One glance through the New Testament epistles, and it quickly becomes evident the first century church was plagued with practical problems, theological debates, personality conflicts and leadership issues.
Where once the lines between social classes, races and gender had been clear, the great equalization of the gospel freed some and confused others. Women, men, slaves, masters, Greeks and Jews—what a perfect, utopian church. No, it was the First Church of the Unicorn. The “perfect” church simply didn’t—and still doesn’t—exist.
Over time, denominations evolved and people siloed themselves based on scriptural interpretation, social class, race and any number of dividing factors. But we live in wonderful and exciting times where the diversity of the first century church is mirrored in the 21st century church.
Diversity then and now
Today’s congregation will have lifelong church members and those who didn’t grow up in church. Some will love and cherish their favorite hymns, and some will worship with contemporary Christian music. Some will carry a worn, leather-bound King James Bible, and others will choose to read one of the many Bible versions on their smartphone.
Many churches have narrowed their demographic as needs have presented themselves, and they’ve honestly evaluated their financial and human resources. For example, maybe they have chosen to minister to 20-something hipsters in a coffee shop, or they invest in young families in the suburbs. But there still exists—praise the Lord—multi-generational churches, though they present a set of problems with the potential to cater to some and marginalize the rest.
How does one set out to find the “perfect” church? How do we as believers find the balance between having our needs met while not approaching church like an all-you-can-eat buffet? Perhaps the litmus test of our own spiritual maturity is the level of our consumer mentality.
The perfect worship music style
Historically one of the most heated discussions in a multi-generational church has been the worship. It’s vital to understand hymns may be an integral part of a senior adult’s worship. But it’s just as important to understand these old favorites hold no special meaning for others. Some hymns will become completely obsolete as the demographics change. This isn’t tragic or sad. Do you know the traditional hymns of the 1300s or the 600s or the first century?
Of course, we have to take into consideration a rock-concert style service is unpleasant for some. We also have to think about things like the young teenage drummer who is looking for a place to serve.
When you are gone, who will sit in your pew? Taking our focus off of ourselves and putting it on the One who is the object of our worship surely will serve us better in navigating these decisions.
The perfect version of the Bible
Something else you may see in a multi-generational church is different versions of the Bible in different formats. We could debate all day about the King James Version or the benefits or drawbacks of reading the Bible on a digital device. The truth is, unless you’re walking into church with an ancient scroll written in Hebrew or Greek, they’re all an interpretation of a translation.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active.” If you hold this to be true, then the format in which the word of God is delivered is only as significant as it is to the reader or listener. The word of God can be delivered via stone tablet or scritta paper (the thin paper used to print Bibles), at 72 dpi or skywritten smoke. It is the same word of God.
If you’re distracted by someone else’s Bible, try staring harder at your own copy of God’s word.
The perfect Sunday dress
I’ve recently read several publications and had a number of conversations lamenting past days of dressing up for church. It has a ring of truth to say we should bring our best before God. But this ring of truth quickly turns to a clanging gong when held up to Scripture.
If we look around and everyone looks like us, we’re doing church all wrong. In fact, when Peter preached on godly living, the more reasonable exhortation of the Scripture is that he told the wealthy people to dress down. Instead of fancy clothes, braids and jewelry needlessly segregating the new Christians into wealthy versus poor, they were to be more concerned about adorning themselves with godliness, kindness and gentleness.
If you’re concerned with how people dress, let it go. If we find ourselves critical of someone’s outfit, we are the ones not dressed for the occasion.
The perfect questions to ask
I find it disheartening to see senior adults disenfranchised with their church home as the culture changes. We must not forget this generation of Baby Boomers is still a mission field needing an anchor for their souls.
Our methods, styles and traditions should change over time as we strive to be a lighthouse for the lost, a sanctuary for sinners and a starting gate for the gospel.
When we search for the perfect church, instead of asking what the music is like, where the pastor went to seminary or what time we get out for lunch, perhaps we should ask questions like: “How can I serve here?” “Are my spiritual gifts needed here?” “How can I encourage the pastor and his family?” and “What can I do to reach the lost?”
Bobbye Marrs has been a lay leader in ministry for more than 20 years. As a virtual assistant, she specializes in ministry and publishing assistance. Bobbye is the author of I Am My Beloved’s and currently serves with her family at First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas. The views expressed are those solely of the author.