Okay, I admit that I didn't expect this one coming. After "preparing" the leadership several months ago with a ream of my personal philosophy of ministry, resume, theological stance, blah, blah, blah . . . I realized tonight that perhaps they did not read any of the material when they hired me on. Which is okay . . . for now. A few highlights of the comments we wrestled through tonight:
- "Last Sunday's worship was terrible!" This was the first of a series of comments. Most of these comments were rant in nature - not the welcoming type that encourages fellowship and open sharing. Rather the type that forces everyone to clam up due to it's intensity and shock 'n' awe value. This was followed up with a ton of "back up" data composed of phrases such as "those people" or "they" or "some people." Apparently, "they" think (and the "they" represented "99%" of the congregation) that if things don't change "they" will leave. I responded by sharing that I received a few positive responses from people - statistically speaking, it is impossible that 99% of the congregation hated it. Talk about sensationalism. Maybe its just me, but I've never felt that coercion and manipulation worked - actually I did at my last church, they beat me to a pulp (but that's another story). Obviously, I was totally in the mood to sing "Kum Ba Yah" at this point - and this was just the beginning. I thought that at the conclusion to a 3 part series on worship - which emphasized that worship was not about our choice of music, style or tradition - people would be more in tune with the fact that worship is essentially about God and not about us. Back to the drawing board. I also felt that the comment was rather arrogant because it implied that someone besides God had to capacity to judge whether or not something was acceptable or not . . . or better yet judge something to be terrible. Does someone have a god complex?
- "Too many new songs, too contemporary, I don't understand why we have to sing praise songs that just repeat the same phrase 7 times." I responded by saying that if it required for me to sing hymns all day and all night in order to achieve or vision of a healthy community . . . I would. But a better way, a more Christian way, would be to find common ground. Then I was told that I better learn some hymns. I responded by saying "you can learn some praise songs." This seem to fan the flame that seem to have been burning for a few days by then. I have a problem with people who get into the whole "new" versus "old" debate. It usually involves phrases such as "our church has never done that before . . . [and it never will]." There is something so out of touch with culture in that type of an attitude. Presently, we worship in a church that is immersed in culture - the ethnic groups represented each morning, the types of instruments sitting on our stage, the different age groups, and the fact that we all have different values that shape who we are. Here's food for thought: Hymns used to be new songs, hymns were contemporary at one point in time.
- "Because of all the new songs at the summer camp, I felt like I was baby sitting!" Okay, by this time their is an obvious air of angst and frustration in the air. This is no longer about "terrible worship" it is slipping into the realm of "I'm-gonna-get-so-personal-about-this-one-that-I'm-gonna-bring-you-all-down." What does summer camp have to do with "terrible worship?" It was a different context entirely. The one reaction I did have was that perhaps I was too spiritually immature and inferior to fellowship with the "Baby Sitter" - then I thought, "gheesh how arrogant, high and mighty, holier-than-thou of you to say that!"
- "Remember, we ARE a Chinese church." Strike three - I still don't know what this has to do with "terrible worship." Is it a comment about the conservative nature of the church? Is it a blatant admission to the arrogance and racism of Chinese? What does this mean? Perhaps this was a poor attempt to insinuate "we are conversative" -what I did hear and see was "I am a legalist and fundamentalist." Perhaps we should respond by building a 12 foot wall around our compound to keep out the non-Chinese. But I chose to share about a certain Mennonite church in Vancouver that woke up one decade and realized that their neighborhood had become entirely Chinese. For a Mennonite raised in a German-speaking church, this is a HUGE thing. Think about singing, reading the Bible, preaching entirely done in German - they had to make a choice. Either the REAL God of Israel only speaks German OR God might actually know some Chinese too. Fortunately for Killarney Park, they chose the latter. I have hope that we ARE the "body of Christ" - a community that reflects the beauty and tapestry of God's creation - socially, economically, racially, psychologically, etc. I just didn't feel like getting into the whole "Chinese-really-aren't-the-center-of-the-universe-get-over-it" debate.
- "We need to address the dress code." This was an issue that provided some good dialogue. I have always felt that going down the road of "Christian leaders should . . . dress, talk, smell, look, act . . ." was the WRONG direction. This can easily lead towards the direction of legalism and shallow spirituality with no depth. It also begs the question, "what if Christian leaders do not fit the rules and qualifications you have set out?" Does the person who creates the rules have God-like powers to rewrite what should and should not be? No. Unfortunately, extreme legalism breeds a conformist mentality based on fear and guilt - there is a complete failure to truly love and accept.
Round 1. Fight!