It's great to be young! Youth is filled with the promise of things to come and, in most cases, a body, mind and spirit fully equipped and freshly prepared to make a new path towards conquering the world! One of the great challenges of youth, however, is that it is frequently accompanied with a lack of perspective. Our youth can sometimes cause us to miss beauty, truth and wisdom as it stares us squarely in the face cleverly disguised by age and experience.
A few weeks ago, I read the blog entry of a new church planter who visited a church with which I'm well familiar, pastored by a brother that I deeply respect. This new planter's observations were critical, and painted a portrait of the church my friend serves as a congregation that is out of date and struggling for relevance. As I might have expected, my friend accepted the criticisms with class, grace, and an earnest desire to hear the criticisms and improve.
Nevertheless, as an onlooker who knows about this church and who is sandwiched between these two brothers in terms of age, I would offer some gentle cautions to this fired-up, eager and well-meaning younger brother. I myself have been the "young gun" in the corral and have made some pretty bold judgements of other churches and leaders before really seeking to understand and appreciate their histories and life journeys.
Experience has made me cautious about measuring a church's relevance based on styles of expression. Preaching and worship styles are as varied as the humans who define them. Some individuals are dynamic and extremely expressive in their communication while others are more subdued. I have found that when my heart's desire is to connect with the Lord by hearing a word from someone who is genuinely walking with Him and prepared to share a meaningful word, I have been blessed by "Pew Jumpers" and the "Frozen Chosen" alike. I have my own preferences to be sure, but I can never allow my preferences to put "God in a box".
I believe there are more reliable and biblical factors that measure a church's relevance and effectiveness regardless of their style. A relevant church will have a hunger for God. Above all, there will be a burning desire among the leaders and the rank and file to know God and walk in intimate fellowship with Him. This desire can be found among the most stoic of Christians and the most vivacious. A relevant church will also have a passion to reach people by sharing the Gospel and leading people to a personal relationship with Jesus. This desire will be accompanied by an unshakable commitment to love others. People who love others are willing to get their hands dirty and to serve others even when it comes at great personal expense. A trademark of Christianity is a love for people that meets needs and is demonstrated through acts of compassion and service. There are churches of every conceivable style who display this kind of love all day, everyday to the glory of God.
I have served in more "traditional" settings where the people had a passion for God that allowed them to touch the lives of others and make differences in all kinds of extreme settings where appearances might have made their ability to be effective seem unlikely. I've also been a part of ministries that pushed the absolute limits of convention that compassionately served others from every imaginable background - even very "conservative" types - because the love of Jesus in them was so strong. Whether folks prefer a "rockin' good time" in worship, or a more "liturgical and ceremonial" approach there are no limits for a congregation that is determined to show the love of Jesus in reaching the world for Christ.
When Jesus was asked what was the most important aspect of following God, He answered without hesitation, "Love the Lord your God with all of heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength, and a second is like it - Love your neighbor as yourself." These are true measures of a church's relevance. Styles come and go, but godly character and passionate service is always in vogue in God's economy.
With the aforementioned considerations in mind, I say to my younger Brother in the Lord, feel free to observe and critique, but don't be so blinded by the light of your eagerness to do something relevant that you lose sight of God in action right before your eyes. The church that in his estimation appeared to be out of touch , has spent over 20 years seeking to effectively reach its community and the world for Jesus, never allowing itself to be stifled by style, but always willing to put every aspect of its operations under the subjection of Christ's leading and authority wherever and however He might direct. If every congregation were follow that example of humble and faithful service, the Kingdom of God would be well served whether we're rockin' in the aisles or rockin' in our chairs. Until next time,