So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, anyaffection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4
Dr Lee: “Do you remember why I made you section leader?” Sean: “You said, it seemed that I liked the sound of the line above the sound of my own drum.” Dr. Lee: “I’m not sure what happened, it might have something to do with Devon, or maybe something else, but it seems you’ve lost sight of this (pause)… which is okay, because at some point, we all lose our way. But if you don’t get past this, and start to go back to what made you section leader, you won’t be able to lead anything, not even this little drumline.”
Not everyone has seen the movie Drumline; if you haven’t, I recommend watching it before reading this post because I’m going to be talking about it.
Now, in Drumline there is a very clear conflict between 2 people, 2 types of people. On the one hand you have the young, cool, trendy drummer who likes to shake things up and beat to his own rhythm (Devon), literally, and on the other have you have the older, more mature, seasoned drummer who like to keep order, not make too much noise, and not do anything new or different (Sean). The 2 types of drummers are a part of the same band and school, they are in the same community together, so they are forced to confront the differences they have with one another and there is a lot of struggle and confrontation in the process. A climax to that confrontation is when the older drummer visits the band instructor, Dr. Lee, and the dialogue above takes place. Dr. Lee tells Sean that he was made the section leader of the drumline because he “liked the sound of the line above the sound of his own drum.” In the midst of the rivalry that he partially created with Devon, he had forgotten his purpose and what made him great as a leader. He was putting his own interests, essentially, before the interests of others.
Basically, Sean really needed to hear what the apostle Paul was telling the church at Philippi and look to the example of humility provided by Jesus Christ. Eventually, in the movie, the two drummers, the older and younger get along with one another and co-write a blended music piece to be performed for a big performance at the end of the movie. This conflict and situation is relevant because in a sense, this is exactly what is happening with many churches today.
In many churches, there is a conflict that exists or at least one that is rising between older and younger generations of Christians. Many of the older believers are clinging to the tradition that has existed at their church and that they have been keeping for so many years. They are defending and guarding the tradition of the local church. The defending and guarding is a good thing, but the object of what is being defended and guarded is typically not the Gospel, but something else. That is not a good thing and is a form of idolatry because people are not defending and guarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but have placed that emphasis on something else. What’s important in the church, among Christians, and among individual Christians within those local churches has been lost or confused over the years for something that is less important. These churches were once about proclaiming the Gospel of God, but have settled for emphasizing other things for church growth, what is comfortable, or in order to look like other churches. They have chosen to please others and themselves at the expense of pleasing God and have stopped being the church. Instead of putting the interests of others before themselves, they have put their own interests before others. Instead of communities of selfless, Gospel-centered grace, they have become factories of misplaced selfish desires.
It’s as the apostle Paul says, instead of focusing on sound teaching and doctrine and the Gospel, they have sought teachers for their own desires, preachers for their own preferences (2 Tim. 4:3-4), and cast aside the true Gospel for a lesser gospel that is not centered on Christ, but centered on themselves. Many churches have lost focus and in serving one generation of believers they have isolated or left out other generations who are younger who are still a part of the church. Theses churches have become like Sean in Drumline. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far to say that many older generations of Christians have become types of bullies.
Conversely, many younger Christians have become much like Devon. They are passionate, excited, and ready to take on the world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, they need to change everything there is to change about their local church in order to make it more exciting, more trendy, more hip according to their own preference. These Christians sense a tradition that has lost it’s focus, but instead of humbly confronting other Christians who have lost their focus many of these younger Christians have rebelled and partially created divisions in churches and some have left and created new churches like themselves. Many older generations of Christians do lack a sense of community and connection to younger generations and many lack a focus on serving the communities around them and have become very ingrown or inward focused. In reaction to this lack of connection and lack of having a voice in the church, younger generations try to build their own mini-church within the church or they leave and go somewhere where they have the freedom to worship as they like and with people who are more accommodating.
Some of these mini-churches have become commonplace in Christian churches such as the development of youth groups. Youth groups are not an old, historic part of the church, they are a new development in Christian history. Many sociologists and professors of religion are studying why younger generations of Christians have been leaving the church and not coming back. Some of the primary reasons younger Christians leave the church isn’t because everything isn’t according to their liking in worship, but rather they felt disconnected from the broader church in their own mini-church (youth group), lacked a sense of real community, were not discipled, and felt largely unequipped to go out into the world. Many younger Christians are leaving because they think their churches are giving them naive moral lessons and do not honestly give science a fair hearing.
As a result, younger generations are leaving more traditional churches and either fleeing the church for good, or they are leaving and joining churches that are more like Hillsong or Acts 29 churches, where there is more freedom to worship in a manner that is more contextualized for younger generations, where they can plug-in to community, and where they are allowed to ask the deep, difficult questions that they might have about God, the Bible, the world, and science. Some are fleeing traditional Christianity and orthodox doctrine altogether for the Emergent Church. As cool and appealing churches like Hillsong NYC or the Acts 29 Network churches are, the fact of the matter is that most younger generations are simply leaving church and not coming back. They have tried to make their voice heard and tried to bolster their excitement and ideas for their local church, but essentially are giving up on the church and finding community elsewhere. These younger generations of Christians are a lot like Devon who struggles to fit in with the band and the drumline, and eventually decides to quit.
However, the movie Drumline doesn’t end there. Devon and Sean confront one another in the band practice room, after Sean was given the advice by Dr. Lee at the beginning of this post, and they try to drum their frustration out and in the process the older drummer, Sean, focuses on the talent of Devon and pays him a compliment. Devon, astonished that Sean would care to say anything kind to him, responds with gratitude and the two go onto write a piece together with a combination of their very different styles. I couldn’t help but think that this is how the church ought to be. No, not everyone should have cornrows in their hair like Devon (only some can pull that off), but if Christians can do what Sean and Devon did at the end of the movie and set aside their own interests for the interests of one another and ultimately the whole band, imagine what churches could accomplish. The truth is older generations have a lot to contribute to the church and could greatly bless younger generations in modeling a mature faith for younger Christians, loving younger and older generations, showing younger generations what a godly marriage looks like, mentoring, discipling younger believers, and guarding/defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ (instead of some secondary thing). Younger generations have a lot to contribute to the church as well. They can help implement old worship songs in a new way, bring their artistic emphases to the worship service and use it for God’s glory, help establish godly community in churches, show older generations that it is okay to enjoy worship and have fun worshipping God, and humbly submit to the wisdom and leading of more mature Christians in churches (elders and deacons).
Younger and older generations have a lot to offer churches, but both seem to put their own interests before the interests of others. The result is dying churches or churches that cause a lot of pain and hardship for people and many of those people leave the church. The Body of Christ is, as Paul explains, one Body with many members and each has a different function to support the whole. A lot like a band in some ways. You take one member out, it starts to hurt the sound of the whole band. You take more than one member out, and it starts to change the music being played. You take lots of members out of the band, and you can no longer truthfully say you’ve got a band and need to rebuild.
Like Dr. Lee has said to Sean in the movie, many Christians churches have lost focus. Instead of guarding and defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they have guarded and defended their own preferences for other things and have lost sight of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is and what the church is called to be and do. Other churches have become so focused on appealing to younger generations and to one specific people group that they have isolated themselves from other generations of Christians and effectively communicated that ‘you cannot be a part of our church unless you are as cool as us.’ The Christian church isn’t a game of dodge ball where people pick teams and sides and battle it out until the best team wins, throwing insults and derogatory comments and complaints and bitterness towards one another, the Christian church is called to be the called people of God comprised of all ages, all races, both sexes, untied together to enjoy and glorify God in the local church and in their communities and in the world.
I pray that Christians in churches in the United States specifically can lay aside their differences and have the mind of Jesus Christ, as Paul says in Philippians, and count the interests of others as more important than their own.
I pray that Christians would stop complaining about one another and focusing so much on the differences they have with others and start focusing on the mission of God and loving others more.
I pray that churches would rethink how they are doing church and start basing their activities and theology off of the Bible and the historic tradition of Christianity and seek to contextualize the Gospel to reach this modern world in which we live, instead of basing how they do things on their own selfish desires and desires for vain worldly glory.