The tension in the room was palpable. You could seemingly even smell it. Five elders sat on one end of the table, trying to act like shepherds, even though they didn’t feel like shepherds. You see, they were angry, although they knew they shouldn’t be.
On the other end of the table were a dozen or so older church members, obviously distressed. The elders hadn’t anticipated such a large delegation, and people were futzing about looking for chairs. It was very uncomfortable for everyone.
The chairman of the elders led a brief prayer — for wisdom and patience — and then the delegation’s leader spoke.
We asked for this meeting to talk about the song selection. We thought the elders had agreed many years ago to a blended worship service. Half traditional and half contemporary. But I think we’ve drifted more to 80% contemporary.
There was some discussion about what should count as traditional and what should count as contemporary, and the mood wasn’t getting any better. Finally, an elder spoke up. He called the leader by name.
Here’s my offer. We’ll tell the song leader to lead your favorite music just as often as he leads mine. What do you think?
The delegation was silent. They smelled a trap.
It’s not a very good offer. We’ve not sung any of my favorite songs in over a year. Look at all the time and energy I’ve invested in this church, and yet it’s been a year since we’ve had a song service with my favorite kind of music. It’s not a good offer, but it’s a fair offer. I can’t see why I should be treated any better than anyone else. You all get the very same deal I get.
The elder paused. No one else seemed inclined to speak, and so he added,
We’ve both been members here for decades, haven’t we?
The leader nodded his head, his posture defensive.
I’ve taught hundreds of classes at this church. I served on countless committees. And I’ve even served on a worship planning committee years ago.
Now … do you or do any in your group know what my musical taste is? Do any of my fellow elders know what kind of music I prefer?
The elders smiled and shook their heads. The delegations tried desperately to find an answer but had to admit they had no idea.
I’m an elder and a Bible class teacher. If I’d wanted to, I could get my way on music. You know I could.
The group nodded. This elder normally did get things his way, but they were taken aback at his frankness.
But despite the fact that I’m better positioned than anyone else in this church to have the songs I most like led — I only have to ask, you know — no one knows my taste in music.
Why do you suppose that in my 25 years here I’ve never told anyone my taste in music? Why wouldn’t I do that? I mean, you know me. I don’t lack for opinions! Why not share my opinion on music?
The group was silent. They really had no clue.
The elder opened his Bible and read,
(Phil 2:3-7) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
I take this passage seriously. I think it means exactly what it says. And that means my role here in this church is to serve others, not to be served. Here’s another —
(Mat 20:26-28) “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Now, let me explain what I think it means to serve others in this context. As a leader, I have to ask what is best for God’s work in this community. And I look around and see that this church gets most of its growth from young couples. And I see that we aren’t growing as we need to be. We’ve not had nearly the baptisms or even the membership placements any of us would like.
Growth comes from the young. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe we should be having more conversions among our older members, but here, it’s always been mainly among the young.
And this means, I think, that I can best serve God’s purposes here by helping our young members be evangelistic. I think we should support them any way we can, because if we don’t, this church will die. And I’ve talked to our young couples: they like contemporary music. And they find it easier to invite their friends when we have mainly contemporary songs.
And getting my taste in music is nothing compared to keeping this church alive and well and growing — and growing God’s Kingdom.
The leader stared at the floor.
The oldest of the elders cleared his throat. He wanted to bring things to a close.
I’ve been an elder for 20 years. I’ve been a Christian for 58 years. And I’m still learning. In fact, I used to do and say and think some things that I now know were wrong. Every night I ask God to forgive me for having been so stupid.
But here’s one thing I’ve learned just recently. And it shames me to say it. But here it is: being a Christian is not about getting your way or having people please you. It’s about giving up. It’s about giving up all you are for the cause of Jesus.
And here’s the amazing thing. Once I learned this — and it took God a long, long time to get me to understand. — but once I learned this, my life has been nothing but joy. I enjoy church more than ever before because I no longer keep score or worry if I’m being shown the respect I deserve. No, I worry about whether other people are happy. And I get so much more out of life by seeing other people happy.
So here’s my advice. This is not a command or an instruction. It’s just advice from someone who’s lived a long time and made a lot of foolish mistakes.
Stop counting songs. Throw your charts away. Instead, count smiles. And tears of joy. And baptisms. And membership placements. And visitors to church and small groups.
And do what you can to get that count just as high as you can get it. Encourage the song leader to lead someone else’s favorite song. Watch that person’s eyes shine with delight when he does.
Think of those young couples and their children as your children and grandchildren. We like to say we’re family. Well, if we’re not lying to ourselves, then we ought to enjoy seeing our 10-year old boys and girls enjoying the singing. Learn to see church through their eyes.
Die. Die to yourselves. Live for others. Find joy. Serve. Do what makes others happy. You’ll find a joy that you never thought possible.
Most of the group had moistened eyes. All but one looked ashamed. And without a word, they filed out of the room. But one woman, still wearing a scowl, said to a friend as they were leaving,
When will someone die for me? When will someone do what makes me happy?
A friend grabbed her by the arm and said in a pitying voice as she hurried her out of the building,
How could you be wearing that cross around your neck and even ask those questions?
[This story, of course, never really happened. It’s just something that could happen — you know, in theory.]