Dynamic Equilibrium: Part One

As a pastor, I’ve always been amazed (and stymied) by the almost constant struggle between the traditionalists and the progressives. I’m using these terms for lack of something better. Just so you know where I’m coming from, let me give you a couple of quick definitions.Be-dynamic-for-God

The traditionalists are the ones who want things to be the way they always were (at least in their memories). They want the old favorite hymns, readings from the Psalter, and a bulletin that lays out exactly what the order of the day happens to be. Then there are the progressives. They don’t want anything to be like the good old days. These folks want all the latest worship music, free-form-spirit-led services, and no readings from anywhere (except maybe a poem by Maya Angelou).

I’ve been around a rather long time. I understand both sides (and all those folks in between). I’ve always listened to them and tried to march to their drumbeat. That, of course, is impossible. But, hey, what are you going to do? I’m just a preacher, not a magician.

We all want to attract new people to our worship services.

These folks all have one thing in common. They want to attract new people to their worship services. One side says, “We’ve got to return to the ways that attracted all those folks we had in the past.” The other side says, “No one wants to attend a stuffy old service like we used to have, we’ve got to beef it up.” Okay…

Equilibrium.svgThe fact of the matter is neither side seems to know what they’re talking about. They only know what they want. A quick study of today’s church will show both of these approaches work under the right circumstances. There are mega-churches that cater to one or the other of these groups. They are (by attendance terms) successful.

On the other hand, the opposite is true as well. There are plenty of struggling congregations who hold to one or the other of these philosophies with similar results—they continue to struggle with low attendance.

Does worship style really matter?

So what’s my point? It’s simple. The style of worship is merely a personal preference. If you do either of them well (and I stress the word, “well”), I suspect you will be pleasing in the Lord’s sight. Your neighborhood might not be attracted to it, but God will know you have worshiped. Our big problem is not our style of worship. It’s our belief that somehow our style of worship is going to be our big attraction.

A while back, I attended a Small Church Seminar. The speaker came up with an interesting term. He averred that small churches who don’t grow any larger can have “dynamic equilibrium.” Chew on that one for a bit. His point was, we might not be growing numerically, but we can still be a dynamic congregation equalibrium(regardless of our style).

The deeper question is not our worship style. It’s our approach to everyday ministry. Dynamic churches have a good approach—dying congregations do not. (To be continued.)


[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Blue Haired Ladies (and Gents)

bluehairI once heard a Christian leader commenting on the aging of their denominational   congregations. He said, “As we look across the pews these days, we see a lot of blue-haired ladies.” Everyone got a chuckle out of that little observation, but the truth behind this giggle producer was the fact that the denomination was slowly dying.

The stark reality in many churches is that the backbone of their ministry is the blue-haired woman. This is a testament to the perseverance of these mighty saints of God. Unfortunately, it’s also a testimony to some problems within.

“I don’t mean that in any sexist sort of way.”

One of those problems is the lack of male leadership. We men-types have often abdicated the throne (and I don’t mean that in any sexist sort of way). We just aren’t doing what the Lord called us to do. Our position is often, “Hey! If the women are willing to do it, let them.” That, of course, points to an underlying attitude of laziness or apathy. Active churchwomen become a convenient excuse for our willingness to do nothing. It also puts the females in the position of having to pick up the slack. It’s a vicious cycle.

blue hairAnother of those problems is the dwindling number of young people in our congregations. I don’t have time to write a book about the reasons behind that one. Suffice it to say, it’s becoming more and more of a reality.

It has dawned on me that we need more blue-haired ladies. I know that’s not what you expected me to say at this point, but hear me out.

I’ve noticed the past couple of decades that many of our youth are sporting various unnatural hues of coiffure. In other words, wildly colored hair. Blue is one of them (not to mention purple, candy apple red, and Kelly green). I’ve noticed this in the malls, on the street, and in our schools. I have to say, however, I haven’t seen much of this in the various congregations I’ve been privileged to visit.

Our attitude stinks!

One of the reasons for this is probably the attitude of the riotously stylish ones. If they’re radical enough to dye their hair blue, they probably think Christianity is uncool (or at least boring). I fear the problem runs much deeper than that, however.

davidlynchThe real problem for us is our own attitude. How many congregations would welcome these new blue-haired ladies (and gents) with open arms? How many would take them seriously? How many of these young folks would experience the coldness of a shoulder or the iciness of a stare if they dared darken our church doors. Frankly, I shudder to contemplate the probable answers to these questions.

If any of you reading this today are of the blue-haired variety, let me say this to you. You are welcome in our congregation. We would be excited to have you as part of our worshiping community. That goes for both the old ones and the young ones. We could use a few more blue hairs.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]  

Don’t Tell Anyone

PublicityWhen it was revealed to his disciples that he was the Messiah, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone. That, my friends, is how to display a wonderful sense of security.

The same thing occurred once when he healed someone. He told them not to let his secret out. Hmmm…

I have to be honest and tell you, I would have a dickens of a time doing that. If I had cast out a pile of demons or caused the blind to see, I would have been quick to spread the good news. “Hey! Did you see what I did? Did you notice the kind of power I can wield?”

“Egos need stroking…”

Fortunately for all of us, I’m not Jesus. I do, however, desire to be more like him. But unlike him, I’m too insecure to let my little victories slide by unnoticed. Sometimes I try to use someone else to spread my legend. I’ve developed some pretty sneaky techniques to garner a few pats on the back. After all, egos do need some stroking from time to time.

Jesus, of course, changed his tactics when it came time for him to leave the planet. At his Ascension into Heaven, he told everyone it was time to get the word out. I have to say; I think I would have mustered a better plan than to trust a small gathering of very fallible people to do my PR work. Still, it seems to have worked fairly well.

It seems to me, we can take a pointer from Jesus here about taking credit for extrastuff. We often worry more about our status than we do our results. Jesus deserved to be lauded—not just for what he did, but even more so for whom he is. Outside of Jesus, I’m nobody. Yet my constant striving is to be somebody important (or, at least, to be liked). I want to be like Jesus, but I’m so far from there that I can’t see it from here.

If I could just do what I do and leave the public relations to Jesus, I’d be a whole lot better off. I suspect this is a common malady.

About our Father’s business…

I’m not sure why we think we’re our best promoters (or why we even need promoting). Yet, blowing our own horn is a temptation that’s almost impossible to overcome.

When Jesus was twelve years old, he became separated from his family on a trip to Jerusalem. By the time they figured out where he was, he had spent a considerable amount of time with the elders in the Temple. When his parents asked him why, he simply answered that he had to “be about [his] Father’s business.”

That seems to me to be a good philosophy for life. If we were going about our Father’s business each day, we would undoubtedly be better off than we are. Plus, if we’re doing our Father’s business, there’s no need for self-promotion. The Lord will be our publicity agent.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]