When I spend time with some of my Christian friends who are somewhere around my age, I find they have many concerns about their churches, which they feel are moving in the wrong direction. Many of them have changed churches because of their dissatisfaction.
What are they concerned about?
The music! What do they find wrong with it? It’s too much like rock-and-roll! And, of course, for some, rock-and-roll is an evil in itself!
The dress! People attending worship in jeans or shorts. Of course, for some of my contemporaries anything other than a coat and tie (pantyhose for women) is disrespectful to the Lord.
Hair and beards! They complain that people with beards look like terrorists! (True story: Once when I was pastoring, I showed up in church after a week’s back-packing vacation, wearing a well-trimmed beard. I was confronted after the service by an indignant member asking “What next? Are you going to be selling drugs in the parking lot?” He left the church.)
Now I believe we should have concerns (see CORPORATE CONFESSION) about our churches and the directions they’re going. And I know that old people aren’t the only ones who complain. But I believe we are overly concerned about peripheral issues.
Somewhere I read (I can’t remember where) that the Christian life can be thought of as a circle, with a clear center. The perimeter is not always as clear to all. We can be either center-focused or perimeter-focused Christians.
Those who are perimeter focused concentrate on what makes us different from everyone else. They look at the boundaries that distinguish us and try to keep them clear: styles of music, dress, entertainment, diet. It’s easy to see extreme groups, those who wear nothing but black, or those who ban musical instruments, but it’s also easy to find ourselves keeping some rigid code by which we feel we are distinguished from “the world.”
Those who are center-focused concentrate on the One who is rightfully at the center: Jesus Christ. When we concentrate on Him, on building a life in conformity to His, I believe the boundaries will take care of themselves. Our lives will be distinguished, not by some rigid code, but by a Christ-likeness. Yes, we’ll have preferences. But we won’t be near as concerned about some of these issues. And we won’t be concerned about whether others live up to our preferences.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).