Using Context as Gutter Guards
By Dr. Will Whittaker
No matter what size, location, or style your church is, you must consider your church’s history, culture, and context. While we should always hold fast to the biblical foundations of worship, we cannot forget that each church is a unique body. Don’t try to blindly emulate another church without considering who God has fashioned your body of believers to be.
Don’t try to blindly emulate another church without considering who God has fashioned your body of believers to be.
Many leaders desire to make changes because they are convinced the Lord has given them the vision to enact change or to avoid continued numerical decline, but fail to consider the full picture of the church’s history and current situation philosophically. Some leaders attempt to make changes too fast and make quick shifts in philosophy of ministry out of panic or desperation. Too often the results create more division and disunity. This is especially prevalent in worship music. I’ve seen worship leaders fired because they couldn’t sing contemporary music well enough or the pastor wanted to get rid of the choir because they are convinced a choir cannot grow a church so they unilaterally disband it because it’s not culturally relevant.
Friends, the music in your church should reflect who you are and what God has brought to your church. If you have a thriving choir of all ages, use it as a model for worship leadership. Having a praise band only with multiple generations on the team can also communicate that all ages are valued. In regards to your congregational song, there should be a mix of familiar songs and new; songs which meet the stringent criteria of being theologically rich and musically appropriate for your context. Sure, incremental changes are always necessary as time moves on, but don’t make sweeping changes without communicating a unified vision.
Churches, like ships, cannot make a 180 degree turn quickly. Most leaders desire to reach young families in their community, so they make assumptions about the types of music they like or the types of programming they want without considering the effect on other generations in their church. In fact, many decisions are made to invest in younger generations without considering how older generations could be part of the solution before they make the changes. With evangelism and bringing in families as a primary motivator, many church leaders become myopic in their perspective and miss the chance to bring all ages together to share the vision in unity. Remember Acts 2? The Lord added daily to the number being saved in the early church not because they were hip and current, but because of their UNITY.
When my sons were young, I used to take them bowling. Because I knew they’d likely throw gutter balls each time, I made sure the gutter guards were up each time they bowled. Not providing the gutter guards would’ve meant they would’ve felt defeated whenever they bowled. The goal of the gutter guards is to give their ball the chance to hit some pins so they feel a sense of accomplishment each time.
Consider this analogy: the gutter guards are the biblical foundations and context of your own church. As a leader it’s your responsibility to protect your flock from the errancy of the bowling ball headed toward the gutter. Your goal is for your church to always knock down pins. These pins represent your UNIFIED goals and the vision to which God has called your particular church. There’s a lot of latitude in the middle and sides of each bowling lane, which means you should always be moving forward and side to side as your church grows, but always consider any movements forward through the filter of who God has called you to be authentically. Once you know who you are, the “gutter guards” keep you from striking outside of the biblical foundations and context of your own congregation.
Many leaders desire to make changes because they are convinced the Lord has given them the vision to enact change or to avoid continued numerical decline, but fail to consider the full picture of the church’s history and current situation philosophically.
This article first appeared at drwillwhittaker.org and was reposted here with permission.