Tuesday, August 26, 2008


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).

Bill Ball


XLT said...

Hi Bill,

There are a lot of areas we could add...altho, with a beard you might look kind of sinister :).

As many young people complain as much or more as older people I am sure...

Both sides lose out when it either group starts leaving en masse.

Sandy said...

Good reminders, Bill! Thanks for sharing those thoughts; I've drifted too close to the perimeter too much lately.

I wonder, though, what does this say about churches who try to target a certain demographic with their music, location, programs, etc? Is there a correlation to focusing on the perimeter of the circle?

Mike said...

It is amazing that the peripherals are the all-important issues to all too many people in our circles. I often think that the biggest failing of evangelicals is judgementalism. It is almost as if it becomes coded into your DNA, if you were brought up in a fundamentalist church. The saddest thing of all, however is that judgementalism throws up a brick wall between where we are and where Christ would have us be. Thanks for the post. It is a good reminder that we all have a long way to go.

Sherry said...

When the music changed at our church a few years ago, several families left. I couldn't believe they would leave a church with such unusually good teaching cuz the music changed. Give up sound doctrine and life-long friends cuz there are new songs?

Now, if there are lots of churches that are doctrinally sound, why not pick one that sings what you like? But base your church choice on music alone? WOW!

And if we can't be around other Christians who like different music, I don't we're making any connections to non-believers!

Mike said...

Music hits close to home with me, because I am in charge of the program at our church. We have seen folks leave our church in droves over the last few years, over many issues of which one is music. We are now down to about 90 people in the AM service. I don't personally hear a lot of complaining, but every time I'm away for a week or two, the undercurrent rises to the surface and drives off my substitute music worship leader. Now there is no one let to fill in when I'm away.

When I was gone a couple of weeks last month, I had to say I would be gone and have no "plan B" for them for the music; they would need to make do somehow.

I try to present a good balance. I know that we have a diverse group of folks and I try to give everyone at least one piece of music that will directly touch them in every service. Our music ranges from hymns traditionally styled to current top 25 contemporary Christian songs. I think it is quite sad that people can't at least tolerate music that is truly touching people and being effective in worship. It seems like many folks want it all "their" way.

When I do hear criticism, I try not to take it personally. It is not about me anyway. It is all for a higher purpose. There is lots more to write on this subject, but this is getting a bit long for a blog comment. Maybe more later. In the meantime, I would certainly be interested in feedback on this subject.

Mike said...

P.S. Bill, the profile link works now, though I have not included much there. I took down my picture, because it was a bit scary. Maybe, I'll put up another later.

Oh, hi Sherry!