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New is Always Better?

How often do we think of worship this way? I have to admit that as a young pastor I came into the ministry full of ideas about how to revolutionize everything that was wrong with the church, its structures, its people, and most centrally, its worship. I was convinced that more than anything, the church needed to be shaken out of its comfortable routines and practices and be forced to come face to face with a revolutionary God who was not content to exist within our old-fashioned and (let’s be honest, boring) worship practices. Every vestige of tradition, from old songs, to old melodies, to old prayers, to old ways of communication, to old interpretations of scripture needed to go and be replaced with modern (or post-modern) expressions of the church which were prima-facie better in every way.

I lived according to Barney Stinson’s golden rule: New is always better.

And lest you think I’m some sort of monster - If you grew up in the church, I’m willing to bet that you were no different. It seems that every generation of Christians has fought its fights over style, format, tone, and language with their parents’ and grandparents’ generation in the church. Whether it was gospel songs supplanting hymns (most of what we consider “hymns” here in North America would make a conservative European Christian blush with their novelty), PowerPoint replacing Hymnals, extemporaneous prayers replacing wrote recitations, grape juice replacing wine in communion, or any other number of changes to how we have encountered God. Almost universally the young (and young at heart) have had a revolutionary bent to transform the church in their generation.

But something strange happens to all of us in time — we get older. And before we have time to fully implement our ecclesiastical manifestos another generation has come behind us with different perspectives, and different ideas. Ideas that seem radical and unnecessary to those who once fancied themselves radicals. A generation comes armed with ideas that challenge the very hard won reforms that our generation had fought for and now we feel threatened and out of sorts and from our new perspective of experience start to question whether the changes we fought so hard for in our youth were the right things themselves. We start to question Barney’s maxim and wonder if new is NOT always better.

Today I sit at the crossroads of feeling like a young innovator at heart, but realizing (with the arrival of every new grey hair) that I am becoming a part of the old guard myself. I want the church to be attractive and exciting to the watching world but I’m becoming increasingly wary of the cost of that posture to our core identity and integrity. And so as I wrestle between the urges of innovation and conservation the church has begun to reflect that (healthy) tension in our corporate identity as well.

A couple of years ago we made the (admittedly controversial) change to our worship structure that we were going to sit around tables and face each other rather than sit in rows and ‘watch the show’ on Sunday mornings. This could not be called anything other than innovative. While we are not the first congregation (by any stretch) to try such an approach to worship, we are an anomaly and a curiosity for most church goers (and church leaders) and that uniqueness has made us stand out in the crowd. This approach reflects a heart of innovation and newness that the church needs to embody as it reaches an ever-changing cultural context.

At the same time however, we have made shifts back toward what some would call ‘traditional’ worship structures as well. One of the first things we changed when I arrived 4 years ago at The Bridge was a return to the public reading of scripture in worship. After that we brought back a formalized liturgy of the Eucharist (communion) and then instituted a corporate prayer of confession every week. These changes are the antithesis of ‘new’ but rather are a thoughtful acknowledgement that our history within the Christian church has much to teach us about the appropriate ways to relate to God as a congregation.

New is sometimes better?

Over my vacation this summer I read a book entitled “Worship Words” by Deb and Ron Reinstra. It was a frustrating book to read (it was an assignment for a course I’m taking) but as I forced myself over and again back to its pages full of ideas that I frequently didn’t agree with, I begrudgingly began to realize that I was learning something. One of those things was the idea that innovation and tradition are not contradictory postures, but complementary ones that the church is called to embrace with discernment.

It is true that a great deal of what people associate with ‘traditional’ worship is nothing more than dead rituals and mindless repetition. And it’s also true that a great deal of what people associate with new expressions of worship is little more than entertainment-driven sentimentality with a thin veneer of spirituality splashed over it. But within both approaches is a kernel of authenticity and real spirituality that the church would be diminished by avoiding. When we commit hard to one side or the other we end up throwing multiple babies out with the proverbial bathwater and the church is maimed in her ability to both relate to God, and to witness to the world.

To avoid the traditional (as many evangelicals would advocate for) is to throw out reverence for the scriptures (a core tenet of evangelicalism!), to downplay the significance of the table (one of the only two things the evangelical church identifies as ‘ordinances’ of Christ), and to lose the witness of 2 thousand years of Christian thought and experience that enriches and connects us to the historical faith of the apostles that we profess! Meanwhile to retreat into the safety of the traditional and eschew the new and the innovative would condemn the church to stagnation and irrelevance in a world that is moving on at a rapid pace into the future. It would silence our prophetic witness to a culture that we would increasingly not understand, and keep us from connecting with the generations that will succeed us, condemning the church to a slow death of attrition. Remember that the commands of scripture are both to retell the same old stories again and again for new generations (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and to at the same time sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96:1). We are called to both remember the ways of our forefathers and foremothers in the faith, and also to create new expressions for this day and this age.

A new year and an old practice

This fall we are making another new change to our liturgy to embrace an old practice of the church. Part of the journey that I have been on over the past six years as a pastor (since I began studying for my masters) is a journey of appreciation of the table of the Lord’s Supper. I have grown in my understanding of the foundational nature of this meal for the church’s worship, sustenance, witness, and unity, as well as the difficult to ignore instructions of Jesus to repeat this ritual whenever the church gathers. Over the four years that I have been privileged to be pastoring at The Bridge, that perspective and that teaching has permeated our celebration of communion together. I have been preparing you for a change that I believe needed to come for us to become the church God has called us to be. And now finally it seems good to me and to the Holy Spirit that it is time to make that change. After consulting many people around the congregation informally and the board of elders officially, we have made the decision to re-appropriate weekly celebration of communion as a part of our worship.

Last week I recommended a book by Gordon Smith on the need for the church to be Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal in its worship and activity. And I would encourage you to grab a copy for yourself for a great theological rationale for this change (or if you’re inclined to read something a little more academic in style, his book “A Holy Meal” is probably the best thing I could recommend). But practically this decision is driven by an awareness of our need to both be faithful to the words and commands of Christ, to be rooted in the historical practice of the Church, and to embrace the counter-cultural practices of the church that serve to witness a different way of doing life to a world that is looking for more than spiritually-scented, family-friendly secularism. We believe that there is no more meaningful way to show hospitality to the world than to welcome them around the table of Christ and to introduce him to its host.

So, when you come to church at The Bridge we urge you to come hungry. Hungry for Christ; hungry for fellowship; hungry for something new. Because new is always better - especially when it’s a new appreciation for something old.

#Communion #Changes #Worship

The Bridge Church

of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

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