So many fairy tales feature them that it’s almost a cliche’ – the unwanted and abused stepchild. In almost every case, it’s the daughter of a previous marriage. The father marries the love of his life, who bears a single baby girl before passing away. He remarries in desperation to a woman who already has at least three older daughters, all of whom are ugly and abusive. He then passes away, leaving his daughter to become a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters.
Pity the unwanted stepchild – who gets tossed the crumbs of her betters and constantly reminded of how fortunate she is to be permitted the table scraps. But don’t pity them too much. Those in such humble circumstances have no way to go but up, and every “rags to riches” story has to begin with rags.
The members of our church’s contemporary worship team often refer to our service as the “unwanted stepchild” of our church. We always say it with a chuckle and a smile – our service is well-established, and has been drawing a decent crowd on Sunday mornings for the past ten years.
Most of us feel that we have been around long enough to prove the value of the contemporary style of worship, but we also know that a decade is just a drop in the bucket to the average methodist. We may laugh when we joke about it, but sometimes too loudly. No one knows better bald jokes than a guy without hair, but you can’t help but wonder if he isn’t wincing on the inside while he’s laughing with you. So it is with the ‘stepchild’ contemporary worship team.
The interesting thing about the “rags to riches” fairy tales is not the ending so much as it is the way our victim gets there. I think that there are some lessons that we can learn from two different approaches to this familiar story.
If the tale is being told in America, it’s always a fairy godmother who makes it happen through strong doses of magic. Cinderella gets an enchanted carriage and a magic makeover that wins the heart of the prince at the ball. Not a lot of effort on her part there.
European versions of the same fairy tale have Cinderella using her wits to out-smart and out-maneuver her step mother and sisters. She mixes cleverness with guile to do an end-run around those trying to prevent her success, and ensnares the prince with the winning combination of good looks and feminine whiles.
Contemporary worship teams in traditional churches often have good reason to feel locked in the role of the unwanted stepchild. We also long to trade our rags for riches, at least riches that can be measured in increased attendance and souls won for the kingdom of God. The question is – which model of Cinderella will we choose to follow?
Strong believers in the supernatural, it is common for us to put God in the role of the fairy godmother of the story. All we need to do is pray – and wait for the harvest. Bend your knees, say the words, and the rest is up to God. Wait for the magic. The pews in the contemporary service will fill, and the worship team is vindicated in the eyes of all.
It is not a lack of faith in God that leads me to believe that this is the wrong approach. Prayer is an essential starting point – all of our efforts are doomed to failure without it. God is the one who sends the harvest, but Jesus reminds us in the very same prayer to ask that God will send laborers to bring it in as well. Welcome to the field.
The European version of our Cinderella specializes in hard work & guile to achieve her goal. Good worship team members will be hesitant to use her for a model. It smacks of using trickery or deceit in order to succeed. Deception doesn’t sound like the right approach for God-fearing leaders, nor should it be. But there is nothing wrong with hard work.
We must take a more active role in our ministry. Field workers do not wait for the harvest to come to them – they go out into the field. This means active involvement in our communities, and constant openness to ways that we can meet the needs of those in our field of influence. We are His hands, and we must not forget it.
There may be no place for guile and deceit in our position as the unwanted stepchild of the church, but there is certainly room for wisdom and strategy. The Bible enjoins us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Solomon prayed for wisdom first, and was granted additional gifts as a result. The entire book of Proverbs is an entreaty to let wisdom guide your steps, and contemporary worship teams in traditional churches need to value wisdom above all other virtues.
We should exercise wisdom in our dealings with members of our congregation who are not comfortable with contemporary worship and the inconveniences it causes them. Even in situations where we are strongly relegated to our unwanted stepchild role, we must always respond with love and patience. We are striving for the same goals, even if we choose to take different approaches. We must build bridges, not fences.
It is also wise to form an intentional strategy for attracting and retaining the unchurched in our community. The apostle Paul wrote that he needed to be “all things to all people”, and we should follow his example. If our goal is to reach people for Christ, we must meet them where they are, not bemoan the fact that they aren’t where we would like them to be. We need to develop a process to draw them in, give them a style of service that makes them want to come back, and guide them in forming a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ.
The European model of Cinderella holds the best hope of success for “unwanted stepchildren” contemporary worship teams. But regardless of the approach taken, Cinderella’s triumph occurs when she marries the prince and goes from rags to riches. Success for a contemporary worship team is a growing service that is reaching lives for Christ, but let’s never forget that the whole church is the bride of Christ. We already enjoy that relationship, regardless of our chosen method of worship.
No matter where our worship team falls in the “pecking order” of the church, God’s love for us never changes. Regardless of the wrong-minded thoughts and attitudes that we may adopt toward each other at times, there are never any unwanted stepchildren in God’s family.