By Greg Johnson
There’s a scene in the movie Moneyball where baseball manager, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) is talking to his lead scout. They’re arguing about trying a new method of putting together a team that is different than traditional scouting. In the middle of the argument, Billy is fed up and says says, “adapt or die.” What a great statement! And it applies pretty much everywhere you look. Case in point – Blockbuster is closing their final 300 stores – at their peak they had 6,000 stores. As a start-up company, they completely revolutionized the video industry. They started with VHS rentals and moved to DVDs as the technology changed. However, when video streaming entered the scene, they didn’t anticipate or adapt to the newer technology quickly and effectively. Enter Netflix and exit Blockbuster. Adapt or die.
In the worship arena, there are many opinions and models on how to effectively present the gospel in a church environment. There is a traditional mindset, a liturgical mindset, a contemporary mindset, a modern mindset, a “blended” mindset, and so on. And, getting into conversations with hard-liners in any of these genres can be at your own peril. It’s surprising how emotional it can get, with some mistaking style and preference for right and wrong. And I’m sure you already know this, but there is more than one right answer where this is concerned. While methodology helps contextualize the Gospel, it’s less about the method (which is likely about you), and more about giving an accurate picture of Jesus.
Methodology doesn’t change the message. As worship leaders, we carry a timeless message, but the method we use to communicate should be changing and adapting because culture is always evolving. Because of that, we need to be aware of changes in culture and willing to adapt our methodology accordingly. As Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Having said that, no method trumps the power of God. That is why you experience God at a Passion Conference, at Brooklyn Tabernacle, and in a dirt floor metal building in Mexico. Methods are important, but only to contextualize the Gospel to make sure the hearer “gets it.”
Obviously, the unwillingness to adapt has natural consequences, like irrelevance, or even worse, death. Now, the word relevant has become a dirty word of late, due to overuse or misuse. But relevancy is all about connection. Do you desire to connect with people in a way they understand? If so, here is the key: It’s not about you and your comfort level, but your willingness to adapt and grow for the sake of the gospel. Here are some things to think about as you navigate through the new year.
- Go where God is leading – It has to start here, in a daily relationship with God. And this is so important for “professional Christians.” Don’t let anything trump your daily time with God. It is the fuel for your ministry. It is where you will receive direction. And, if you are neglecting it, it is hurting both you and those you lead. If you don’t adapt to that concept, you will not have longevity in ministry, and the ministry you currently have will be a shell of what it could be.
- Stretch yourself – If you are too locked in to one style (Tomlin, Bethel, Hillsong, Elevation, Houghton, the Baptist Hymnal), time to stretch yourself and start listening to a larger cross section of the music that’s out there and available. If you don’t repackage hymns, maybe it’s time to start. Use a choir one week if you normally don’t. Or, if you normally do, give it a rest for a week. Vary instrumentation, whatever. Just experiment outside yourself – your people will appreciate the change.
- Hang out with people who are not like you – Too often, we insulate ourselves with like-minded people. While it’s wise to have an inner circle, if you are not spending time regularly with people who see things differently, you are probably not putting yourself in a position to learn and grow. There is wisdom in diversity of thought and/or action. All truth is God’s truth, so don’t be afraid to get outside your box and add some variety to those you spend time with. “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” (George Bernard Shaw)
- Ask more questions of the people you lead – If people are not connecting and engaging under your worship leadership, you have two options: keep powering through, or ask “why” to the people you are leading. This is a scary proposition, because you will get lots of self-serving comments that you will have to filter through to get good information. But, if you are willing to invest the time, themes often emerge. For instance, if out of 20 people, 5 say it’s too loud (25%), then it’s probably too loud. If you hear from 5 people that you do too many (or not enough) new songs, ad lib too much, are distracted by your fashion choices, then it is something to take a hard look at, because if 5 of 20 are saying it, many others are likely thinking it. Asking questions takes thick skin, a willingness to really listen, and respond accordingly if change is in order.
The bottom line is this, Billy Beane was right, if we’re not adapting, we’re dying. The message never changes for us – the Gospel is the Gospel – but our methodology must be held loosely. Your willingness to change, grow or adapt could well be a matter of life…or death.