The Pain of Disappointment, Part 14 (Disappointment)

And so, who wins? Do the elders give in to the older members’ demands for hymn books, pews, and old-style hymns? Or do they give in to the young members who demand a deeper, more emotional experience? Who wins?

Well, obviously, in a church shaped like Jesus, no one cares to win.

Okay, but the elders have to make a choice, right? Blended service? Multiple services? Isn’t it about compromise among warring factions?

Well, I take my theology of the assembly in large part from this passage —

(1Co 14:24-26 ESV)  24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,  25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.  26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

First, one goal of the assembly is for non-Christian to be moved to worship God. Again, “worship” is proskuneo, which refers to Temple worship in the Old Testament after the time of Solomon. That is, it referred to the highly ritualized sacrifice of animals at the Temple. But in the New Testament, it refers to spontaneous, humble worship — literally falling on one’s face in praise and awe.

Second, the goal of my hymn, lesson, etc. is to edify the other person. I’m not there to be edified. I’m there to build up my brother. And I can’t do that selfishly.

So the elders make the best decisions they can, recognizing that they’ll surely not please everyone, but that the congregation isn’t there to be pleased. They are there to edify others. And the measure of a good service is not “Was I fed?” or “Was I uplifted?” but “Did I feed someone else?” and “Did I uplift someone else?”

Those are attitudes that would dramatically change our assemblies and end the worship wars.

Now, the hard choice for the elders is finding practices and methods that will convince an unbeliever that God is present. But, frankly, a congregation of truly loving, humble people will find a way. Indeed, the unbeliever will be far more impressed with humility and self-sacrifice than the musical style chosen.

Personally, I’d be inclined to start by being sensitive to the lost first. I realize that the assembly is primarily targeted for the edification of the members, but if the members are so generationally divided that they can’t agree, then why not ask all the believers to take the back seat — for the first to be last — and think in terms of a service that’s culturally meaningful for the unsaved visitors. That’s kind of Missionary 101, isn’t it?

If we were planting a new church — in the US or on foreign soil — we’d design the service to touch the hearts of the community we intend to be reaching out to. I know many a church planter and missionary, and not a one is concerned that his own musical taste be satisfied.

It’d take some experimentation. But the point is to consciously set as a target a musical style that speaks to the hearts of the visitors who are not saved. That’s what missionaries do. It’s what church planters do. And it’s why church plants grow and thrive and established churches so often die — they forget their mission.

After all, if anyone gets his way, then he’ll be encouraged to demand his own way again. He won! And over the years, if a group consistently gets its way, they’ll become entitled and the rest of the church will take offense and leave. Entitled members may be kind and sweet in many ways, but when they are unwilling to yield for the sake of the lost, they risk a very, very great disappointment.

Indeed, it’s the sense of entitlement that so many members have — young and old — that drives off so many potential converts. When the mission becomes self-interested, there’s no longer any real mission and the church begins a slow but inevitable death.

So target the services stylistically toward the lost. Speak up for a constituency that isn’t present — lost souls.

Substantively, though, gospel for the old is the same gospel as for the young as the gospel for the lost. The preaching and teaching must remain largely for the members. After all, the leadership is obligated to assure that the members learn and never forget true gospel and are continuously pointed toward Jesus.

And you have to figure a steady diet of Jesus will be good for the visitors, too. What lesson is more likely to show the presence of God than a lesson on Jesus? Christ-centered preaching and missionary approaches to style would be a truly powerful combination.

Now, there are no magic formulas (of course). There are no books. There are no congregations to copy. Every community and every church is different — and the only way to find a style that speaks to the lost of your own community is to experiment a bit.

Experiments do sometimes go wrong. They do. And that’s okay, because God isn’t Zeus and it’s not about ritual and numen. We can try things and see what resounds with the visitors we invite. And after we mess up, we can just dust ourselves off and try something else without the least fear of having offended the sensibilities of God Almighty.

In fact, the fear I have — and I mean this quite sincerely — is the fear of not even trying. That’s the Parable of the Talents. I don’t want to be the one-talent servant who buried his bar of silver for fear of making a bad investment. He was damned for fearing God in entirely the wrong way. I don’t want to be him.

I do not want to suffer that pain of disappointment.

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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3 Responses to The Pain of Disappointment, Part 14 (Disappointment)

  1. Price says:

    Wow.. That’s a pretty high bar…but it’s exactly where the bar needs to be.. Society is crumbling around us because we’ve kept the “wrong” people out of church… Seems we might want to rethink that and do whatever we can to get out the message about Jesus… songs, styles, times and seasons don’t save. He does.. Good series.

  2. Skip says:

    If the goal is to have a cloistered, little, private club then no methods, goals, or approaches will work and the church will die a slow death. If the goal is the glory of God and our humility, then we will listen to God’s leading and will morph into an assembly of humble, grateful servents that can’t help but grow because God will bless our efforts.

  3. Dan Harris says:

    Price, I hear you. The message is Jesus. In as much as our songs, our styles of humility, helping, and loving; the convenience of our times of assembly, and our gratefulness toward the beauty of God’s seasons and thoughtfulness toward the sad or joyful seasons which men observe; then perhaps our actions can reflect the love of Jesus toward the community and commend ourselves as true disciples causing our neighbors to investigate more of this Way. .

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