I’m an elder at a 700-member congregation. I fully realize that many of my suggestions are impractical for a small church. A congregation of 50 isn’t likely to need or want an 8-person praise team or to worry about its sound board operations. But I’m not trying to conjure a new, uniform pattern for our congregations to follow.
In fact, my aim is quite the opposite. I think our churches need to be filled with a rich variety of worship styles and experiences. And I think we need to share ideas, successes, and failures. We need to learn from one another and build on one another.
But not to one day achieve uniformity — which is simply not the goal. What works in Seattle isn’t likely to work in Lubbock. For matter, what works in west Tuscaloosa just might not work in north Tuscaloosa. What works in a predominantly urban professional church may not work in a rural, blue collar church. What works in a largely black congregation may not work in a predominantly white congregation.
Alexander Campbell is a hero of mine, but he was dead wrong in starting with the assumption that churches should all have the same worship practices. As described by John Mark Hicks,
Campbell assumed (1) “there is a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies” and (2) “the acts of worship on the first day of the week in Christian assemblies is uniformly the same.” The “authorized order” is the “same acts of religious worship” that “are to be performed every first day in every assembly of disciples” (CB 3 [4 July 1825] 164-166).
Campbell was wrong, but he was incredibly effective. Until recently, every Church of Christ sang the same songs at the same slow tempo with the same placards showing the same hymn numbers right near the placard showing last week’s attendance and contribution, all near a baptistry with the same Jordan River scene.
But people and times have changed. Instead of three TV channels, we now have 100 to 1000 channels. Instead of a music store that sells either popular or classical music, we now have popular, rock, jazz, rap, hiphop, dance, emo, classical, international, salsa, and all kinds of other music for all kinds of people. Society is not as uniform as it once was, and worship has to reflect our hearts, not the hearts of dead 19th Century theologians.
On the other hand, worship is never about us, because Christianity is never about us. We became Christians to become servants, not to be served. Therefore, the variety in our worship should be driven by our love for others, especially those younger and weaker in the faith than us. The strong serve the weak. The old serve the young. The mature serve the immature. (My wife runs our church’s cradle roll program. Visit her class and see who the songs are designed for. It’s not the teachers!)
(Mat 18:1-6) At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
And so my attitude, as an elder and teacher, is simply this: what will help our children and our young singles and young couples bring their friends? What will help bring the lost to Jesus? What will help meld our black, white, and Hispanic members into one body? What will meet the needs of most people, being the people who aren’t much like me (I’m not typical, I think)?
I therefore drive from my mind such questions as: What is my favorite style? What did I enjoy when I was young? What would happen if my church catered to me? Rather, because I’m mature (at least, I’m supposed to be), I subordinate my desires. I don’t ask for compromise or even a turn — no more than my wife gets to sometimes sing her favorite songs in cradle roll or the adult volunteers sometimes get to sing their favorite songs in the teen classes.
Now, a third party could argue that the younger, less mature members should grow up and let me have a turn. But this is wrong on two counts. First, this would require them to be mature, and they’re not. Second, this assumes that I care. And I don’t. I had my turn many long years ago. When I was in college and when my wife and I were one of the “young couples” we got to sing our stuff all we wanted. Now it’s time to give back, but to someone else.