymous said...

scaredy cats.

neeener nannaer neener...

S. Etole said...

I'm in the process of reading "The Screwtape Letters." This sounds like it is right up someone's alley to do just what it is doing!

Nikole Hahn said...

Worship wars is right.

I sympathize with your friend and applaud her willingness to change, but I do think we all need to strike a balance. My advice to your friend would be to stay and make a difference. Think outside the box. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to connect, become a catalyst for change, and break down the walls. Some suggestions: A luncheon or supper where you mix old friends with strangers, a coffee ministry outside the walls of the church like I have my Praise and Coffee, etc. Sit somewhere different each time and get to know someone new.

I'm sorry your friend is having so much trouble. Thanks for the point of view from that perspective.

Bonnie Gray said...

Hi Glynn, this is the first time I've read a post of yours that was addressing/voicing a current issue that is going on in our Christian community... and I really appreciated your wise and honest perspective on it. It's really important we be straight about what is really happening. This unfortunately mirrors what's happening in companies - people withhold from developing relationships at work and eat lunch in their cubicles more than as a group. Because they know at any time, they can be let go (again), so why go through the investment of building relationships. Thank you for bringing this real-time learning from your life now. Good stuff. Real stuff.