My wife loves musicals. Me …. not so much. Over the years we have attended a few together, and I have even made feeble attempts to enjoy them. But I must confess, they just aren’t my cup of tea. It has nothing to do with the performers, the music, the sets, or the quality of the shows. It has everything to do with my less-than-sophisticated preferences and my less-than-enthusiastic attitude. I would much rather be at a football game.
A few years ago my bride begged me to accompany her to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the hopes that I would appreciate it as much as she did. Being the supportive husband that I am, I begrudgingly complied, and throughout the entire program I couldn’t help thinking, “They’ve ruined a perfectly good Bible story!”
If I could have spoken to the director, I had a long list of suggested improvements. Instead of an orchestra, a marching band would have been so much better. Rather than the extravagant costumes, I would have preferred shoulder pads and helmets. It would have been more appealing to me if the choreography and singing were replaced with blocking and tackling. In fact, I am almost certain that with my proposed changes more football fans would be attracted to the performances. Conversely, dismissing these ideas would pretty much guarantee that more and more prospective audience members would continue to visit other theaters and stadiums until they found what they were looking for.
Directors have a choice: (a) stubbornly cling to the composers’ original version, thereby deterring those who prefer something different; or (b) implement the sensible advice of football fans, thus increasing ticket sales and filling the seats. Granted, the original script would have to be amended, but wouldn’t Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber want the theaters full?
An Individualistic Focus
If my main concern is me, I expect others to cater to what I like and what I want. What can I get out of it? What kind of experience can I have? It is more blessed to receive than to give. Sure, I’ll turn my attention to God if it doesn’t inconvenience me and as long as I am free to express myself in ways that make me feel good. And I might even be involved in service projects if it increases my sense of belonging and self-worth. So what’s in it for me?
If churches can identify what appeals to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, etc., and then design worship experiences to suit each one, the pews would be packed! After all, we can’t show people the way of salvation unless they come to church, right? But what happens when the simple message of the gospel doesn’t appeal to them either? I guess more changes will have to be made.
A Relational Focus
Alternatively, what if my focus is God? How would that affect the way I view the Bible, the church, the Christian life, and the rest of the world? Our creator has composed a script, which directs his people how to conduct themselves on the stage of life (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. 1 Cor. 4:9). He provides clear instructions for salvation, service, relationships, morality, outreach, and worship. Church leaders have a choice: (a) closely follow the divine plan with the fundamental aim of pleasing the Lord, or (b) yield to disgruntled members who are looking for something more.
What the Experts are Saying
There is no shortage of expressed opinions about why folks are leaving the church and the best ways to fix the problem. But why not listen to the real experts?
Jesus the Christ: “… for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29); “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).1
Paul the apostle: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10); “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Paul and Timothy: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9) “… we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
Paul, Silvanus and Timothy: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts …. Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1).
The inspired writer of Hebrews: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16).
John the apostle: “… we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22).
What’s Love Got to Do with It?
No other commandment is greater than these: “‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’, [and] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31). When these foundational rules are implemented, no part of God’s will is compromised, neglected, or ignored. Love is not a heightened emotional experience generated by external gadgets and gimmicks. Love is a command to be obeyed.2 Love is a conscious decision to genuinely pursue the interests of others beyond oneself.3
We do a grave disservice when our aim is to cater to and facilitate the self-gratification of any person or generational subgroup. Surely it is right to mentor and teach our kids and young adults and older adults and neighbors to truly love God, to learn his will, to obey him, and to earnestly strive to please him. No amount of lighting effects, video screens, disco balls, rock bands, or other artificial novelties can ever replace (or constructively supplement) what has already been supplied from the heavenly throne. The changes we need to be concerned about are more effective ways of planting the word of God into receptive hearts, engendering love for God and his human creation, then experiencing the transformative power of God at work.4
It doesn’t matter if the Lord’s church assembles in comfortable auditoriums, schoolrooms, living rooms, cardboard shacks, or dark and gloomy catacombs. By striving to please God above all else, our lives are impacted infinitely more than anything we might try to produce otherwise. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about the shallow quirks of any particular age group. It’s about biblical love, directed far beyond self, and demonstrated in word and in action with all the heart, soul, mind and strength.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version; emphasis added. See also Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 7:32; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 3:20; Hebrews 11:5-6; 13:20-21.
2 John 13:34; 14:15; 15:10, 12, 17; Romans 12:9; 13:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 John 2:7-11; 3:18, 23; 4:7-12; 2 John 5-6.
3 1 Corinthians 13:5; cf. 10:24; John 3:16; 15:13; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Philippians 2:4; James 3:14-16; 1 John 3:16.
4 “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Related Articles: Wes McAdams' Experience Driven Church, An Open Letter, and Stop Turning Worship into a Talent Show; Andy Brewer's The Real Reason Churches are Shrinking; Krista Cannon's A Response; Stan Mitchell's Church Growth; Sean McDowell's Why Do Kid's Leave the Church?; Avery Foley's Liberal Theology Doesn't Save; David Tant's Full service church?; Jonathan Aigner's What's Next for Contemporary Worship?
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