One of the predominant messages of Gulfcoast Getaway 2008 was that our college students are dissatisfied with worship in their local congregations. The root cause of this is believed to be an aging leadership with a different taste for worship, song selection, and atmosphere. Pair that with high octane instrumental Christian music on the radio and a society that says everything should be about getting you what you want (consumerism) and you end up with a clash of the generations and dissatisfied young people.
Expectation of Meaningful Worship:
The word that comes to mind that sums all of that up is expectations. The older generation expects “meaningful worship” = “worship in line with tradition” and the younger generation expects “meaningful worship” = “worship in line with a meaningful experience and relationship with God.” Both are really after the same thing – to have their expectation of meaningful worship met. The problem is the generations don’t define meaningful worship the same way. Another problem is that for the longest time people have equated “meaningful worship” with song selection and that is just not the case. That can be a small part of it but it is not the whole. The outgrowth of that kind of thinking is, “If they will just sing the songs I like then worship will be meaningful.” Song selection is a symptom of a much larger systemic problem and not the problem itself. Treating this as a song selection issue puts all the blame on one side of the problem when in fact both sides make contributions to the problem, therefore, both sides must contribute to the answer.
The lens of love:
What is the answer? The answer comes from how we view each other and whether or not we see each other in a Christ-like fashion. The Corinthians had a “worship war.” They were each coming to get their way, do their thing, and everyone else better get out of the way because, afterall, they are not as important as I am…” After discussing the problem in 1 Cor 11-12 what solution did Paul give them in chapter 13? Love. When we view each other through the lens of love we will no longer see worship as “us against them” or “my needs vs. their needs” or “my songs vs. their songs.” When either side thinks, “my way is the ONLY way to worship in a meaningful way” we have left love out and put selfishness and arrogance in its place.
Mutual submission and respect:
Once we start with love the next move is toward mutual submission. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 5:21ff? “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ...For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ…”
What is Paul saying here? He is saying that Christ has unified us as head of his church/the body as its savior. Notice Paul didn’t say “our church” but “his church.” We know whose we are. Our commonality as the saved body of Christ should result in mutual submission to each other but first and foremost to Christ. The blame for this problem does not comes from one side alone. It is not an “old person problem.” Both sides need to approach each other out of mutual submission and with attitudes of love and respect. When that happens the older generation won’t feel like they have “lost” when new songs are sung or a newer translation is read and that they have won when things go their way. The same with the younger generation thinking they have “won” when the new songs are sung and “lost” when the old songs are sung. Winning and losing implies we are on different teams! Paul says mutual submission starts with the recognition of who Jesus is as the unifying force and head of the church.
I look forward to the day young people understand their need to respect and appreciate the shoulders they stand on so much that they can sing “Night with ebon pinion” with a smile on their faces. I look forward to the day older people can sing “The Heart of Worship” with tears in their eyes. I look forward to the day when the younger people will learn and grow from the dedication of our older members and the older members will dig deeper in experiencing God because they see how it has impacted the young people. This is not pie in the sky and I am sure it is already happening in many places. Let’s throw away the us vs. them mentality and come back to the table out of attitudes of love, mutual submission and respect. And let’s remember who sits at the head of the table reminding us that he didn’t get his way all of time either, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).