- 56% of them wanted the church to make the service truer to historic Christianity.
- 44% of them wanted the church to make the service more contemporary.
- The way I read these results is that people wanted worship to be in the contemporary idiom, but they wanted it to have continuity with the historic Church. They realize, I think, that if God was incarnate in Jesus Christ in the first century, then there has to be continuity with the Church of all ages for our worship to be in touch with the truth. After all, if the early church didn’t get it right, and if things were lost in the middle, then what hope do we have to reconstruct things correctly 21 centuries later?
About Policies on Marriage and Divorce
- 40% of them wanted the church to make the policy about divorce and marriage stricter.
- 60% of them wanted the church to make the policy about divorce and marriage more flexible.
- Generally, when I think of a strict policy, I think of categorical rules that are applied regardless of the situation, and when I think of a flexible policy, I think of principled guidelines that are applied on a case-by-case basis. I personally think that flexible rules are better, because most of the people I know who are alienated from the church got that way because the church applied a categorical rule without regard to the individual merits of the case. In fact, my grandfather’s church would not allow him to marry my grandmother, so they eloped to Canada where they had a civil ceremony, and he was estranged from all organized religion for the rest of his life. If the church seems arbitrary and unreasonable to a person, it loses not just that person, but many of their friends, family, and descendants as well.
The Use of Language
- 36% of them wanted the church to use inclusive language when referring to people, but not when referring to God.
- 14% of them wanted the church to use inclusive language when referring to people and to God.
- 50% of them wanted the church to use the same kind of language that we use in everyday life, to avoid the awkwardness that inclusive language causes, while being circumspect not to exclude anyone.
- I interpret this as meaning that people are sensitive to language that alienates people, but you aren’t necessarily thrilled with the clumsiness that inclusive language often entails.
In my experience, what is normally called ‘inclusive language’ requires lots of circumlocutions and euphemisms, and you have to watch your linguistic step every inch of the way. Eventually you slip into everyday language, and since no one can tell if it was accidental or on purpose, someone tears into you mercilessly. The other problem is that while feminist women demand inclusive language, many other women find it patronizing, so if you are a man, you can’t win. Quite a lot of people who aren’t combatants in the language wars just think you’re an airhead when you talk that way. So I have decided for myself that I will just speak in ordinary, everyday language, and make sure that when I am speaking of people, I am inclusive, and when I am speaking of God, I explain the terminology. So far, that works, and to my great surprise it hasn’t offended any feminists, either.
About Church Structure
- 50% of them wanted the church to make its structure stronger, centralizing things for efficiency.
- 50% of them wanted the church to decentralize its structure to make it more democratic.
- I think your answer depends upon your church. If you belong to an independent congregation, you may yearn for more structure to avoid inefficiency, and if you belong to a highly-structured denomination, you may find it inflexible and stultifying. I think we need to be in the middle somewhere.
- 42% of them wanted the church to tighten ordination standards, not to exclude any class of people, but to make sure clergy are competent, qualified, professional, and well trained.
- 58% of them wanted the church to make it possible for lay people to perform many of the functions that only clergy can do today.
- Your answer to this question depends upon your church. If you belong to an independent congregation, especially if you had a pastor who didn’t measure up, you might yearn for some mechanism to qualify clergy better. If you belong to a centralized church with a well-developed clergy, if your church has a clergy shortage, or if you yearn to be clergy yourself, you might wanted things to be looser. In my experience, I have found that people expect clergy to have special skills and qualifications, probably because in our age, we understand the value of expertise and the dangers of letting amateurs do critical work.
About Members Who don’t Measure Up
- None of them wanted the church to find a way to kick members out if they don’t live up to standards.
- All of them wanted the church to find a way to help members improve if they don’t live up to standards.
- I am gratified that no one chose the Pharisaic way of booting people out who don’t measure up. What kind of a church is it, in which the sinners have no compassion on their fellow sinners?
- 24% of them say you are quite satisfied with the way things are, even if they aren’t absolutely perfect.
- Bear in mind that some of the people who suggested changes also said they were satisfied with the way things are.
- 17% of them had another opinion that isn’t listed here.
- You can read one of the ‘other opinions’ below.
A Sobering Thought
Rachael Arnott of Minnesota had the following to say:
I listed an answer of “other” on the poll today.
I would like my church and denomination to change by being more concerned with our standing and relationships to God.
I feel that we spend [too] much time considering style, music, language, and policy. We are concerned with how these things will make people feel or react to the church. However, I wish we were more concerned with things like; Making sure clergy are supported and encouraged to have a genuine relationship with God. Spending less time going round and round about the preferred style of music in a service and more time preparing our own hearts to worship God. Being more conformed to what God wants to say to us and less concerned with how cultural norms make us sensitive to what words are being used to convey the Word of God. Spending more energy making ourselves right before God than we spend making sure others are.
In the end we must still talk about policy, structure, music, and style. I just wish we would start by asking if we know this God we are working so diligently to serve in those things.
Rachael’s words are very wise, and we should heed them.