A national magazine publisher recently commented on the changes he’s observed in churches and their worship — changes in music, dress, preaching style, etc. “The latest book on ministry techniques typically don’t enthrall me,” he wrote, “nor do the youngest and brightest stars of Christianity who are at the forefront of the speaking circuit. I confess to having cynical thoughts about this new breed’s sense of fashion – the tight shirts that highlight countless hours in the gym — and their huge media followings and what seem to be nearly perfect lives.”
The rest of that magazine issue explored new methods in reaching young adults (“Generation Z” and Milennials) and women, encouraging church leaders to make the changes necessary to attract those folks to the church or help them grow in their faith. I wondered if the publisher noticed the ironic juxtaposition of his editorial with the articles contained in his magazine.
Perhaps he did. Maybe he realized that the church is multi-generational, that the old and the young should not only coexist, but must actively grow together in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps his comments were intended to acknowledge the importance of age, experience, and tradition while the magazine’s articles emphasized that the church must still attempt to maintain relevance in contemporary culture.
Because we like what we like.
I’m fascinated by the Cheerios in the grocery store. For years Cheerios came as Original Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, but today there’s cinnamon, apple-cinnamon, banana nut, frosted, berry, peach, fruity, multi-grain, maple, pumpkin-spice, chocolate and even chocolate and peanut butter mixed together. All Cheerios, but intended to appeal to different palates, because we all like what we like.
Lots of folks go church shopping with that same consumer mentality, “I like what I like.” Some search for the beat of contemporary music while others embrace the familiarity of old hymns. Some want their preacher in a suit and tie; others prefer jeans and a polo shirt. Some families seek an active youth program, and others want their kids beside them in a more “family” experience. Some want participatory church government where everyone votes on decisions, but others are content for a few leaders to make decisions. “Just leave me out of it,” they say, “I don’t want anything to do with church politics.” Some want to hear homosexuality vigorously condemned, others want homosexuals to be welcomed into ministry. We all like what we like.
But here’s the thing: Worship isn’t a stroll down the cereal aisle at the grocery store. It’s not about our preferences and choices. Worship is God-centered, not me-centered. It’s about giving praise and obedience to God, not about getting “fed” (Remember, we typically feed only babies and those so handicapped that they cannot feed themselves.) or having spiritual preferences indulged.
Since God desires for His people to be engaged and helped by the worship experience, music and preaching styles and church programs have evolved over the years to help folks connect with God. You may have noticed, for example, that we rarely “chant” our songs now, and most scholars think that was the dominant form of music in the First Century church. “Sunday School” is a tradition that’s actually less than 250 years old, a relatively young whippersnapper in the world of the ancient church.
But not every new fad is good for God’s people. Youth ministry came of age in the 1970s and 80s, but some experts now question whether youth programming hindered, rather than aided, the spiritual development of young people.
It’s wrong when people expect the church to change just to please me or “meet my needs.” It’s not about “me”! The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV), “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Church shopping runs counter to the will of God for His people and places an impossible burden on church leaders; they can’t please everyone. In trying, it’s likely they will please no one, especially God!
Church is about “us” and about Him. It’s about loving each other enough to work around the differences in our tastes while loving God enough to protect our unity and work together to make disciples. That was Jesus’ command: “Go, make disciples.” Not, “find a place that suits your spiritual tastes.” Absent nutrition, the flavor of Cheerios doesn’t matter.