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Friday, February 24, 2012

Perils of an Unbalanced Ministry

I will never forget my first car, a 1967 Mustang, and even though it was not the muscle car version – it was a 6-cylinder automatic– I loved the car. Traveling back and forth from college to the church where God was allowing me to serve as worship leader was a joy, at least most of the time. The longer I had the car I began to notice something unusual, the car began to pull to one side and wouldn’t just stay straight on the highway. I later found out that the car had probably been in an accident and the frame was slightly bent. In learning how to maintain the car, I also began to notice that the tires were showing odd signs of wear. Of the many lessons learned from that first vehicle, one that stands out was how quickly good tires become bad when things are out of balance.

Keeping things in balance is also a basic principle in God’s creation. When a specific species of insect gets too numerous and begins to devastate its natural source of food, the other life forms dependent on the food source become affected. Eventually when the food source is decimated, the over populated species dies out and gradually things return to normal. If they fail to do so, permanent damage is done to the delicate ecosystem. The world God created works best when kept in balance.

The principle of balance is clear in Scripture as well. When Paul addresses the church at Corinth in the use of spiritual gifts, he emphasizes that the body of Christ is comprised of many members which are interdependent on each other. The various gifts were designed by God to work in harmony with each other so that body would function as He intended. We can be grateful that the body is not just one giant foot, hand, or nose. Though some may have gifts in one area, the biblical mandate is not to neglect or ignore the gifts of others. Within the unity of the body of there is balance.

How does worship fit in this discussion? Glad you asked. Let’s look at some applications.

1. The balance between biblical worship and outreach. The Bible is explicit in its teaching about worship. Worship is centered on God alone, anything else is idolatry. When the body of Christ gathers for worship the central purpose must be centered on our obedient response to the nature and character of God. Within that response are the elements of recognition of who God is, who we are, repentance, obedience, thanksgiving, and praise. Also in Corinthians, Paul encouraged believers make sure that what is going on is understood by those attending. If there were a message from God in another language, there had to be someone there to interpret. One of the points Paul makes, is sensitivity to those in attendance. It is crucial that in an attempt to be sensitive to those unchurched we do not derail the biblical purpose of worship. Worship is primarily to God, and for God, and only secondarily for us.

Statements like, “I didn’t get anything out of worship,” betray a possible misunderstanding of the primary purpose of worship. We do not worship for the purposes of self gratification. The prevalent influence of secular western culture and its insatiable appetite for entertainment has so infiltrated the church that not only do a large portion of the membership in our churches attend expecting to be entertained, but many worship leaders have assumed it to be the norm. I appreciate greatly what the late A. W. Tozer said, “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.” Undeniably, there are benefits for the believer in worship, we just cannot make those the primary focus.

The major factor that drew non-believers to worship in the early church was the love and care that was demonstrated among the members, not entertainment. Those leading as well as those participating must understand that what is done from the platform is not designed for entertainment. In entertainment, the focus is inward pleasure; in worship the focus is pleasing God. The two are polar opposites. When we depend on entertainment to draw people to worship we can expect the results to be measured in terms of how pleased the audience was with the “performance” of those “on stage.” When we depend on a biblical God-focus in worship, then we can expect the results to be measured in how obedient God’s people in response to His Word. We cannot meet with God and leave the same as we entered. Sensitivity to the non-churched does not mean that we jettison priorities, but that we help make biblical truth understandable. As Marva Dawn has stated, we “reach out, without dumbing down.” We don’t have to become drug addicts to be able to share with drug addicts the gospel, but we do need to be sensitive to their needs.

Being sensitive also must include the various generations that participate on any given Sunday. Having various worship services to accommodate the preferences of various groups is one method of addressing the problem, however, the strength of the body of Christ is best reflected in the unity within diversity. The model of worship given in heaven is every tribe, tongue and nation, young and old focused in worship around the throne. In reference to venue worship, I appreciate the way Dr. Joseph Hopkins, Dean from the School of Arts at Samford University puts it, “it’s not so much that we have a table for every place, but a place for everyone at the table.” Balance must be maintained if we are to be effective.

2. The balance between the immanence and transcendence of God. Throughout the history of Christianity there has been a continual swinging of the pendulum between emphasizing the nearness of God and the awesome holiness of God. The understanding of the need to accept Christ as our personal Savior and the biblical example of Jesus being the “friend of sinners,” can be pushed to the extreme, exemplified in the “Jesus is my boyfriend” type praise songs. On the other hand, growth in seeing the holy, awesome Creator of the Universe, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, Lord and King of all can push God so far away, we may forget the grace and mercy that allows us to be in His presence.

The truth is that God is both near, desiring an intimate relationship and that He is high and holy in “unapproachable light.” The mystery of the paradox of God may not be understood this side of heaven, but it is true, regardless. Problems arise when one or the other is pushed out of balance. In fact, some scholars trace most heresies of the church to a truth or part of a truth that has been pushed to an extreme. Many times we discover a truth that is life changing for us and soon we begin to see and define everything around us by this one truth. It is not surprising, then to see the truth become pushed to an extreme. Once God has brought us through a situation and we have gained new insight, we must be careful to remember that this is but one small truth among others. If we are not careful, we will make the one facet of the diamond, the only facet that all must see.

3. The need of both corporate and personal worship. This is not so much a balance, but just a reminder that one tends to grow out of the other. The personal worship of believers whose lives have been daily bathed in God’s presence during the week naturally overflows into corporate worship on Sunday. Their focus is already on who God is and what He has done, their desire is to be obedient in all He commands.

We must maintain balance in all of life so that we can be effective followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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