Worry is Paralyzing Our Churches (Mar-Apr 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Ann Evankovich
March-April 2002

“I’m watching your son eat his Danish,” the stranger in line behind me at the airport whispered. I had been watching too, but in the anxious, protective way of a mother in a crowd. Mick was gulping down his breakfast in the seats while I waited for the boarding passes. I smiled and looked at my 5 year old again. He was going for the sticky fruit center. The pastry wrapped around his blueberry face and his eyes were closed, oblivious to the growing mess on the floor and in his lap. When was the last time I ate something with such simple abandon, such engrossing pleasure?

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Did they have danishes in Jesus’ Jerusalem? What was it about this jelly-covered boy that Jesus wanted me to see?

I think it was the same thing I saw in the little girl worshipping in the front row at the last ZOE conference in Nashville. A spectacular group of children were leading worship with every muscle in their bodies. I was tapping my foot. I was clapping my hands and singing along. But the little girl on the front row was jumping. She was dancing. Her hands were stretched straight up to the sky. I held back. She did not.

When children are delighted with anything, they aren’t concerned with what anyone else is thinking. It’s more than that even. Children aren’t even aware of the presence of others in moments of pleasure. They aren’t worried about their shoes getting muddy when they see a beautiful stream. They aren’t worried about their pants matching their shirt. They aren’t worried about blueberry stains on their clothes. They aren’t worried about raising their hands too high in worship.

We teach them to worry.

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We have to change to become like children. But change is so frightening. Children don’t worry about how others perceive their joy. I do. I have to figure out how to lay my worry down. It would be a big change for me to stop worrying. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt 6:27) I catch myself when I feel the impulse to raise my hands in worship. Who is sitting behind me? Will they think I’m showing off? Is anyone else raising her hands? And then the moment of freedom in my worship is squelched. I have to find a way to cast off my inhibitions – especially when I worship.

My daughter and her friend were on the front pew to have the best view for a baptism. They were standing, bouncing as they waited for the ceremony to begin. My first impulse was to make them sit and calm down. But then I wondered why we all weren’t as excited to see this new birth. “But the fruit of the Spirit is… joy…Against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23) I let them delight in the baptism. I longed for the freedom they felt. There is no law against joy.

Jesus requires us to constantly undergo change to become more like him. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Too often we perceive change as an admission of error. But changing does not necessarily mean that we were wrong before, only that we are striving to improve and move closer to God. In Paul’s second letter to Corinth he tells us that we are “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) Change comes from the Lord. We are in a process of transformation that is guided by Him. We need not fear change. “Perfect loves drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) We cannot stop change when God wants it. Even Gamaliel the Pharisee recognized this when he said, “For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

My home congregation, a Church of Christ, has been wrestling change with the intensity that Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32. Right now we are limping like Jacob who was changed forever by his encounter. To every change, there has been resistance. When a woman made an announcement on Sunday morning about the program she was coordinating, four people walked out, never to return. When we remodeled the auditorium so the podium didn’t have the feel of the Holiest of Holies, someone said it violated his idea of “sacred space.” He left. When we added Power Point to our worship service, someone complained that showing artwork “isn’t scriptural.” He left too. When my father and I co-taught a Sunday morning adult class for men and women, people left again. I was accused of “wanting my name up in lights” when I asked if my name was going to be listed as a teacher with the other male teachers. Change for us has been slow and painful. But the pain comes from our adult worries. We are not approaching God as the children approached Jesus in the crowd. They ran through the crowd and climbed into his lap. We more often are the stiff crowd, keeping out women, children, artists. And why? Because we let our worry guide our actions instead of our focus on Jesus.

I think the bottom line of our congregational worries is that we fear that other Churches of Christ will no longer recognize us as a Church of Christ if we keep changing. Our worry is paralyzing us. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about becoming all things to all people in order to win them for Christ. If our mission as a church is to reach those people who truly don’t know God, then we have to use means that are culturally relevant. Paul did. Jesus certainly was culturally relevant. But if our goal is to forever be recognized as a mainline Church of Christ, then our worry about what others think has taken our souls prisoner.

God is the only being that is changeless. (Heb 13:8, James 1:17) I have heard several of my critics chide me with, “Change for the sake of change is wrong!” If I were brave, I would say in response, “Resisting change for the sake of staying the same is wrong.” Refusing to consider that change is possible shows hubris. How can we be certain that we are the ones who have all the right answers? Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, He will make your paths straight.”

God is our Father. We can trust him. No matter how much even our earthly fathers love us, they want us to change. Fathers want their children to grow and learn. God wants this for us too. God sent his only son Jesus to change everything. We must change to please him.

In my next worship service, I probably won’t be dancing or jumping like that little girl in Nashville. Change is a process, like a long journey. Have you ever taken a journey with a child? Children enjoy playing car games. They are excited to make stops along the way and explore or run around the lawns at the rest stops. But if you have ever traveled with children you know their predominant unrelenting question. It is my question too as we journey closer to the lap of Jesus through changes that include women’s voices, new music, emotional worship, technology, and art: Are we there yet? How much longer? How far have we come? Will I still be alive when we get there?

 

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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