Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Does it always have to be this painful?

This week at The High Calling, Mark Roberts has had a series of daily reflections that speak directly to what has been creating considerable turmoil for a considerable period of time for many churches – the worship wars. He started the week by asking a fundamental question: Who is the audience for worship? On Tuesday, he talked about avoiding the temptation of audience worship, and today he continues that discussion.

Before we older church members get too smug, “audience worship” isn’t only about worship services that seem more like rock concerts (usually aimed at being more relevant to a younger “demographic”).  It’s also about getting caught up in thinking that worship is about whether or not the pastor had a good sermon today, the quality of the playing of the organ and the singing of the choir, and why was the order of service slightly different this week, since the congregation sang three hymns instead of the usual four.

Yes, the worship wars have two sides. And both can be wrong, especially when they forget that worship isn’t about being culturally relevant or how good the pastor’s sermon was.

Reading Mark’s reflections happened at the same time I was reading chapter five of The Cure: What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNichol and Bill Thrall. The chapter actually has two titles – “Two Healings” and “Two Solutions.” It addresses a very real issue – when Christians hurt Christians, and how Christians can sometimes make a cottage industry of their hurt by other Christians.

I know; I’ve been there. My expectations of Christians have always been higher than for non-Christians. I forget that Christians are sinners, too; Christians fail and Christians screw up. And I am a Christian, too.

The Cure has what is almost a cookbook recipe for what happens (which tells me this happens a lot). You get hurt, and it causes pain. You become preoccupied with the event. You become a “prosecuting attorney, consistently building your case.” You become obsessed with the record getting set straight. You become unable to love well and neglect the needs of others. And the steps go on as your anger builds, alienating others and finally questioning God’s motives.

The authors are directly addressing what happens when a Christian is hurt by another Christian. But reading those reflections by Mark Roberts, I understand that it isn’t just a problem between individuals; the local church itself can be the offending party.

The cause may be the worship wars. It may be part of someone’s idea to be more culturally relevant and become more attractive to younger people, “because we’re aging and losing our future.” It may be that a handful of people (usually including the pastor and a few elders) decide the church needs a “new model for growth” and communicate that vision badly (or, in some cases, with stealth, because they know they will meet opposition). Or someone decides that the church has much to learn from the management and marketing of corporate America.

We attended a church that we loved for 15 years; the last five were difficult and the last two were agony. All of these things were happening. It didn’t end well, for us, other members of the church, and the church as a whole.

We found a new church, and experienced the pain of breaking relationships from our old church (leaving a church in these circumstances always has a cost). But we worked our way into an adult Sunday School class, and began to meet people. I joined the ushering team and then was elected to the deacon board. Six months into my three-year term, I attended a Saturday training seminar. About two hours into it, I realized the same thing was happening all over again. There was a “new vision.” There were outside consultants. Not everyone in leadership or the church staff knew this was happening.

We didn’t leave this time, but I can say that no one at our church today would say it ended well. It was corporate vision, “demographic relevance,” worship wars and bad communication all over again. And it was painful all over again. The cost to the church has been huge. But what happened has been recognized; there has been confession to the church. We’re still not out of the woods. And we may never be out of the woods.

I’ve heard similar stories from friends and people all over the United States (and some in Canada, too), so many that it suggests that this is all too common and that something larger is in play.

The church – the North American church evangelical church – is being split apart and refined. Sometimes it worship wars; other times it social and cultural issues. This “sundering apart” can be seen not only in individual church problems but in popular Christian books, blogs, conferences – everything we associate with the church at large. And it’s easy, too easy, to get caught up in that cycle of pain and personal turmoil the authors of The Cure are describing.

There’s a better way. We’ll talk about it in the second part of this chapter discussion next week.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading and discussing The Cure. To see other’s posts on this chapter, please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Illustration by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

1 comment:

jasonS said...

I've been in a church that split--a small church mind you--but the split hurt all the same. None of us is above making the wrong priorities and pursuing a false vision. It takes so much grace and walking in forgiveness to keep our hearts fully engaged and connected to Him. I like that you highlighted this from a congregation/church perspective. Thanks Glynn.