Today, I want to begin with the story of First Community Church, a small congregation of 50 or so who meet in a nice building and have been in existence for 100 years–a middle-aged church in my area. The church, unlike many small churches, is actually enjoying some growth due to a new business in the area that is attracting new families and some of those families have become part of the church.
However, their attendance has created some tensions in the congregation. Some of the “new” people and some of the “established” people are not completely happy with the style of worship that has been used in the church as long as people can remember. Others in the congregation, primarily those who have been there the longest, find real comfort and blessing from the worship as it is.
At this point, the congregation faces a problem that many face over a variety of issues–what is God’s will for the congregation? For this congregation, the crucial question quickly becomes: “Is God asking them to throw away the worship that has meant so much to so many for so long and replace it with new styles that might attract even more new people?” Other congregations with other problems will have different crucial questions but the results will be the same.
The results of such crucial questions is often a long, painful, drawn out fight with people getting angry and some leaving. Sides form and reform, schemes are schemed, meetings are planned and sabotaged and stacked and the end result, no matter which side wins, is a weaker congregation or two weaker congregations if a split results; fewer people overall attending worship and a wider community that is not much interested in what the church has to say or offer.
This all too common scene is often the result of a lack of understanding of a critical reality. This reality is that in many situations, God’s will isn’t found in what we do but in how we do it. If worship is truly seeking to enable the worshippers to connect with God, I don’t think he cares is we use traditional hymns from the hymn book or contemporary choruses projected on a screen. He probably doesn’t care which translation of the Bible we use or what colour the pulpit covering is. The kind of musical instruments and style of music aren’t particularly important to God as long as the praise they produce is sincere and in Spirit and Truth.
God’s will in many issues the church faces is found in how we deal with the issue. In our own lives, that is probably true in more things than we want to realize as well. There is much more teaching in the New Testament about how believers approach issues than there is about the issues themselves. We find passages like:
• John 13.34-35, which tells us our love for one another becomes the visible sign of our faith.
• Matthew 18.15-17, which gives us a powerful dispute settling mechanism.
• I Corinthians 13 which describes the importance of love and what it looks like.
• Galatians 5.19-21 which tells us what unacceptable behaviours look like.
• Galatians 5.22-23 which shows us the thing we need to seek to put in place in our lives and relationships.
There is no mention of a prescribed style of worship, which type of music delights God, which translation of the Bible he authorizes, what colour represents which part of the church year–most of the trapping and activity of the faith aren’t prescribed by God in the Bible probably because it doesn’t really matter much.
But how we relate does matter–and there is a great deal of information, guidance and wisdom on that. God likely doesn’t much care how we answer most of the questions we think are so important–but he clearly cares that we follow his will in the way we answer our questions. If we spent more time and effort on how we dealt with questions and issues, we would be better off and more within God’s will. But it is always easier to focus on issues than on relationships.
There are certainly some issues that matter–but even they need to be handled in a Christian manner because in the end, the way we deal with things is at least as important as the results–and in many things, the way we deal with things is more important than anything else.
May the peace of God be with you.