Here is a warning that is worth taking to heart: "Beware of establishing traditions in the Kingdom of God." Why? Because God is the only being in all of History that is the "I Am." Everything else is "i am." As a Pastor who serves in a Wesleyan-Methodist denomination, I've seen how great moves of God in the past become monuments in the present. I have seen people passionately defend traditions more than faith itself. I have heard language that treats methods from the first Methodist movement as if they were more sacred than scripture, and more desirous than the very presence of God.
All traditions begin as powerful experiences:
Consider the hymns. If you were to investigate the stories behind them you would discover that the authors of those songs were inspired through deep pain, great joy, passionate experiences, revival fire, and the like. People were touched in the moment and the song caught on. From that moment, of a soul being stirred by a particular experience and the expression of that experience, the human tendency is to reproduce that experience over and over again.
All traditions are fed by seeking repetitive blessings from old wine and old wine skins.
Once the fire is birthed in our hearts from a particular experience we seek to make it a tradition. Like an addict we seek to relive the same-old-high over and over again. The problem is, we're seeking the "high" from something "low." We're seeking a spiritual experience from earthly things.
Manifestations of God's Movements are Evidence of True Spirituality, but not spiritual in and of themselves.
The hymn is only the manifestation of a spiritual work in the heart of the author. Every form flows out of an encounter with God. The encounter is not in the form, the encounter is with God Himself. Because of this truth, all Christians must be careful not to worship objects of any kind, events, locations, people, art-forms and the like.
If a person knows God ... really, truly knows God... worship and experiences with God can happen in any location at any time, in any way. God becomes the constant for our lives and the rest is just stuff.
The truth is that many churches have this unspoken rule: You can worship God with us as long as you do so in the framework of our traditions. Traditions are not only old, they are new things as well. New songs and new methods can become just as addictive as old forms and methods.
Traditions cause division.
Traditions in the familial sense, cause division even though many would argue that they cause unity. Think about a newly married couple who faces their first Thanksgiving holiday as husband and wife. Whose family tradition will they honor? Will they go to the husband's family gathering or the wife's? Who will they say "no" to and how much guilt will be heaped on them for not honoring the family tradition? Are not our families worth more to us than our traditions? Is your family a family because of the tradition, or was the tradition just a manifestation of the mutual love you share? Evelvate the love and crucify the tradition.
The same is true in churches. Worship was never intended to be traditional (whether old or new) it was intended to be sacrificial and spiritual.
In the end, the simple solution is the have clear understanding of what is truly important. Worship God and God alone. Enjoy the manifestations that are birthed in the community of faith through moments of rejoicing, pain, revival and so forth. The moment they happen, beware of establishing a tradition.
One glaring example is the song "The Heart of Worship." It has a powerful story of how a worship leader wrestled with their own modern-day traditionalism and returned to true worship. The result? A generation of song-followers who worshiped the song. We must be very, very careful of our tendency toward traditionalism in all its forms.
Here is how we get from life-giving God experiences to death-inducing traditions:
I have a confession to make. I'm a chronic people-pleaser. I didn't get here over night and learning to handle the condition in my life and learn to manage it is a daily struggle. If you have the people-pleaser gene you hear every comment of every person through this filter: I Must do something about what was just said to me. Once people know you respond this way, they tend to over-use and abuse you because they know the rule: pull the string and get a response. Being godly is not about people pleasing. Jesus wasn't a people pleaser... he was a Father-pleaser... Jesus was holy and whole.
People pleasers can learn to say "no" but they must also learn to release the anxiety that comes with the results of saying "no." Once you refuse to please the person, you actually disrupt yourself. It's easier to say yes and bear the brunt of whatever comes sometimes than it is to say no and bear the anxiety. Anybody out there with me? So what is a chronic people-pleaser supposed to do in terms of following Jesus? Quite simply, we please God first and let Him deal with the demands of people.
God is not a people pleaser. In fact, much of God's interactions with His beloved creation are not "pleasing" at all. Quite the opposite. God is more dis-pleasing than pleasing because God is holy... higher... eternal... wiser... greater. God doesn't need to please you to get your vote because He is already the Supreme King of the Universe, Casting a vote against God only harms yourself. Being a wise leader that appropriately handles the numerous expectations of people is part of a pastor's job. We are the ears that hear the vast array of feedback (especially negative) that comes from the flock. Here are some lessons I've learned as a pastor who is learning to overcome chronic people-pleasing.
1. Know when to engage and disengage. Some feedback requires response, but not all feedback requires response. Weigh every situation and consider every source of feedback. If the source is good, sound, just and accurate in their assessment, then listen carefully and learn. If the source is emotional, reactive, self-seeking, pot-stirring and such, then listen carefully and teach the person (albeit with difficult truth) about what is happening in them. Sometimes it's godly for me to learn from feedback and sometimes its godly for me to teach out of feedback.
2. If you've been spinning plates for people unnecessarily, let the plates fall and break. If you find yourself caught in the trap of constantly responding to people's demands, that cycle of behavior is unhealthy and must stop. If you hand is constantly spinning that plate balancing on the top of the pole, there comes a time when you must release your hands of the plate. Quite simply, it's not a pastor's job to manage someone else's life. Being a good shepherd means you raise healthy sheep, not dependent sheep. If I die tomorrow, who will respond to everyone's demands? People will survive without the over-engaging involvement of a people-pleaser. Step away from the plates and let the people learn to manage.
3. Is God Pleased? ... THAT is the question. I am a pastor of people, but I am first a child of God. You can only serve one Master. Either you will please people and not please the Father, or you will please the Father and not please people. I've learned that people pleasing takes energy that otherwise is best given to my relationship with God. If I'm going to seek to fulfill anyone's expectations I will seek to please the One who died for me, not the one who would rather I die for them.
4. All Good Leadership Takes People Through Difficult Change. You can't be a people pleaser and lead people to spiritual growth. All spiritual growth that lasts comes through a crucible. The best lessons in life are learned in the meat grinder. Good leadership knows how to recognize those moments and help people through them, and not giving in to the temptation to just keep everyone comfortable. Good leaders lead... we're not flight attendants or waiters... we're there to help people develop in their own godliness, getting out of God's way to let Him do His work in other's hearts.
In general, pastors are called to lead others and teach others to do the work of ministry. It is not the pastor's job to do all of the ministry. There is much more that could be said on this topic. For instance:
Unlike an overstuffed sofa that just beckons to lure you in, then swallow you with comfort, lulling you into sleep, Christianity (i.e. Following Jesus) is quite different. In fact, it's un-settling. The ways of Jesus, commands of Jesus, thoughts of Jesus, call of Jesus, and so on are so contrary to our earthly routine, that the day-to-day rhythm of the Christian is actually not rhythm at all. Rather, it's a life of change-ups, hiccups, mental rearrangements, personal discoveries, divine discoveries, repentance moments, race-running, opposition-encountering, devil-resisting and forgiveness-grace-and-mercy releasing.
Matthew 8:19-20 NIV Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." (20) Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
The most grievous form of erroneous Christianity today is one that embraces a "gospel" of comfort and ease; a "gospel" where you just lay in the hammock and let God "do His thing while you take it easy." A "gospel" where checks magically show up in your mailbox and everything just kinda works out. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ will un-settle everything comfortable in your soul. Why is the primary job of the Holy Spirit to convict the world in regards to sin and righteousness? (
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.