The Great Divide
It's time to bridge a great divide: the controversy that exists in the church at large today over how we “do” church. Should our worship cater to culture, or do we have a responsibility to remain counter-cultural? Is it acceptable to serve Starbucks and Krispy Kremes during a service or are we drinking disrespectfully? Are live worship bands and drums too noisy? Does God prefer doctrine-rich hymns? Before you pick a side, let’s agree (at least for the length of this article) not to judge, and to take a look at the real issues behind the controversy.
As a longtime Christian and more than an occasional worship leader, I have worshiped and served in denominations on both sides of the fence. I was raised a Presbyterian and worshiped God in a cathedral-style building. The choir numbered hundreds of voices, reverently singing hymns and anthems accompanied by a massive pipe organ. I have sung Negro spirituals with families in fundamental churches. I have had the pleasure of being part of a modern, up-and-coming worship team (yes, with drums!) in what is called, in popular leader Billy Hornsby’s terms, an “attractional” church. And I have taught schoolchildren in Africa to sing simple songs of praise to a God they were just getting to know.
So who’s right? The answer is: nobody. We’ve got it all wrong, and we will continue to have controversies until we find out what it is that God wants. Impossible? No, and it’s actually easier than we think!
The truth is that churches, like individuals, have callings, visions, and purposes in the Kingdom of God. A church in an inner-city slum area is going to have a different mission than the church on suburbia’s main street. Transient campus outreaches will worship differently from wealthy cathedrals. God’s mandate to go and make disciples didn’t include a “style” requirement; it did stress the importance of preaching the Word. We know from the Bible what God wants: He wants His Word to be preached to the ends of the earth through every available voice, instrument, church, and method. The “how” is largely up to us. The elements of a service, while controversial, are largely non-essential. When we focus on the things we don’t like, we sabotage the efforts of the community we are in to do the job they are called to do: preach the Gospel to this community, in this way, with these resources, at this time.
The real question is: where has God called you to be? Not whom has He called you to be, (you should of course know what your own gifts and callings are and be using them), but where has He called you to be spiritually? Discontent, if not discerned, leads to disagreement. When we find ourselves judging others’ methods, there are really only two possible causes: unforgiveness or vision. Both have to do with where we are, or our position in Christ. Let’s look at each of these separately.
Unforgiveness ultimately leads us into making judgments. The most important place God calls us to be is at peace with Him and others. But it’s not easy to stay there! When our superb vocal abilities have been pushed aside to make room for the hip, young worship leader the church just hired, we get offended. And if left to fester, this offense will take root and become bitterness. Once bitterness takes hold, the vine of discontent begins weaving its way out of our heart and mouth and into the congregation, where it poisons and divides. This division is of the enemy, and can only be stopped through the power of forgiveness, which is not just a decision of the heart, but also a spiritual location. Forgiving moves us from a place of opposition back to a place of right-standing with God and man. As the Christian band Point of Grace sings, “there’s a cross to bridge the great divide.”
Vision: We also know that our spiritual life is a journey, and there are times when God is making us discontent on purpose, like a mother bird trying to cause her baby to fly. It is rare that God will call us to leave a church (although if you are in a place that is abusive or not preaching the Gospel, then by all means get out quickly!). But as we mature, God often calls us to enter new seasons of growth with different visions and possibly a change of position or location. This change might be to something within your current church or to a different location altogether. If you are feeling discontent, take the time to pray and ask whether God is calling you to make a change.
Change doesn’t come easily; in fact, one of our funny expressions (“Get behind me or get out of my way!”) greatly resembles Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:23. Just before Gethsemane, Jesus began casting a new vision for his disciples: one that included violent suffering, death and resurrection. Peter disagreed and rebuked Jesus. This did not match his idea of what a new religious order should look like! Jesus, in effect, said to Peter, “Either get behind Me (My vision) or get out of the way.” Peter was in danger of yielding himself to Satan’s strategy. Thankfully, he repented and was restored to Christ’s purposes in the end. But this would not be the only time he struggled to follow his leader. We need to learn from Peter’s example and get into agreement with our leaders or get out of the way!
For Peter, it was a heart issue that kept him from serving God’s greater vision. We need to check regularly to be sure that we are truly on board with the church’s mission. If we are sowing discontent, God could be calling us to repentance, or He could be asking us to enter into a new season. This is the great thing about God: He’s not upset about the drums being too loud! But He is upset when we disagree with each other. And His heart is for each of us to serve Him to our full potential, not always in areas where we are most gifted or comfortable, but surely with His clear direction and support.
Is this the community you are called to serve at this time in this way? If so, cater to your church’s culture by extending mercy and forgiveness when things upset you. If not, then be counter-cultural! Find out what’s on God’s agenda and ask Him to lead you a place where you can serve wholeheartedly. It’s time to bridge the great divide.
c. Deborah Perkins / His Inscriptions