Should the local church do things the way it always has?

As a pastor, I heard many times, “we have never done that”, “we don’t do things like that here”, “that’s not how we do it here”, etc. These comments often come from church members who have been in that local church, or that church denomination, for a very long time. But these same local churches then begin to wonder why only older folks come to their church, or worry what will happen when so many die or move away that the church can no longer sustain itself.

Others have said that Christianity is not relevant to them. Some say the Bible does not address the problems of today. Others say that their parents like church, but its not for them. The problem is, over time, many churches do not undergo the same transformation as the community they exist within.

I first saw this video on Joseph’s blog. Polycarp posted his opinion on this issue, and I agree with him. In fact, some of this post comes from him asking me my opinion on the following video. Other parts of it come from my expanded comments on Polycarp’s post. But even so, I felt I had to expand even further than I had in the previous arenas. Here is the video link, in case you can’t see it.

I think the church needs to be Spirit led, Bible based, and culturally relevant. That’s a buzz word many react negatively to. We need to stay true to God, present the Gospel and disciple in ways that respect people and that they can hear and understand.

The video shows the need for cultural relevance, but says nothing about the need for being true to the Bible. We translate the Bible into people’s heart language, but then say everything else must be like its always been. I think we can have original lyrics & music, order of worship, etc., without going against scripture. So long as we follow the Bible and do not go against it, we should be culturally relevant. Most churches are stuck doing things the way they have always been done. They confuse their traditions with scripture. But in doing so, they limit the attractiveness of their church, and even the Gospel. I say the Gospel, because many people will not listen to folks who look or feel or sound or smell differently than them.

People feel the church is disconnected because they do not understand the need for the Gospel and the internal changes God will make in us. I believe this is because they will not listen. This is because, in general, a local church, over its lifespan, will first relate to the people of the community. This new local church meets the needs of the local community and its members look, sound, feel, smell like them.  And so, people are attracted to that local church. The local church forms traditions over time, because the original members did things a certain way for an extended amount of time. Then as the local church ages, people in the congregation die or move away. But, unless there is a concerted effort to change, the style does not change. Where when the church was new, it “spoke the language” of the community (its members looked like the community, sounded like the community, felt like the community – because they came from it), as the church ages, its members look and sound like people from a different generation or even location to those who were new to the community (the language is different, the dress is different, the message is addressing problems in a way that seem outdated or unsuited to the “new” generation, or maybe the message is not addressing problems specific to the new generation or new people in the community). Maybe some come in to the local church who came from churches that felt or looked or sounded similar, but eventually, because the style does not change, the local church begins to die, as its members die or move away. Eventually, there are insufficient members to sustain it, and it closes.

When we plant a church in a different continent (say Latin America) or country  (say China), we don’t say it will be an English speaking church. We recognize it will have to be in the language of the community in which it is planted. We don’t send the missionary English Bibles, or hymnals, as they would not appeal to the people the church is ministering to. The same is true for music styles. We would not send our bulletins or the majority of the announcements we make in our local church – they simply would not be relevant to that community. So why do we think our local church should not reflect the local community to which it ministers?

Our distant ministries should meet the needs of those distant communities – while at the same time remaining true to the Bible, evangelizing & discipling. This includes language and style of music, and even preaching and teaching styles. The same is true of our local church. Our local ministries should reflect the needs of the local community.

The local church has to adapt to its changing environment, so as to be able to share the Gospel in ways that can be heard and understood. If it fails to do so, it will fail to attract new members. Worse, if it fails to adapt, it will fail to successfully evangelize the people in the community in which it is planted. Yes, the Holy Spirit can move and call people without our help. But, we have the responsibility to be as effective for Christ as we can be. By failing to adapt in ways that allow people to hear the Gospel, we are failing to be as effective for Christ as we can be. By failing to adapt, the local church fails to meet at least part of it purpose – leading people to the Lord. If the local church can not do that, then it can not make disciples. Thus, by failing to adapt, by doing things the way they have always been done, the local church fails Christ’s great commission – to make disciples of all nations. By failing to adapt, we fail God.

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2 Responses

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