First, we’ve been trained to “convert” the lost from among our denominational neighbors. When we realize that many of our neighbors are actually as saved as we are, we have to throw our old notes and tracts away.
Second, in many parts of the country, the Church of Christ denomination has a dreadful reputation as considering everyone else damned and being generally cantankerous and judgmental. Therefore, the name of the congregation makes evangelism more difficult.
Third, we live in an age in which music is a vital part of culture, and our music is out of step with the culture. In fact, we get upset when anyone attempts to bring in current musical styles. I’m sorry: the “lack of authority” argument does not fly and leaves potential converts questioning our rationality.
Fourth, even when the church leadership disagrees with all of this and really wants to follow Jesus by being as evangelistically effective as they know how to be, they realize that a significant segment of the church, even a very progressive church that has been well taught for decades, will be unwilling to give up our denominational identifiers — the name, the music — for the sake of evangelism. To them, even if we’re not the only saved people, there is something about our music and culture that must be preserved.
Also in the way is a fear of what becomes of us if we’re no longer our grandparents’ Church of Christ. Do we become Baptist? Christian Church? Who will we be? How will we know how to act? What will become of us when we are no longer “us”?
And these are not trivial questions at all. In fact, the wise congregational leadership will think long and hard about all of this. Leading a congregation through such a transition is no easy task.
In some cities, it’s easier than in others because the first Church of Christ to make the change will draw plenty of new members excited at the new possibilities to replace the old members who leave in frustration. But most Churches of Christ are in towns that don’t offer an enormous pool of replacement members. The members they lose will likely not be replaced from the other Churches of Christ in town — meaning that they have to hope for true evangelistic growth. And that requires learning entirely new evangelistic methods.
So how does a leadership team work through such a transition? Well, I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. I’ll share what I know and hope that the readers will fill in the many gaps.
1. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 – 10 are not repealed by a desire for evangelism and growth. Every single step taken must be taken with the greatest of sensitivity for those who cannot join in for reasons of conscience.
It seems that our universities seemingly produce crop after crop of young preachers who are impatient for change and willing to throw out the older members who stand in the way, but this is not the way of the gospel. You cannot be unloving in your zeal to teach the world about the love of Jesus. We will be judged by how compassionately we deal with our own.
Hence, the church has to continue to offer an a cappella service for those who cannot worship in good conscience with instruments. It’s not negotiable. And the service cannot be second rate or looked down on. The leadership staff cannot make jokes about those who attend the a cappella service, even in private. These people are entitled to the respect of the leadership team.
2. On the other hand, scruples are not weapons to be used to coerce submission. The same passages require the “weak” to tolerate the “strong.” That is, those with scruples must be willing to put up with those who have no scruples — all in the same congregation.
The lesson Paul teaches is not that the “weak” get to have their way. Rather, the strong may not tempt the weak to sin against their consciences due to peer pressure. You can’t leave the weak with no option other than to sin against their conscience, nor may you pressure the weak to act like the strong before they are ready.
Rarely are does a church actually tempt the weak to violate their conscience. Rather, most typically, the weak are upset that the church didn’t submit to their scruples — and yet they have no right to require this. They are entitled to be allowed to continue to worship and practice consistent with their consciences. Two services solves the problem.
3. Moreover, the elders are charged with teaching sound doctrine, not convenient sound doctrine. The fact that some members disagree and even get upset over contrary teaching is all the more reason to teach the truth — lovingly, patiently, and with kindness. The leaders cannot fail to teach what needs to be taught.
Even Paul didn’t hesitate to teach his own understanding on controversial topics, but he understood that it takes more than an epistle (or a great sermon series) to persuade people to change how they feel on issues tied to culture, family, and friends. And he understood that a ten-lesson series on the importance of evangelism doesn’t suddenly change someone’s conscience on instrumental music.