Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vision and Preference

I've heard it said before that the church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of those who aren't yet members.  Somehow, that idea doesn't translate really well to those within the church.  We find ourselves seeking our own preferences or looking for some piece of nostalgia from our childhood or church upbringing.  When we do this, whether we want to admit it or not, we might be unintentionally interpreted as saying, "I don't particularly care what you do or don't like, as long as I get what I like, we're fine."

While those are most likely not our intentions, when we seek our own preferences in style and programs within the church, are we leaving room for those who come in who have never experienced any of it before?  What are the elements that are inviting and winsome to those who come in off the street?  This is shaky ground as we could easily get the cart before the horse by either allowing visitors to drive what we do in our worship to God and thus ostracizing members or by allowing tradition only to drive our worship to God and thus ostracizing visitors.

So, what's the right answer?  Is it possible to coexist together?  What's the purpose of Sunday morning or corporate worship times?  It needs to be about Jesus first, and all other things take second chair to that.

I've always said that it's much harder to introduce this concept in an established church versus a church plant.  Why?  Because it's very difficult to introduce this concept to people who have been used to their own preferences for so long.  It's not easy.......but it's possible.

One key ingredient in the path forward is vision.  If we do not have a clear vision of the path ahead, we will not have a clear approach in how we get there.  This doesn't mean that things can't change at all, but a clear and focused vision will be the lens through which we look at everything.  If that lens is dirty or distorted, we'll be bumping into things, tripping over things, or just going the wrong way.

A friend and colleague who has planted a church speaks of "vision wranglers."  These are the people who attempt to hijack the vision to meet their own desires and preferences rather than following the clear vision that God has given us.  Anywhere that vision exists, there will be vision wranglers.  They will always be the loudest voices as they are doing their best to get what they want at the expense of everyone else.  Vision wranglers seek the comfort and safety of the familiar at the expense of new thoughts and ideas at best, and those people whom the church is trying to reach at worst.

Having been in the area of worship and arts within the church for over 20 years, I've had a closer glimpse at this than most people.  I can't think of an area where vision wranglers show their faces more so than in the area of music and arts.  Music and the arts evoke such powerful passion and emotion from people that it's hard to hear objectivity in the midst of it all.  When these passions emerge, people hardly ever choose to remain silent.

I remember watching a video from a church out in Colorado who has a fairly dynamic music program, what most people would call "contemporary."  During this video, they interviewed a senior adult member of the congregation.  She had been in the church for a number of years and at first, she wasn't crazy about the style of music.  But after a while, she began to really pay attention to the words of the songs and observe how the music was speaking to the people around her.  Once she realized the impact that the music was making, she didn't really care so much that her preference wasn't being met, she was more concerned with the fact that people were connecting with God on a personal level.  In her mind, her own personal preferences came second to that.

We all need to be careful that in an effort to preserve the heritage and traditions of the faith we don't lift up that heritage and those traditions to the status of idols.  I have seen it happen before where churches have become idolaters of good things, just because it's good doesn't mean that it can't be worshiped and elevated to a level where it doesn't belong.

I'm all for the preservation of history and traditions for if we fail to learn from the past, we will be guilty of duplicating its mistakes.  My one desire has always been intentionality and purposefulness.  Placing importance on things and forcing them to be part of what we do in corporate worship is the religious equivalent of affirmative action.  I am sure that the people behind affirmative action had good intentions and in no way meant for it to have devolved into what it has become today.  Instead, it has become a mandate for placing people into positions because of limitations rather than qualifications.  By mandating certain elements in corporate worship, we miss the opportunity for those elements to speak for themselves or to value their meaning because we have simply seen them as important or necessary.

Again, vision is everything.  If we fail to lay out vision, we fail to find a good route to get to where we're going.  Sometimes that's kind of fun, if we've got lots of time to kill or if we are trying to find new things to discover, but most of the time, we want to be intentional and purposeful in our movement forward.  I need to be fully aware of the potential for my own preferences to cloud my vision.  If I lay out a vision, I need to share it with others, have them give constructive criticism, and determine if it is indeed the best route through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Once that vision is established, sharing it with others is important for the sake of accountability.

It's easy to create vision on our own but much more difficult to allow the Holy Spirit to birth that vision in us.  It takes time and deliberateness.  We can easily "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and lose pieces that are not only historical but beneficial.  At the same time, we can allow vision to be created based upon preference, elevating that preference to mandate and even doctrine.  There are dangers on all sides which should cause us to seek humility and discernment in the process.  Vision and preference are not mutually exclusive, but they don't necessarily coexist within the same space either.

Without vision the people perish, with cloudy vision, they might get into a terrible wreck.  Forward movement will be determined by the vision, before you go too far, you had better make sure that it's as clear as possible, after all, objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.

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