Ministry and the Tyranny of the New

The “tyranny of the new” dominates a minister’s life.

As a minister, I am always tempted to search for something new: a new structure of worship, a new environment for our meetings, a new way to do small groups, a new way to teach, a new event, a new program, a new vision, etc. Entire industries exist to create and sell new things and ideas.

Where Does It Come From?

Some of the drive for new things come from the younger generation of ministers and churches. (I am in this generation.) Many seem to believe that different is better, though I imagine most could not flesh out what it means for a church program to be better than another. Some say that it’s easier to connect to a worship service or event that differs from the normal way of doing things. So there is always a need for new ideas, because each idea has a short lifespan due to the very nature of this mindset.

(See C. S. Lewis’s thoughts on the need for innovation in worship: C. S. Lewis on Worship Innovations.)

Others come from event-driven ministry. There is always a pressure to do a better event, and the easiest way to do a better event is to introduce something new and fresh. If you are attracting people to an interesting or novel event, then you have to introduce changes into the event to keep it new and fresh.

Even where these two factors are not present, there is a still a push for something new because of the very nature of ministry. You talk to the same people two or three times a week for years on end. It’s hard not to feel “emptied” of ideas or stuck in a certain mode. The pressure to hold their attention makes one search for new preaching styles or sermon aides.

But this is weary work. You not only feels the need to produce new ideas, but the latest set of new ideas have to be better than the last set. One always has to be  improving. Once you have a group of Christians trained to expect something new and exciting every few weeks or so, then they grow tired of the “same old” type of new stuff. It might be new, but it’s not fresh enough.

The Problems

The thing that troubles me about this (besides the entertainment factor often involved) is that Christianity is about a way of life. As a ministers, my job is to aide and guide people on a way of life. I’m supposed to train others to live this life. And learning a new way of life takes perseverance, not newness.

There is spiritual discipline involved. Even when we do not feel like worshipping or listening to a sermon or studying the Bible, we are to discipline our bodies (I use this in the sense that Paul does in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) and do it.

More importantly, I do not see the “tyranny of the new” in the Bible. I do not see the Apostles scrambling for a new worship style or a new event. I see a lot of preaching, praying, fasting, and discipling.

A side effect of tyranny of the new is that it trains people to think primarily about their experience when evaluating sermons and worship services. But sometimes your feelings about something do not align with its long-term effectiveness.   Worship in the Bible is not so much about how it makes you feel. It’s much more to do about what you do. And listening to God’s Word is less about your experience of the sermon and more about God’s working through that Word in your life.

To conclude, let me say that I do not think the answer is in ignoring our experiences. That smells of gnosticism (and, perhaps, intellectualism). Instead, I think that our experience needs to be a little farther down our list of priorities. That would overthrow, I believe, the tyranny of the new. I cannot be certain though.

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