My Way or the Highway
When we stop to consider this beautiful universe that God created with a word, it is really breathtaking as we begin to see the diversity in it. As we travel around our beautiful planet we call Earth, once again, we cannot help but stand amazed at the genius of God in the many ways in which He formed the world around us. This diversity is further seen by the variety of humans He created to populate and steward this great planet in this incredibly unique universe. Such an amazing God to create in this way!
This diversity is also found in His church. Sometimes in a healthy way that is to be celebrated, sometimes not so much.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves living in a self-absorbed society with myriads of options before us and we are encouraged to make choices that will best promote our personal comfort. We have a multitude of choices in careers and jobs, cars and houses, restaurants and grocery stores, televisions and phones, even bible translations! We are able to easily cater our lives around what brings us the most personal comfort by picking and choosing what suits us best. And if we get tired of our choice over time, we can simply trade that choice for another.
If we aren’t careful though, this destructive attitude can also creep into the church. For instance, if we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves picking a church according to its soft chairs, a particular method of preaching, a pleasing style and volume of music, the perfect roast of coffee waiting for us at the breakfast bar, beautiful people to interact with, along with a service time that doesn’t begin too early and end too late. In fact, given the opportunity and left unchallenged, our sinful nature will often gravitate towards a church service that makes us feel comfortable but doesn’t necessarily meet our spiritual needs. This is a problem.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in styles and preferences of worship music. We have churches with loud, contemporary worship music and churches with contemplative, traditional styles of music often located in the same church at different times. In fact, I recently heard of one church that has a large campus with several different buildings dedicated to several different styles of worship going on individually at the same time so that people can pick and choose which one suits them best. If you are a southern gospel fan, head to this building; if black gospel is your thing, you can go over here; if you’re looking for something with a little bit harder edge to it or possibly rap, there is a building for that too. That’s pretty amazing…all of those styles available at one church all at the same time, just pick and choose the one that you like best! Well, as I stated earlier, I see a problem in all of this. The problem simply stated is that church is NOT about us!
Furthermore, when we look at church growth and polls concerning the church, we are currently hearing a lot about the trend to reach the Millennials. These polls often ask questions like, “What are the Millennials looking for in the church?” or “What type of church will a Millennial attend?” or “Is your church effectively reaching the Millennials?” Yes, they need to be reached. The world needs to be reached. But often, you find the experts of these polls strongly suggesting that churches need to be constantly adapting their styles and approaches to church to be able to attract this lost generation so they will be comfortable enough to darken the doors of our church and be won to Christ. If the lost are trending a certain way, then it is suggested that the church is supposed to match them step for step in those same trends otherwise we are going to miss the opportunity. This sounds like great advice, but isn’t this really just another way of catering to our broken society’s demand for more options so that personal comfort can be maintained?
Considering all of the loud voices currently out there concerning this topic, I understand I am probably in a minority in this way of thinking that church is not necessarily about the comfort of the people but about the God who made the people. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love the church and have given my life to serve God through the church. So let me explain briefly what I see in scripture concerning this as well as my own personal experience.
No God But God…
First of all, we must never ever ever give the place of honor and the worship that belongs to God to some cheap imitation such as a person. The prophet Isaiah is clear about this when God spoke through him saying:
“I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42:8 (NASB95)
One thing about it, God is serious about His glory and He is not willing to share it with another, even if that other has been created in His image.
When we find ourselves accommodating our celebration services to fit the preferences of a certain generation or type of people, I believe we do just that. We are asking God to take second place as we honor those who may or may not be serious about pursuing a relationship with Him. Not only do we attempt to give God’s glory and honor to mankind, but we further find ourselves expending great energy, finances, and resources to keep up with the quickly changing trends, often finding that once we think we have arrived at the mark, it has once again moved and are forced to begin the remodel and adapting all over again. This puts us in the cheap position of being followers and chasers of the world instead of changers of the world. God has created us to be intellectually creative. Why not use that creativity combined with what the bible teaches to produce a place and a service that is simply pleasing to God, not caring if it is in step with what the world says is “in.” I believe the book of Acts would be a great place to start.
Secondly, we are given a warning about this type of behavior in scripture.
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self…”
We are warned in Timothy that in the last days there will be difficult times and one of those marks will be that men will become lovers of self. Actually, what sounds like a new predicament, is nothing new. We see this sin being played out since the beginning in the days of the Old Testament. Mankind has been trying to figure out ways to worship himself since the beginning. Sometimes muted and subtle, sometimes arrogantly and blatantly. So what I truly believe scripture is pointing to in this statement in Timothy is that in the last days there will be an escalation of self-worship. When given the opportunity to worship the One True God, or serve themselves, they will brashly reject this great privilege for their own form of self-love and idolatry. Of course, the enemy is ever so helpful to accommodate and encourage us in replacing God whenever possible. We have been warned.
Finally, let me interject my own experience concerning how I was reached for the kingdom. Pre-Christ, I was a long-haired, death metal drummer, with a serious alcohol and drug abuse problem. In a nutshell, I was angry, I was violent, I was confused, I was misled, I was self-absorbed, I was self-destructive, I hated the world, I hated God, and I was lost. How does God reach a person like that? By starting up a church that plays hardcore worship music and serving wine at the front door? Maybe, but that isn’t how He reached me. While I don’t pretend to know or understand just exactly how God grabbed my heart, I do know a few things. For instance, the church where I finally gave up my sin was a fairly traditional church that prayed constantly and believed God completely for the salvation of my soul. I have heard story after story of how for two years my name was brought before God in corporate prayer by this church who barely knew me. I heard how my name was written on a piece of paper and placed on the altar as a symbol and a reminder. I also remember the relational aspect of the church body at that time. They didn’t know me, but would often reach out to me where I lived. They never expected me to come conform to their way of life before relationship happened. Whether it was at the gas station, the grocery store, on the street, or in my home, the saints were actively pursuing me and reaching out to me at every opportunity. Their faith was an active faith that made an eternal impression. Also, looking back, I recognize the hand of God at work through His Holy Spirit to change my life. My circumstances never really changed, but the Lord certainly transformed my heart and mind during that time to give me an opportunity of clarity by which I could hear Him call my name. Truly, I was reached for the kingdom, “not by might nor by power, but My Spirit, says the LORD…”
After coming to Christ, I can remember the deep hunger for the things of God. I can remember the longing to be fed continually on His word, to bask in the presence of His Spirit during worship and at the altar in timeless prayer never wanting the moment to end. I can remember the joy of the fellowship of other believers who hungered the same way I did. I can remember the passion to share what I knew of the Lord with other people outside the church. I remember those things clearly. What I don’t remember was what the chairs were like. What I don’t remember was how long the services lasted, although in those days I think they were pretty long compared to what experts today say the length of services should be. What I don’t remember was what particular style of clothing I or the pastor was wearing. I do remember though, enjoying the presence of God despite not having air conditioning at times. I also remember loving God despite the church being over capacity by at least thirty people and being forced to stand throughout the service because we were out of chairs. I do remember a church that got by on meager means with a modest building but abounded in the love of Christ. In a nutshell, what I don’t remember the church doing is changing much to cater to a sinful, long-haired, death metal drummer. They simply exalted the glory of God above all other things which attracted me in a supernatural way by appealing to the deep longing of my heart. And through it all God changed ME! He didn’t have to change the church so I would be comfortable enough to stick around. Jesus was and still is more than enough!
In conclusion, just let me reiterate that my goal is not to criticize the church. I love the church. But I do want to challenge the philosophy of this age that says we should be selling the world something trendy that they can relate to instead of the Creator who relates all things to Himself. The answer for the deep need of this fallen world is Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected and coming again.
And so, as we prepare to go out to our places of celebration and worship this weekend, I challenge you to ask yourself, “Who is this all about anyway?” Is it about personal comfort and conforming to the styles of the world in the name of evangelism, or is it about exalting God’s glory so that the world may see and repent?
“Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually.” 1 Chronicles 16:11 (NASB95)