When I was 14, usher wasn’t the name of a famous R&B artist, it was the job title of someone who walked people to their seats at an event and/or greeted people with bulletins (programs) and passed offering plates at churches to help collect the weekly donations. It was a job reserved for adults who knew what they were doing, and could be trusted with the money and responsible for all the things that came with the job. For MANY years at the church I grew up in, the job was held exclusively by those very adults – until one year my friend and I dared to do the impossible. A 14 and 15 year old team of young men signed up to be ushers – and the world of ushering at the First Baptist Church in Hudson, WI changed forever.
That was 1996. In 2020, our church doesn’t have ushers – never have – and I KNOW that if you asked a youth group kid from HILLCITY about usher, they’d assume you were talking about the singer. The truth is that the job of usher sort of became obsolete at a church like ours. We don’t hand out programs with the order of service anymore (all the information is on a screen in the front), and we don’t pass an offering plate either (it’s all online or there’s a box in the back). This is just one of the many ways church has changed over the 37 years I’ve been alive.
There are lots of people who are saddened by this type of change. They see it as a loss of tradition and some even see it as a way that people of faith are wading into the waters of being “of the world” – or becoming too much like those we’re trying to reach. Personally, I’m proud of us, you know, the church folk, because I think it demonstrates just how important and revolutionary we think the message we have to share is. As times and methods of communication and engagement have changed and advanced, organizations from every area and aspect of life, have changed, evolved and adapted to use them to their advantage. Those who haven’t no longer exist.
Take movies as an example. When I was in High School, my dad worked at a store called TapeDek, where you could rent VHS tapes to watch movies on your VCR at home. All for the low low price of like 4$. Eventually, they moved from those tapes, to DVD’s, and then BluRay discs. But then, along came Red Box and you could rent DVD’s almost anywhere, and for a buck, and TapeDek was no more. They couldn’t compete or keep up, and so they got left behind. The same thing almost happened to Redbox with the advent of Netflix, except Redbox decided they’d get into the streaming game too, and so they’ve stayed relevant and are still around. Adapt and evolve, to keep the media and your message in front of those who want or are willing to to consume it.
This is where I think church people often miss the mark. We get so caught up in our modes of communication and our models of “doing church,” that we forget that what’s really important – what the whole thing is based on – is the MESSAGE. Jesus’ first followers met in homes every day and lived communally. What was most important to them was that they were living out the message that Jesus had given to them and that they were sharing it with others. They saw it was best done person to person, through physical human interaction. With the advent of the printing press, came the ability to share the message through physical copies of the Bible and other literature that helped people to understand it. With radio and television, came the ability to broadcast that message across the airwaves to anywhere on the planet. With the internet has come the ability to have interactive conversations about that that message with anyone, at anytime. I think these are all good things, AMAZING things, that help spread the message of Jesus to a world desperately in need of it. Can they be abused and used for not so great things? Sure. But the potential for good is SO incredible.
This is why I think the church needs to dedicate itself to being an “ever-changing” organism. Ready to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of our world and reach them with the life-giving, life-changing message of Jesus Christ. That’s what’s important. The modes and methods change all the time, but the message NEVER does. As long as “we” as followers of Jesus are sharing what He shared and living how He lived – how we disseminate the message doesn’t matter. In fact, we’d be wrong if we didn’t take advantage of EVERY opportunity within our reach to get it out there. We wouldn’t hesitate to use whatever methods necessary to put out a fire that was endangering the lives of those we love, and we shouldn’t hesitate to use whatever we’ve got to reach those who are far from God either.
I just saw Usher on TV on New Years Eve. He performed a medley of his greatest hits, and the crowd went wild. As he was performing, his social media handles flashed on the screen, and when he was done, they told us all where we could download and stream his music digitally. 15 years ago you had to buy it on a disc. 30 years ago you would’ve had to have a tape. Before that an 8 track, vinyl, you get the point. I’m sure 15 years from now kids in our youth group won’t even know who Usher was, much like kids now don’t know what I mean when I say I was one. But as long as I’m around HILLCITY, there’s one thing they will know – and that’s who Jesus was and is. I’ll use whatever I have to to tell them. Who know’s, I might even get to use a flying car. Modes and methods change – His message never does. It has stood the test of time, and will last for the rest of it. And for that, I am eternally grateful.