Richland Hills, Instrumental Music, and the future of the Churches of Christ, Part 2

Angel with harpChurch leaders considering having two different worship styles, whether instrumental or not, in two separate services have to wrestle with the risk of effectively creating two congregations that share a common building. If one service is traditional and another is contemporary, two different tastes in music are accommodated, but then members are allowed to separate in order to have their tastes accommodated.

Worse yet, if a church intends to one day build a larger facility and re-combine services, someone is going to be made very unhappy when they learn the new combined service doesn’t suit their taste.

Perhaps more worrisome is the doctrinal side of things. If the reason some members prefer a particular style is doctrinal, then the leadership has failed to confront a weak theology and has not helped its members grow in their understanding. Ultimately, the preacher may be afraid to even preach the same lessons in the two services!

It’s a very dangerous thing to create a segment of the church with a theology that’s more conservative than what the leaders believe! Rather, the job of the leaders is to train and equip the members to understand the word of God correctly, not to create political compromises that allow us to avoid coming to a deeper, better, common understanding of grace.

Therefore, I’d suggest these ideas:

If the goal is to one day recombine the two services into one, have only one worship style. It might be a blended style but it has to be the same at both services.

Resist the temptation to think of one service as more progressive than the other and only push the envelope in one of the two services. At some point, the two services have to be the same, and it’ll be much easier to bring the entire church along in whatever direction you want to go gently over time, rather than, when you combine, asking half to go backwards or asking the other half to leap ahead and suddenly have to accept 10 years worth of new practices in a week.

There’s an element within every congregation’s leadership that impatiently wants to immediately make whatever change is desired, even if some members leave over it. Now, I’ve personally made decisions over which members have left, and I recognize that this is sometimes necessary, but it’s never desirable. Rather, the shepherds of a flock have to care for the entire flock and, as a result, try very hard to keep the entire flock together (but never at the expense of teaching the truth or pursuing God’s mission).

This means that you take the time to educate your members on why this change is permissible under the scriptures. You inculcate a mature understanding of grace so that no one feels he is being asked to sin or compromise on Biblical principles.

Once you get your members to this point in their understanding, you can frankly point out that the disagreement over worship style is purely one of taste, and no church can worship together if we are unwilling to compromise somewhat on questions of taste.

This is not to trivialize the question. It’s just to put it in scriptural perspective. We in the Churches of Christ like to doctrinalize our disputes, when sometimes it’s just about personal preference. We very much need for our members to know that if they leave over song selection or a piano, it’s over a question of taste.

Now, the next lesson to be taught is the primacy of Christian love in our decision making. In other words, we have to do under others as we wish they’d do unto us. We know this, of course. We just have trouble practicing this. And part of the reason is an unwillingness of church leaders to insist. Selfishness is simply not an acceptable behavior, and selfish demands can never be agreed to. It only encourages more selfishness.

Rather, the members have to understand that the church doesn’t exist to meet their expectations and preferences. Rather, the role of the church is to equip the members to serve others.

And so the question should never be: how can the congregation make its members happy? Rather, the question is: how can the congregation help the members be of service to one another–and to the surrounding world?

A blended service therefore has the advantage of making no one completely happy. It’s a compromise, and therefore an important lesson on how to be Christ-like. I serve you. You serve me.

I sometimes sing that way YOU like, and take delight and joy in bringing delight and joy to you. And you refuse to selfishly be catered to. Rather, you in turn sometimes sing the way I like, and take delight and joy in bringing delight and joy to me. This way, we’re BOTH happy ALL the time.

And this is what bothers me about having two different styles of worship. It deprives the members of the opportunity to grow in love. Rather, it encourages the attitude that I should look for a church that meets my needs, rather than a church that helps me meet the needs of others.

Finally, many of our members who intellectually realize instruments are perfectly acceptable to God emotionally are repelled by the very thought. And it may well take years to overcome years of conditioning (I speak from very real personal experience!)

The wise leadership recognizes that it’s just plain hard to overcome decades of hostility to the instrument even when you KNOW it’s okay. Knowing and feeling are two very different things. Go slow. Compassion demands nothing less.

And so, precede any new practice with teaching–first on grace, next on love, and finally on why the instrument or other practice is okay.

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