Giving Up Your Preferences for the Sake of Community
Early in my ministry, I worked with a leader as he was planning a worship service. He made an interesting comment about a song he was going to use in the service, saying that he personally did not like the song, but chose it because the people in the church seem to love it. I was surprised to hear this, as I figured those planning worship services would just pick the songs they liked the most -- that is probably what I would have done if I were in his shoes. However, this leader taught me a valuable lesson, not just about worship, but about what it means to be a follower of Christ and in a particular church community -- worship services and ministry should not be based on our personal preferences, but on what is best for the sake of the whole body of believers. I was reminded of this truth as I was reading the new book by Irwyn Ince called The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best. In this good book, Ince states that the path forward to what he calls “the beautiful community” to which God calls us (which has unity in the midst of differences in race, ethnicity, and ideology) involves probing our preferences and dying to our preferences for the sake of something greater. As a follower of Jesus, rather than being focused upon what I want, I should be thinking about what pleases Jesus and others as I lead and participate in the church community.
It’s Not About Me, But About Jesus
When we sing songs - or do anything in a church service or in the life of the church - we need to remember that all of life is to be done for the glory of God, to worship Jesus. This means that if a song is not theologically accurate, we shouldn’t sing it, as Jesus would not be pleased with falsehoods, etc. Similarly, when there are things happening that are out of line with the truth of the gospel, we must both stop and confront it when we see it. (If it is something that is true but just not my style or how I would do things, it can still be pleasing to Jesus.) I need to remember that the only critic and the proper audience for Christians is Jesus, not me. In fact, when I look to Jesus, then I am driven to put aside my preferences as it notes in Philippians 2:4-7: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus came to be a servant not to be served (Mark 10:45). Similarly, when we are in a church community or service, we need to be less focused on what it does “for me” and more about what it is doing for Jesus. We cannot waver from God’s truth, but we also need to recognize the difference between God’s unchanging truth and personal preferences and style.
It’s Not Just Me, But Rather a We
Something else we need to remember is that the church and church services are unlike most things in our world today, they are not designed just with me in mind, but with a broader audience. Most things on the internet are targeted and designed for us (think of our news feeds, etc), and we live in a world in which things are on demand and at our convenience. The church, however, is more like a family -- one in which we all matter and one in which we all have to forego our preferences at times. Sometimes we get our favorite dinner or go to our favorite restaurants, but there are times when we don’t as we need to let others choose their favorites. There are household chores that we do not enjoy doing, and which may benefit us less than others, but yet we do them for the sake of others in our home. We often go to church looking for what we can get out of the service, and if the message didn’t connect strongly or the songs were not our favorites, we complain that “we didn’t get anything out of it.” But perhaps you were not there to consume, but to serve and encourage others. We read in Ephesians 5:19-21 that we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Perhaps the songs that you were singing were ones that others needed to hear, so sing the song you don’t like because it might be the truth that a sister or brother needed that day. Above all, let us remember that we are called to submit to one another out of reverence for our Lord; we serve others because the one whom we serve showed us what it is like to be a servant.
Free to Help Others
In discussing the topic of preferences and being willing to give them up, Ince says this, “Our freedom in Christian community is much more than freedom to eat what we want and drink what we want. Our freedom is the freedom to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Our liberty as Christians is the liberty to die to our own preferences, the liberty to die to our disordered desire to please ourselves all the time” (p. 135). As we live in a world in which everyone wants it their way, let us follow Jesus’s way and seek to serve each other. When we are unselfish and willingly give up what we want, fellow image bearers of God who have different “likes” will benefit and be blessed.
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