It’s amazing how heated the preference battles in the church get. Everybody wants church to do things their way. Either the church is too boring or too entertaining, too deep to reach non- believers or not deep enough to train disciples, too big or too small. No matter how you slice it, there are a lot of competing priorities in the Church. These battling preferences drain the power of community.
Everyone has an opinion. We have preferences and styles we like. The problem comes when those opinions and preferences collide in community. What makes it even more difficult is that it’s rarely an issue of right or wrong. It’s just what we like. With all of our warring preferences, how can we truly create a community of believers?
Community is not just a suggestion: It’s a command for all Christians. We are expected to engage in the community of the church. When we have people from different walks of life, backgrounds, generations and cultures all meeting together in this diverse community of the church, it’s difficult to meet everyone’s personal preferences.
The only way community can truly exist is if those who are a part of it care more about what is best for the group, or the mission of that community, than they do about their own personal preferences. A cohesive group of people with personal agendas and uncompromising beliefs (in regards to their preferences) can never exist. Think of the word community as having two parts: “common” and “unity.” Without something in common, without unity, there is no community. Diverse community cannot exist without a driving mission or selfless sacrifice.
Jesus makes our mission very clear: to make disciples of all nations. The only thing that prevents powerful Godly community from breaking down the barriers between culture, economic class, race and age is our own selfishness. Sometimes we are called on to make sacrifices for what we love. When we start selecting a church based solely on our preferences we are taking something that’s all about God and making it all about us. Any church that is about an individual agenda or meeting personal preferences is a church that isn’t about Jesus. The church exists for God’s glory, not our agendas.
The church is called to minister to the nations: to men and women of every tongue, tribe and generation. We don’t build churches for specific age groups. If we did, they wouldn’t be effective. Churches need diversity. The very thing that gives power to our community is often the thing that prevents us from engaging in it. When we have multiple generations of people with different viewpoints and preferences, there is no way to make everyone happy. Even if we could, that doesn’t mean that we should. So what do we do?
When parents have children, do the children go off to work so the parents can eat, sleep and get new clothes? No. The children don’t support their parents. They don’t provide for their parents. They don’t sacrifice for their parents. Parents make personal sacrifices for the sake of their children. That’s how life works. The mature sacrifice for the immature. The older sacrifices for the younger.
It’s no different in the church. The mature Christian does not demand that their style be adhered to, or that things go their way. The mature Christian willingly sacrifices their preferences for others. In their maturity they understand that it isn’t about them, it’s about Jesus. It is the responsibility of the mature to sacrifice their preferences for the good of the community.
For many, if the church plays contemporary music: It’s trying to entertain, perform, put on a show and thus, is not focused on genuine worship. What if that’s not the motivation? What if the reason the church does things they way they do is to engage less mature Christians or non-Christians so that they are drawn in to hear the Gospel and be transformed by it? What if the reason the church does things the way they do, is that they believe that is the best way to reach the community around them? What if they are right?
If loud music could bring someone in who didn’t know Jesus, and as a result they responded to the Gospel and fell in love with Jesus, wouldn’t it be worth it? The truth is: Worship style doesn’t matter. The Bible does not indicate how worship should be done. Nor does it prohibit certain styles of worship. It’s a preference issue. We can cross our arms and protest the “shallow entertainment focus of the church” or we can realize that God doesn’t care if there we are shredding on the guitar or singing acappella. His joy is in the worship. Not in the style we package it in. Certainly there are churches that care more about entertainment than they do about worship. We are often too quick to cast that judgment on them. Just because something is entertaining, doesn’t mean entertainment is the primary focus or goal.
It’s not just a worship issue. It’s a preference issue. When our preferences aren’t being met we are tempted to walk away. We should be grateful our parents didn’t take that approach with us. If we are truly mature our concern should not be forcing the church to do things our way, it should be supporting whatever way best advances the Gospel.
Non-Christians or immature Christians are our mission. We are here to make disciples. That’s bigger than us and our personal agendas. We can hide behind theological idealism all we want, but at the end of the day, the question is: Are we willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the community and the glory of God? If we aren’t, we have no place calling ourselves Christians. The whole point of our faith is that it’s not about us. Baby Christians should not be expected to make sacrifices for mature ones.
Sacrifice is not a popular idea. It is, however, a Christian one. We live in a world that’s all about us. We are surrounded by a culture of selfishness. We are a generation that struggles with entitlement. There is a natural desire in us to get our way, to be catered to, to focus on ourselves. Community doesn’t work that way. Community cannot exist without mature men and women who are willing to set aside their personal agendas and support the good of the community. The mature sacrifice for the good of the immature and for the good of others.
The question is, which one are you? Are you mature enough to serve and invest in a community that doesn’t do everything the way you think they should? Or do things have to go your way?
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.