Renewing Our Worship: Change

First, a joke —

Q. How many Church of Christ members does it take to change a lightbulb?

A. Change???!!

If you graph the distribution of humans on just about any criteria, you get a bell curve. It’s true for height, weight, IQ, musical talent … just about anything you can think of.

And among those graphable characteristics is the desire for variety, that is, change.

On one extreme are people who crave constancy. They rarely change jobs, rarely change houses, and rarely change churches. They look for a church that does the same thing every week, week after week. The sameness, the constancy, gives them comfort that the church remains the same when all the world is changing.

On the other extreme are people who crave change. They frequently change jobs and houses, often without having new job or house lined up. They love the risk, the thrill of newness. And they like churches with great variety in their services — or else they change churches often. The variety at church assures them that God has infinite ways of presenting himself and being experienced — and they want to experience them all.

This is how God makes people at the extremes of the bell curve. The rest of us are somewhere in between. We don’t want the same meal every Friday night. But we do enjoy going to the same restaurants. We like variety, but we like knowing something of what we’re going to experience. And most people are among the in-betweens.

Church leaders have a tendency to cater to the extremes, and this is because the extremes can be the loudest. Those who hate change are fast to complain because it’s easy to violate their need for constancy. Those who hate sameness are equally quick — and worse yet, they’ll leave if you don’t satisfy them. But then, so do those who hate change, ironically enough. Many are bad to enforce their opinions by threatening to leave (or actually doing so). Of course, they have to get really upset to leave, while those who love change will leave on a whim.

[It’s quite common when a church relocates for the change-adverse members to so oppose the move that they change congregations, choosing the change that demonstrates their resentment over the change that produces the least change — staying with the same people. Strange, I know.]

Obviously, some of how we conduct our assemblies should never change. The rest can. We struggle to draw the line between the two.

In the Churches of Christ we tend to doctrinalize our tastes. If the song leader leads a song during communion, we start coming up with crazy theories for why this is unscriptural. And for some of us, no change at all suits our tastes just fine. And this attitude fits nicely with our theology, because we pretend we worship exactly as the First Century church did — without addition or subtraction. It’s not true, of course, but if it were, what room for change could there be?

And many of us live with a worship theology based on fear that God will find our worship unacceptable — which is why we sometimes pray 6 times during a one-hour service that God find our services acceptable, decent, and in order.

But if we would apply God’s grace to our worship doctrine and plan services for the benefit of those in the middle of the bell curve, things would be much, much better. And it’s not that hard. You just teach your congregation that there’s nothing wrong with violating the five-acts of worship rule, because it just doesn’t exist. And you teach them that the Regulative Principle doesn’t require authority for every single thing we do.

And if you’ll teach these things, you’ll find your class nodding with you, because in even the most conservative churches, most of the members have already figured it out. They just need someone to give them permission to say it.

Of course, there will be some who hold to the legalisms, and you’ll need to be a patient teacher. But ultimately, there’s no reason at all for us to be hamstrung by bad worship theology.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to Renewing Our Worship: Change

  1. "…most of the members have already figured it out. They just need someone to give them permission to say it."

    Yes! Permission!

    Somehow we find ourselves bound by rules. Our parents or grandparents or some older person we respected as a kid told us something. We burned it in our hearts and minds. We cannot possibly change that rule, unless someone gives us permission.

    This is a big deal. I don't know how many times in my conversing with others that I gave them permission to do something they wanted to do and they knew was right. I don't know how many times I have caught myself abiding by some rule that I knew didn't make any sense.

    I eventually learned to give myself permission. That is a lesson we should teach – we can give ourselves permission.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    I have worked all over the world with top notch organizations in a manufacturing environment. I will tell you that changing one's beliefs is the most difficult thing some can do. It is scary for one to admit that something that they have held to so strongly for so long may not be true. Usually only a traumatic experience or significant change in paradigms can lead someone to change their most deeply held beliefs.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    You're right. And I've seen God break some of the worst legalists by traumatic experiences — such as the revelation of a dark sin or a divorce in their family. It brings them to grace, but what a terrible way to have to learn the lesson!

    On the other hand, there are those who are seeking a better answer, knowing in their hearts that the preacher is wrong but not knowing how to answer his "logic." They just need a little help to find the truth, and when they find it, they quickly accept it.

  4. Joe Baggett says:

    Jay it is good to see I am not the only one up early on Sarurday morning. Yes I think that there are thousands quietly questioning in pews. When you get them by their selves where they feel safe many people open up to changing their beleifs.

  5. mark says:

    Jay
    said
    "I’ve seen God break some of the worst legalists by traumatic experiences —"

    May explain why the Apostle Paul wrote so much of NT.

  6. Pat says:

    Can there be any growth in all of life without change?

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Pat,

    I don't see how.

    You know, Jesus often used agricultural images to refer to his followers — we are wheat, we are grapevines, we are lilies of the field. And there's one thing all plants have in common. Either they're growing or they're dead.

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