Have you ever visited a church that did things differently? I recently found myself in such a situation. Hymnals, unaccompanied piano, and, for me, a bit of discomfort. First of all, I didn’t really know how to use a hymnal. Who knew you skipped to the next line rather than moving sequentially down the page? As uncomfortable as this was for me, I’m sure the hymnal enthusiast would be equally disquieted by the contemporary worship service I am accustomed to. But, it’s just a matter of preference, right? Or, is it?
Allow me to first say I love hymns. I also love contemporary worship with synth and lights and fog. I don’t think either is better than the other. They are simply different means to communicate worship to God. The problem is not everyone agrees with that statement. Some would suggest the old way is better. Some would suggest the new way is better. But get this; before there was an old or new way, there was an older way that was replaced by the current old way. Maybe in a few centuries Hillsong and Jesus culture will be the old hymns?
The point I’m making is the means with which we do church doesn’t matter all that much. We get too caught up in the means. Means unfailingly change, and if we cling to the previous way of doing things, we may unnecessarily alienate the lost.
If we cling to the previous way of doing things, we may unnecessarily alienate the lost.
Now, I’m not talking about changing the means simply for the sake of changing the means. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But, if there is in fact a legitimate purpose in introducing a new idea or concept in order to effectively communicate the Gospel, why not? Why wouldn’t we desire to reach those who are without Christ?
I’m not suggesting we allow culture to dictate said means, but if we reject culture completely, we won’t be as effective in reaching the lost. I’m not talking about changing the message, I’m talking about changing how we communicate the message. The message itself will always be a bit counter-cultural and subversive. That’s the nature of the Gospel and you can’t change it.
There is an example in history I think we can learn from. You have probably heard of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Now, we don’t find it atypical for a pastor or itinerant speaker to visit a church other than their own. It happens all the time. We take it for granted, but that wasn’t always the case. Wesley came up with the idea of “circuit preachers,” (preachers that traveled) and was highly effective in evangelizing the vast uncharted territories of North America. Other evangelists around the same time took up itinerant preaching. A lot of other pastors didn’t care for this trend, considering it an imposition and insult to have someone else speak at their church. How obtuse, right? The means were changing, and for the better. The Methodist circuit preachers reached a vast number of people that would not have otherwise been reached, but the stodgy critics were left behind. Wesley didn’t change the message, he changed the means through which it was communicated.
If previous methods are effective, then nothing needs to be changed. However, I don’t think we should reject new means and methods simply because we are used to something else. New means may make us uncomfortable, and it may not look exactly like what we are used to, but that’s okay. The continued relevance of the Gospel is dependent on our ability to adapt our means to shifting trends. Note I said the means, not the message. The message is eternal and timeless, as are the moral precepts taught in scripture. Those don’t change.
So what does all that mean? It simply illustrates we should be open minded. Don’t insist on doing something simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. We do tend to do that. It’s habit. Critically examine the means and be willing to adopt new means if necessary and efficacious. If the end result is people coming to know Jesus, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? I heard someone say, “we will do anything short of sin in order to reach the lost.” It feels peculiar to say it, but rings true. After all, why wouldn’t we?