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