I’m sure every church has tension. I know the church I serve does. If yours doesn’t, I’d like to know about it.
I don’t have any references to cite, but just wanted to organize some thoughts and share some of my observations about church in the 21st century.
First, churches are as individual as people. Each is unique. A lot of church headlines come from churches in huge communities, experiencing growth in their cities and churches, doing church however they feel led to do it, and achieving remarkable success. And although these churches seem to get a lot of attention, the fact is most churches exist in smaller cities and towns, declining in population or experiencing very little growth. Most of these churches have been around a while. These churches are also multi-generational. From octogenarians to infants, there’s a wide variety of cultures trying to exist together as a body of Christ in their communities. And there are more generations in our churches that ever before. I know there are churches out there that are not mufti-generational, but I have not ever been a part of one. My current church is mufti-generational, approaching 75 years old, and the statement above definitely applies.
We are not all the same. We each have unique characteristics. And many of these personal differences, our personalities, our likes and dislikes, are innate. We are a direct result of our physiology. Biology has put a unique imprint on every life. But who we are is greatly influenced by the culture we were raised in. And even though most of us were raised in the same country, each generation has grown up in its own culture and experience. Each generation has its own identity, its own experience, its own expectations and desires, its own needs and its own values.
With that said, its no wonder we have so much tension in our churches. We have so many people, and sometimes groups of people, with their own ideas about what church ought to be. We have different expectations, different languages, different likes and dislikes. We dress differently. We respond differently. We communicate differently. We learn differently. We have different desires and different needs.
There’s two aspects of our culture that contribute greatly to the tension in our churches. First, we live in a culture now that caters to our individuality. Our commercial embraces the old Burger King ad line “have it your way.” We have “I”pods, “I”phones and “I”pads. Our phones, computers, television, homes, cars and so much more, are an expression of our individuality. Today, in so many areas, we can have it our way. Selling to our individuality has worked. Is it any wonder, then, that we feel like our church should meet our needs and operate like we want it too?
Second, we live in a culture that is inundated with criticism and opinions. The media is wrought with “news” shows that scrutinize everything. Entire programs are dedicated to the sharing of opinions, from politics, sports, music, movies, religion, lifestyles and so on. We feel like we have the right to voice our opinions about what we like and don’t like, and its spilled over into the church. We want our church to meet our needs in a way that pleases us. We have opinions about what is right and what is wrong and feel entitled to express them anytime we want to.
Unless you are totally immersed in only yourself, surely you can see what I’m talking about. These issues really make it hard to do church in our modern culture. We are operating at a time when we are perhaps as diverse as ever. And at a time when expressing our displeasure is so easy to do. It is really hard to be focused on the mission of the church. Its even harder to put aside our wants and work together. But we’ve got to focus on our mission and learn to work together to make it happen.
Sometimes I wish I could say something that would fix everything. I never seem to know what to say. But let me draw some conclusions from my observations.
The mission of the church is to make disciples of all nations. Yet we disagree on what we need to do and how we need to do the various activities and programs we do to fulfill our mission.. And when we disagree, we lose focus. We become focused on agendas and politics and personal tastes and preferences. We become negative, argumentative, divisive and ineffective. We accuse, we hold back, we make poor choices. We lose sight of our purpose.
So what do we do? At the very least, let’s get our priorities right. Jesus gave us the greatest commandment: love God and love our neighbors. (Matthew 22:16-20) He said by this, our love, all will know we are His disciples. Maybe love is the key. Until we learn to love and love each other, we will not be able to fulfill the mission Jesus gave us. What will it take? We’ve got to find a way to love.