The Church is often polarized between those who want things to be done just as they always have been done and those who desire something fresh and new. The clash comes between those who value the stability of tradition and those who enjoy the excitement of something new. The break often comes along generational lines, but that is not always true. I have known older people who were bored with “doing church” and wanted to do things differently and I have been acquainted with a number of young people who found traditional ways to be a calming, stabilizing focus in their ever-changing lives. When both groups can gracefully challenge each other a wonderful balance between old and new can exist, but when grace gets sidelined things can get ugly fairly quickly!
As an older pastor I occasionally have the opportunity to speak into the lives of some younger men, and in the last week I have had that privilege in two separate situations – one directly and one indirectly. Both were struggling with wanting to see the mission of the church fulfilled, but felt limited by people who wanted everything to be done just like it has always been done. One felt doubly frustrated because the church had hired him to “reach out and bring in more young people” but then basically wanted to do just the things they had always done. Some churches have tried to solve the problem by having a contemporary and a traditional worship service. That results however, in simply dividing the church into two congregations – kind of like having a church split, but nobody has to leave. That solution is not totally satisfactory because the conflict affects more than just their worship, it affects their outreach, type of leadership, and many other areas of ministry. It also isolates people from each other so that they feel distant and lose the advantage of being challenged by each other. (And we all need to be challenged – Hebrews 10:24-25).
Some churches don’t experience this conflict as much as others, but most do on some level or at least in some parts of their ministry. The question then, is “How do we handle this in such a way as to benefit, rather than harm the church?” Step one is to focus on Christ and remember that honoring and obeying Him has to come ahead of any personal desires. He is, after all, our “Lord” and that is a lot more than a name or a title. That step will usually involve repentance because most of us have been more concerned about our desires than His commands.
Step two has to be an awareness that both sides have valid points. We are to sing a “new song” to the Lord. That phrase is used six times in the Psalms, once in Isaiah, and twice in Revelation. Perhaps that is a reflection of the reality that ” The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)” If our worship and service to Christ seems dull and lifeless it is probably because that is where we are spiritually. On the other hand we must remember that Israel faced judgment because they ignored God’s command through Jeremiah: ” Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV)”
Step three is then to search the Word of God, and ask each other questions like “What is our mission?” or “What are we commanded to do?” and then form a clear understanding of what we are to be about (both groups often don’t consider that enough). It is not “what have we always done” or “what is everyone else doing” or even “what do we like;” but “What does Christ call us to be and to do?
Step four is hard – it involves self examination. We must ask how well we are accomplishing the mission, and evaluate everything, new and old, on that basis. Old ways should never be kept simply because they are comfortable, but innovation should never be seen as an end in itself. We must follow the word of God which never changes, but we must minister to people where they are today and not act as if we live in some other era. Most of all, we must demonstrate grace as we go through changing times together!