The church decided to go to a full worship band. A set of drums was placed upon the stage. The music selections went from completely hymn based/sound tracks to a live worship band. Many families joined the church because of the new music ministry. Several long standing couples come to you expressing their concern about the stage and music. They expressed that they felt the place of worship was being turned to a rock and roll stage. Their primary concern was the drums. You speak to the couples and they leave with no satisfaction. They go out into the church and begin discussing their concerns which makes even more people upset over the drums and the music.
The topic of music has started many a church’s discussions – sometimes even heated discussions. It appears to be a generational divider, as younger congregants enjoy modern songs they hear on their radio as they commute to work, while older congregants remember the hymn singing of old. Especially a drum set sets off many discussions in congregations. As a worship leader, it is tricky to walk the tight rope of finding music that glorifies God and that also allows unhindered worship time for all congregants.
According to Scripture, there should be no discussion at all, especially not about the topic of loud music. Psalm 150 states,
“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.”
(Psalm 150:3-5, NIV)
While this seems to clearly indicate that God is quite happy about loud music (trumpets and clashing cymbals are hardly quiet or contemplative), the cultural reservations of older believers prohibits them from seeing this type of worship as God-honoring. Many of them grew up with an organ or a piano and hymnals in each pew. On the other hand, the younger attendees of this church feel that the music being offered on a Sunday leads them into worship while the hymns of old seem to hinder them because of their structure, the need to follow sheet music for singing voices, and the lack of modern instrumentation when singing them. For church leaders, this is a vital matter, as they realize that something as seemingly trivial as the worship style can lead to members leaving (or joining). In order to keep the peace in the church, a compromise needs to be found.
As the leadership of the church, the first step to come to a confession of wrong-doing might be the study of and meditation on 2 Corinthians 3:11: “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” (NIV) Following this brief time spent in God’s Word, and in order to start the negotiation, the pastor and worship leader can take a first step by admitting (confessing) to the couples in question that they have not been as sensitive to their concerns as they could have been. Many an argument can be stopped abruptly by an admission of one’s own neglect to engage compassionately. They can lead, through their own confession, the other couples to a point where they also realize their wrong-doing by causing agitation in the broader local body of Christ. This all can happen before any further negotiation is attempted.
With minds and hearts attuned to brotherly love, the couples who were concerned with the loud music should meet with couples that represent the younger generation. Both will realize under the guidance of the pastor, who will show them from Scripture that there is no prescribed worship style in the New Testament, that music is something that is in a sense personal taste. While the older generation prefers hymns, the younger generation prefers their worship music. It is good counsel to remind the older generation that their generation had worship songs, too. In an attempt to find peace, the pastor might want to suggest a decibel meter that can find out the noise level and then agree to an acceptable level. Every modern soundboard can turn down the “noise”. In addition, the pastor might suggest that modern versions of hymns are included regularly in the worship service.
Most believers do not set out to cause friction with other believers, yet in their not yet glorified (and also not completely sanctified) state, this is bound to happen. With the above agreement in place, forgiveness can be sought from both sides and also from the broader body that has been affected by this dispute. This should be a very “light weight” of forgiveness, which is best done in one-on-one conversations. The pastor may want to add a word or two on Sunday to explain some of the changes, especially the inclusion of hymns on a regular basis.
The scenario of loud modern music is one that plays out in a large number of churches across the US. While some churches due to their small congregation size and limited resources will happily continue with piano accompaniment and hymnals, many churches do find the talent necessary to “update” their worship style through the musical accompaniment from instruments not traditionally used. It is a matter of personal taste and also generational understanding of worship. With an appropriate biblical highlighting of what the writers of Scripture depicted as acceptable worship, some of these issues may go away organically. However, a pastor or worship leader should be respectful of an aging congregation’s need for less noise, which is not a disapproval of modern worship music, but simply a necessity to decreased ability to tolerate certain decibel levels.
Pastor Bob, his wife, and children were so excited about graduating from seminary and going to their first church. As the moving van pulled into the yard of the parsonage, members of the church had been there to greet them. As time passed, the ministry there was going great; people were being saved and the attendance had doubled. Pastor Bob and his wife could not believe it. It was time for their third year anniversary at the church. That Sunday the church had a big party for them. It was wonderful!
On Monday night, after a great weekend of celebration, a regular deacons meeting was held. The deacons informed the pastor that it was the churches unwritten policy to have a three year anniversary celebration, at which time the deacons would ask the pastor to leave. They would give him twelve months to find another church. It was their belief that a pastor should not serve more than four years at a church. The pastor went home and told his wife, which led to both individuals falling into depression. They asked each other: “What did we do wrong?” “Should we take it to the church?” “Should we leave?”
Conflicts in pastor-congregation relationships can be one of the trickiest ones in the life of a church. While some of these conflicts may arise from the conduct of the pastor, other times the congregation, or the leadership of the church apart from the pastor, may make decisions that can impact a pastor’s leadership. In this case, the pastor and his family were caught by surprise as they had not been made aware of the “rules of engagement” at this particular church.
After an initial time to let the shock sink in, the pastor and his wife may be well advised to meditate on Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (NIV) This situation certainly calls for a thoughtful evaluation of options. The pastor knows certain things from his time at the church and from the conversation with the deacons: the church is thriving, membership is increasing, and it appears from outward inspection that all is going well. From the deacons meeting the pastor understands that it is an unwritten policy to change pastors after they have served three years. To understand his situation, he should consult Scripture.
No place in Scripture is a prescriptive element found that necessitates the change in leadership. This pastor seems to have done everything right based on the outcome of the growth in congregation. 1 Peter 5:2-3 says “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (NIV) He has been eager to serve; he had not lorded it over to those under him; he has been an example, from all he knows about himself.
Likewise, the church does not have a formal governing document that prescribes a change in leadership, but rather this has become a standing practice over the years. The pastor should seek to prayerfully negotiate at first, but if need be go to mediation.
Zechariah 8:16 says, “Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts.” (NIV) As part of the negotiation process, the pastor should seek to have a meeting with the deacons where he lays down the facts. He should prepare what is called in business terms a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). While this will only show the facts of how the church has thrived under his leadership, and how it may develop negatively once he leaves, it is a useful tool to have a non-emotional discussion. Laying out the facts that there is no biblical precedence of church leadership having to change, but that there also is no church by-law that necessitates it, the pastor will build a case from Scripture that shows that his leadership is one that is biblical. The words of the author of the letter to the Hebrews may find use here: In Hebrews 13:18, he admonishes the listeners, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (NIV) In verse 17 of Hebrews 13, he continues, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” The pastor should appeal to these and similar verses in the negotiation to show that there is no reason to ask him to leave, and that the deacons may want to toss out a practice that may have been necessary at one point due to poor leadership, but was not the case now.
The pastor and his family may or may not be successful through negotiation. If they are, much has been won for the congregation as they continue to thrive under ongoing leadership. If they are not, this may go to arbitration. In the end, if the deacons decide against changing their unwritten practice, the pastor and his family may be better off finding a new place of service.
A 42-year-old female Sunday school teacher has been teaching for 10 years at her church. At times her 14-year-old son helps out in the class. He is great with the 6-year-old boys and the kids like him as well. One day a parent of one of the 6-year-old boys complains that her son is speaking inappropriate sexual language after church. The concerned parent tells the Sunday school teacher about the problem. The teacher is sympathetic, but states boys will be boys. The worried parent has no proof, but thinks her son picked up the bad language from the 14-year-old boy who works in his Sunday school class. The concerned parent went to the youth pastor and he states he knows the Sunday school teacher and her son. The youth pastor has a conflict.
Proverbs 22:6 admonishes us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (NIV) An aspiration to teach our children well is a desire all Christian parents share. In the scenario at hand, one parent feels that another parent’s child has acted inappropriately. While this can indeed, as the teacher suggested, happen, especially between children of the same gender, the fact that a teenager misacted in the presence of 6-year olds needs to be addressed. At the same time, the youth pastor knows he is on thin ice, proverbially speaking, as this teacher has been faithfully serving the church for over 10 years. The youth pastor will need to resolve this conflict using the right method of peacemaking, and he will need to choose from a spectrum of possible options. He will need to look at the aspects of confession, forgiveness, and negotiation. He will hope to avoid any escalation requiring the use of the peacemaking practices of mediation, arbitration, and church discipline. At the same time, in order to bring glory to God through this conflict, his primary goal is to avoid escape or attack responses to the initial problem, but rather for two families to come to a state of harmony between the offended party and the offender.
As a first step, the youth pastor will want to have one-on-one conversations, starting with a prayer to ensure Christ is in the midst of these conversations, with the mother of the six-year old, the 14-year old alleged perpetrator, and his mother, who is the teacher of the six-year-olds. In order to establish the facts, he will want to find out from the teacher whether or not her teenaged son used inappropriate language in the six-year olds’ classroom, and whether he has a history of speaking in unbecoming, sexually oriented language. From the mother of the six-year old, he will want to find out whether the child had any prior utterances of offensive language before she became aware of the teen’s speaking in unacceptable language after church. Also, he will want to find out from her whether other young people have used language at church that she found unacceptable. In addition, he will want to find out more about which other influences the child has. From the teenage boy, he will want to hear whether or not it is true that he used inappropriate language and also ask him whether he has ever used this type of language around the six-year olds or any other group of children, whether at church, school, or anywhere.
For the sake of pursuing this scenario, the assumption is that the boy indeed used inappropriate language after church and admits to doing so, but has never done so in class. The mother of the six-year old is not aware of any other source this could have come from, and the mother of the teenager is still not terribly concerned about the situation, even if her son used wrong language.
The youth pastor will want to spend sufficient one-on-one time with the teenage boy to ensure that he understands that this is not about punishment, but rather about being reconciled to someone (even more so a sister in Christ) who has a problem with his behavior. He should spend time taking him through passages in Scripture that speak to holy living and explain to him why this is so important in the body of Christ, not only to avoid conflict, but to grow in holiness. When the young man understands that while the world may think nothing of using this type of language casually, it is offensive to those who are in Christ, and it is even more offensive to a parent of a young child, as they are protective of their offspring.
Once the teenager understands which impact his behavior has had, the youth pastor will want to gently encourage him to seek restoration. The easiest way to this is to confess one’s sin to the offended person – and ultimately to God. Poirier writes, “James instructs us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). I have witnessed lengthy conflicts dissipate like the morning mist through a single, heartfelt confession of sin.” The “Seven A’s of Confession”, listed by Sande, can be a useful tool here. The youth pastor should encourage the young man to address everyone involved (including his mother), avoid adding qualifiers to his confession, admit specifically how and when he went wrong, accept the consequences (the mother may not want him back in the room teaching with his mom, or she may not want him associating with her son outside of class), alter his behavior (such as promising to not speak in this language again), ask forgiveness of the mom, his mom, the youth pastor, who had to get involved, and as appropriate, the six-year old. Finally, he needs to be ready for the time that might be needed by the mom of the six-year old to forgive. Even if he was not guilty of speaking in inappropriate language, he may want to apologize to the mom that she ever even had an “appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) in his behavior.
Likewise, the mother of the teenager may need to confess that she did not live by Philippians 2:3-4 in this scenario when she waved off the concerns of the mother: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV)
The youth pastor will want to work with the six-year old’s mom on forgiveness by explaining to her that forgiveness is not “indulging the wicked”, but rather, while realizing the sinfulness of the young man’s behavior, to bring them back into the “covenant sealed in Christ’s blood”, the covenant family that God made with his children. He may want to remind her of Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”(NIV) and Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Since the mother of the teenager may have been part of the offense to the mother of the six-year old, forgiveness may be needed in this relationship as well.
Negotiation should at this point not be needed any longer. Only if the mother of the six-year old is not willing to let this go, may the youth pastor have to go to this level of peacemaking. It might involve removing the teenager from the classroom or ensuring that there is supervision for the teenagers of the church as people are exiting.
While this situation can become quickly disruptive to peace in the body, the youth pastor, by taking each party serious and asking first and foremost “What happened?” individually, will be giving the offending and offended parties room to speak their concern, but also to admit their guilt in an offense or their unwillingness to live together in peace over an apparent minor issue that should have been settled between the parties involved. By using the peacemaking practices of confession and forgiveness after these initial meetings, he will do his share to uphold the glory of God in this conflict within this local body of Christ.
Poirier, Alfred. The Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006.