Published 1:32pm Thursday, August 12, 2010

The gentleman was retired military and chairman of the pastor search committee. He showed my wife and me the church’s worship center.

“If you become our pastor,” he said while pointing, “that door is where you’ll come out on Sunday morning, and that chair right there is where you’ll sit.”

The only response I could think of, though I didn’t say it, was “Sir! Yes, sir!”

As it turned out, I didn’t become his pastor, but it struck me as odd that the Sunday morning ritual in that church had become so trivial. What did it really matter which door or chair the pastor used? Might it not have been better for the pastor to enter another door and talk with his flock before worship? And why not sit with the congregation sometime and let laypersons handle some of the service?

His was not the only church that had fallen into tradition. I’m afraid it’s well-nigh universal!

The classic story is the one W.A. Criswell of Dallas used to tell about the rural church and its piano. One group thought the piano should be on the left side and the other though it should be on the right side. The group that got to church earliest on Sunday morning would move the instrument over to “their” side and sit there and guard it until worship was over!

Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day for their commitment to man rather than to God. He said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15: 9).

Of course, some traditions are good. No one would deny this. But it’s also true we live in a changing world. There are better and newer ways to do some things.

For example, I remember as a summer youth worker wrestling with a duplicating machine. I’m grateful for photocopy machines and printers. I’m also glad most folks have answering machines so we can leave messages and not have to try to track them down. I also remember not too many years ago that a vendor demanded a faxed document, and we had to call all over town to find someone with a fax machine. Now, or course, these machines are everywhere. And look how e-mail has revolutionized the world’s communication.

These and other changes offer the church a new way of doing ministry. Our mission is the same, but our methods are different.

Another “constant” we have, of course, is the scripture. I heard about one pastor who got confused while moderating a business meeting.

“If there are no corrections or additions,” he said, “then the Bible stands approved as read!”

No, the Bible and our commitment to ministry is changeless. But we mustn’t be so committed to man-made tradition that we refuse to try something new.

Michael J. Brooks is professor of speech and journalism at Judson College.

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