As I increasingly find myself marching to the beat of a different drummer than those around me, I’m trying to learn how to keep step with the church. I don’t worry too much about society in general; I don’t mind not fitting in there. But I need to know how to love and serve in a church (broad sense, not local church) where many see things differently than I.
It’s funny. When you’re younger, it almost seems appropriate to feel out of step. You’re a rebellious youth, with new vision and a spirit of restoration. You’re calling the church back to what it should be.
As it gets older, if you’re not in step, then you’re holding the church back. You’re not following the Spirit. You’re clinging to tradition.
For my money, the two situations are virtually identical. The question is how to find the grace to deal with the situation.
I don’t always comment on the links I share in the “Links to Go,” but I thought the first one today was very helpful. As we look back, we often marvel at the stupidity of the things we’ve done in the past. As the article notes, that should sound a note of caution for us today; one day we’ll quite likely look back harshly on things we think and do today.
Which is something I think we especially need to remember in the church. We look back on the way the church was in the past, be it 10 years ago or a 100 years ago. As we do, we wonder how people could have been so blind, how they could have not seen the obvious truths in Scripture.
Be forewarned: we’ll feel the same way in the future about the church of today. How could we not have seen? How could we have believe that? How could we have done this or not done that?
As the article suggests, realizing this trend should help us to show more grace toward others and toward ourselves.
In these blog posts, I’m looking at power struggles in the church, especially those caused by a lack of regard for a church’s identity and culture (as well as an over-dependence on traditionalism). One thing that causes conflict in the church is a failure to recognize different kinds of knowledge.
On the one hand, we have ministers with theological training. That’s one of the more obvious types of knowledge in a congregation. Some churches value such training above all else; other congregations are wary of training received outside the church itself. Many ministers feel that their training gives them a voice of authority within the church, while many members and church leaders feel that “book learning” is of little value in the real world. That’s an obvious source of conflict.
I personally feel that theological training is important and prepares people to deal with some of the issues a church faces. But only some. We need other kinds of knowledge as well, such as:
- Bible knowledge — Those holding a theological degree often feel like they have this kind of knowledge. If they’ve studied correctly, they’ve received the tools to help them gain Bible knowledge and help others do the same. But they aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable in their congregation.
- Life experience — This kind of knowledge is priceless. The Bible emphasizes the need to turn to older people for sage advice. It’s a natural tendency in the young to resent the fact that this is one kind of knowledge they can’t have yet; it’s a weakness of the old to assume that living a long time has necessarily given them this wisdom.
- Knowledge of congregational and community history — History does not control us, but it can often provide an important voice in the decision making process.
- Knowledge of contemporary culture — This is one type of knowledge that often decreases with age. It’s one of the reasons churches vitally need input from their younger members.
- People skills — Many elders lack these. Many ministers lack these. Many church members lack these. All of us lack these at times. One of the greatest forms of knowledge is to know how to treat people.
I could go on, but I hope you get the point. There’s a reason no one person is to lead a congregation. We are a body. We grow as a body. We function best as a body. We need many kinds of knowledge to make the church what we should be.
I’ve come to give greater value to a church’s identity and tradition. I guess that’s natural as we get older. Suddenly church isn’t an entity waiting for me to come and change it; it’s a place where I want to go be changed. Where I once thought that I was the one to set a vision and make that vision reality, I’m now more aware that my vision isn’t always God’s vision.
I’m also aware of the contrast between the tenure of the average minister and the roots that many families have within a congregation. Ministers typically come for 2, 5, or maybe 10 years; many families have participated in a congregation for ten times those numbers. If things don’t go well at a church, the minister leaves and heads somewhere else; in many congregations, that’s not a viable option for the members.
When we come to be part of a church, that church has an identity. If we feel it’s our mission to transform that identity, it’s likely that we’ve landed in the wrong place. Change can and will take place as we become more like Christ. But churches will have different ways of living out what it means to be Christ in their context. I now believe that we have to show some respect for how that has been done in the past. We don’t have to be tied to it, nor judged by it, but we do need to honor it.
I’ll flesh this out a bit more in some other posts. But I’d like to hear your thoughts. How do you view church culture and identity?
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
I’ve been trying to focus my “agendas” at church. There are lots that could be mentioned, but here are some I’m trying to focus on:
- Have a church that is more like Jesus
- Help people to get closer to God
- Have a church that values unity over achieving personal goals
That’s a start. What points would you add to this “platform”?