Saturday, July 9, 2016

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Reason, No Service

Over the years of worship leading ministry, I’ve learned that people are the most important asset of ministry and yet they are also sometimes the greatest source of headaches. The greatest thing I’ve learned about dealing with people is that when it comes to conflict, it is not what someone believes but WHY they believe it. This is first true of myself. After I have my ‘house’ cleaned, I can hopefully have the discernment to look for it in others.

I’m going to take you through a hypothetical conflict. As we observe this hypothetical disagreement unfold, look beyond the content because this disagreement could be about just about any subject. The point of this exercise is to look at how we communicate, how we think (or don’t think) about our positions, and how we as leaders can deal with those who disagree with us in a healthy and constructive way, mitigating the risk of escalation.

Jim: “I miss the hymns. This new music is too repetitive. I don’t like it and I don’t know these songs!”
Worship Leader: “Jim, I’m sorry you don’t like the newer music. It sounds like you’d prefer the 9:00 service.”
Jim: “9:00 is too early for me. I’ve been coming to the 11:00 service for years. Why do we have to do all this rock and roll music. That isn’t worship. It’s not God honoring.”
Worship Leader: “The reason that we do the music we do for the 11:00 is because this service is primarily geared for people who want contemporary worship music.”
Jim: “Well I don’t like how you’ve ruined the 11:00 service and I pay my tithes! I don’t think God would approve either!”
Worship Leader: “Why do you say that?”
Jim: “Guitar music has no place within the church.”
Worship Leader: “Can you show me scripture to support that?”
Jim: “Romans 12:2 says we should stay away from worldly things…”
Worship Leader: “Rock bands also sometimes use organs. And many of today’s hymns were yesterday’s bar songs.”
Jim: “You’re just being defensive you hippy! And cut your hair, you look like a girl!” (marches off in protest)

Reason is the connection between cause and effect. It is the process to which we, with an open mind and a heart for God (because He IS truth), find and discern truth.

Please forget that the above exchange is a conflict representing the worship wars. Jim could have just as easily been an advocate for contemporary and the worship leader a traditionalist. Let’s look past the WHAT and look at WHY (or lack of it) behind each person’s arguments.

Notice that Jim starts out with the word *I*.  This can pretty much sum up most of his position. He doesn’t like the music being done in the service and refuses to attend the alternative service better suited for him. Notice that he does NOT point to a picture bigger than him. He does not for instance, make a case that this service should do different music because it would better minister to people. He doesn’t bring statistics, research, or even anecdotes supporting the notion that his church would be better poised to do different music because it would better minister to people within its body or outside of its four walls.

A reasonable person who wanted to advocate, in this case, for traditional music might point to their church’s age demography and make the case that they’d better be poised to go traditional to better minister to that predominant group. Such a person might point to a book or say Barna research that shows a trend with growing churches doing traditional worship music vs contemporary. A reasonable person might point to research suggesting that the majority of younger generations actually prefer hymns over contemporary.

Secondly, notice that when things turn theological, Jim points to Romans 12:2, but when the worship leader calls his interpretation into question, instead of engaging the worship leader, he simply accuses him of being defensive, throws in some ad hominem personal attacks and storms off in protest. A more open-minded person might have admitted they had never thought about organs being used by rock bands. They might have asked for evidence to support the claim that many hymns are reworked bar songs. Upon receiving such evidence, they might have even asked about what the proper criteria is to understand what Romans 12:2 means by ”worldly”. Here’s a hint there: the rest of the verse says we should have a “transformed mind” which shouldn’t have anything to do with the presence or absence of any musical instrument.

So what makes a person like Jim? The simple nature is our sin nature. Every one of us has it. This recognition will help us to approach the Jims of this world with humility, first guarding ourselves of this same infraction. Unless we get ourselves out of the way, we will make our world no bigger than ourselves. In such a small world, it is our desires, preferences, agendas, and insecurities that trump anything resembling facts or reason. Because we set ourselves up to be god of such a world, the ‘word’ is simply our desires. Have you ever bought something that said “no assembly required” on the box? This world is in a box that says, “no reason required”.

So how do we deal with people who aren’t reasonable or open-minded? First of all, one can be reasonable and be wrong. One can also be right for the wrong reasons. So an unreasonable person isn’t identified by their position. They are instead identified by the WHY behind their conclusions.

If we have found such a person on the opposite side of a disagreement, here are some things I have found which can work:

Give them questions not answers. Your goal is to inspire them to use the reason they tend to abandon.

 Speak in their “language”. Unfortunately that language is a childish language of self. Therefore speak to them on a visceral level. Avoid engaging them with reason because that will likely cause them to simply cast you as being too defensive or even obstinate. Let them know you love them and tell them you are sorry they feel the way they do. Agree to disagree.

Be empathetic. This is probably the most important thing you can do. It is very much related to the previous point. Unreasonable people have abandoned reason because it has been eclipsed by their selfish nature. Such people don’t care about facts, research, reason, logic, anecdotes, Bible verses (unless those things support their position). But authentic empathy can at least defuse their emotions and defang a potentially acrimonious situation. If you struggle to be AUTHENTICALLY empathetic, pray for such an individual. Prayer does a world of good for changing OUR hearts, not just the person to which we are praying.

Say as few of words as possible. I can think of at least two reasons to do this. One is in keeping with the first point of giving your antagonist more questions than answers.  Secondly, sometimes an antagonist might have nefarious motives and try to use your words against them. Proverbs 17:27 says “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” (NIV)

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