Yesterday I listened to the praise band play and sing a traditional Christmas carol. It was mostly like it always is, they just used guitars, a keyboard and drums as the instruments. I liked it. I like the classic Christmas carols. Later in the service a family came to light the Advent candles. I like that as well. It’s a nice ritual that reminds me of the celebration and anticipation of Jesus. That ritual was followed by a more recent song geared toward the style of a praise band-led worship service. I liked that too.
It was earlier in the day when the choir presented a Christmas cantata. The music was a mix of classic carols and newly written material. At the end the congregation joined in and the words for them to sing were projected on the screens (or, in our case, the wall). During that service another family lit the Advent candles – and it was not a classic Advent wreath but one creatively designed to give a new look and feel. The people of the church were also sitting in chairs and not pews. And, we have a platform for the table and the preacher and the poinsettias and not a formal chancel area.
There is a constant challenge to embrace the things that allow us to hold fast to the faith passed down to us from the generations before us while also taking hold of that which is most familiar to our day that also helps us connect to God. In my desire to serve God by seeking those who are lost, I am tempted, at times, to reject the traditions of the past in order to be more relevant in the present. Others, in a desire to hold fast to what they found meaningful never see the need to let go of, nor rethink, the way things have always been done. Ultimately it can create real tension within the church.
The good news in that struggle is this – tension creates energy. I love being in a church that embraces both new possibilities and traditional. We do not easily discard the work of the past, and we rarely hear the words, “we’ve always done it that way.” We wrestle together to do what will move us closer to God.
For us, the key is not the tradition or the relevance of the activity. For us it is about how we help people in our community connect with Jesus and discover the deep and abiding love of God. So, we sing a new song with electronic instruments. And we sing an old song with them as well. We do classic worship with new technologies and new creative styles. If they help us know and follow Jesus, hopefully we embrace them. If they keep us tied to old, outdated ways, or they take us too far in new but misguided directions, I hope we let them go.
As you experience this Christmas in new and old ways alike – may you know that ultimately it is all about how much God loves you and loves us all.
Holy high five to you, Mike