I read an article this weekend complaining about churches that paint stages and rooms black and use theatrical lighting in worship. I have also seen some of the vitriol from church goers about Kanye’s album and what he is doing right now. It is not a new thing for church goers to blast other churches for something they don’t like. Somewhere along the way, the argument always devolves into one group accusing another of not preaching the true Gospel or of compromising truth for popularity or some such.
Know what I’m tired of? Church goers using nostalgia and preference as a club to beat others over the head.
The greatest obstacle to what God wants to do next is what God did last. Nostalgia and preference are way too often elevated to the level of scripture.
Here’s a radical idea: there is more than one right way to conduct a church service! In fact, the variations are infinite.
There was a time, that preachers railed against indoor plumbing. One dear lady who was in her 90s several years ago told me she could remember her pastor saying that if you installed plumbing in your home you’re inviting Satan in. I can easily imagine he would have called heresy on any church that installed plumbing in its building. Would you go to a church that only had outhouses?
Not that long ago, churches were fighting over suits versus jeans; pants versus dresses for women, and so on.
Now it’s the level of production, brightness of lights, color of the room, and use of technology. Tomorrow, it will be something different.
Here’s the thing, I believe that the next iteration of how church is done, has not even been invented yet: and that is beautiful.
Just because something doesn’t fit your preference does not make it wrong or you wrong. Yet, we have fallen into the trap of thinking that preference, like truth, is absolute.
I get it. There are certain songs and certain things that had an impact in my life at critical points. Those feel extra sacred to me. And they are. They are extra sacred, to me. That does not make them extra sacred to everyone. It does not mean that those are more holy or more right than other songs, styles, ways, etc.
People will also use “feeling” the presence of God as a barometer as to whether or not a style is holy and right or not. The thing about “feeling” the presence of God is our state of mind and mood has a lot to do with what we feel.
Here’s a Biblical example for those who wish to push back on it. In Luke 24, 2 disciples who had known Jesus and experienced His miracles and teaching were walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus showed up and they didn’t realize it. Verse 16 says they were kept from recognizing Him. Some translations say it was God that kept them, others don’t blame God for it. I think the text gives us the clue. Their own state of mind and broken expectations kept them from recognizing Him. Verse 21: “but we had hoped He was the One who was going to redeem Israel.” This was right after saying that He was dead and buried. They didn’t feel the presence of God until they got past their own expectations and disappointment. Then their minds and hearts were opened to God.
It is our own expectations that keep us from feeling the presence of God more often than the songs being sung, the lights, the attire of the band, the volume, etc.
I have worshipped on 4 continents in a vast array of settings and styles and languages. In every one, whether or not I experienced God was more on me and my expectations than on the others that were there. In all those experiences across cultures and styles and languages and geography, there has been incredible beauty and unique wonder. Those settings have included open air, no instruments, lots of instruments, plastic chairs, pews, stained glass, organs, drums, dimly lit, bright, loud, quiet, construction sites, a bar, a night club, tents, schools, offices, and on and on. Every one included the presence of God. Every one sung different songs of different styles and at times different languages.
If we could stop seeing differences as a threat and start seeing them as beauty, the church would become more unified and actually make a real impact upon culture and this world. Our divisions over clothing and music and lights are absolutely ridiculous! No wonder much of the world writes off the church as irrelevant and fake.
Our divisions over clothing and music and lights are absolutely ridiculous! No wonder much of the world writes off the church as irrelevant and fake.
How can we say we have the greatest message of real truth when we argue over seeing the knees of the speaker through rips in his/her jeans and whether or not the room is painted black?
How can we expect people to come to us for the Good News when we are harsh and punitive toward other believers?
How can we lead the way into unity in our culture when we bicker over style and preference?
And, I honestly don’t care how adamant someone is that one way is more holy than another. It. Is. Not.
Yes, there are real things in scripture we need to wrestle through. Yes, there are times when someone steps out of scriptural lines and a conversation needs to be had, privately. Yes, there are even things that should be stated publicly.
Writing off others who have different styles or preferences does not fall under any of those criterion. Condemning people because they do it differently puts us more in line with the Pharisees than with Jesus.
So here is my take on the different ways to do church and which is the best. All churches that lift up the name of Jesus and lead people to worship the King of Kings are beautiful. Just like a mosaic is made up of a variety of shapes and colors and even material, so the mosaic we make up before God is a variety of people and backgrounds and styles and expressions.
- Drums? Great. Beautiful.
- Organ? Great. Beautiful.
- Jeans? Great. Beautiful.
- Suit? Great. Beautiful.
- Moving lights? Great. Beautiful.
- Static lights? Great. Beautiful.
- Dark room? Great. Beautiful.
- Natural light? Great. Beautiful.
You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to attend there. However, maybe you shouldn’t blast them on Social Media as not as spiritual as you because you have a different preference.
You never know when you might find yourself on the outside of what God is doing now because you are clinging to what He did yesterday.
Jesus came and started a movement among mankind. He didn’t establish a monument.
Notice that Jesus didn’t give us a “service order” or a style to follow. He gave us love and grace and compassion to follow and to give to others.
We need places with quiet, reflective worship. We need places that are well lit and warm. We need places that are loud and raucous. We need places that have lights and hazers and a rocking band. We need the ones in between. We need all of these and many more because not every person responds to or is drawn to the same thing.
Jesus regularly ministered to the human flesh before diving into the spiritual. Using styles of music and presentation to reach different people is the same affect. And, we need different styles of music and presentation.
Lights and loud music no more water down the Gospel than an organ and stain glass guarantee it. Rooms painted black are no less holy than rooms painted taupe or whatever. Paint, lights, sound, style, and instruments have nothing to do with the content of the message being presented. They are simply tools. Tools that wear out and get replaced. Let’s stop focusing on the tools someone is using and start focusing on the fruit they are producing.
There are churches with high production levels and lots of of noise that are shallow and then are some that go deep and produce wonderful fruit. There are churches that are quiet and simple with natural light and only a piano that are shallow and then there are some that go deep and produce wonderful fruit.
The most amazing man to ever walk this planet once said, “You shall know them by their fruit.”
If the fruit is bickering and complaining and vitriol and finger-pointing and demeaning and judgement then it doesn’t matter whether the songs are old and the lights are on or not.
If the fruit is love and grace and life-change and healing and joy and unity then it doesn’t matter if the room is black and the lights move to loud music or not.
It is the message that matters. The methods will change and then change again.
Rant over. (For now….)