Remember the movie Groundhog Day? Bill Murray played an obnoxious reporter doomed to repeat the same day over and over: reporting whether the rodent sees his shadow, being rejected by a beautiful lady, waking up to Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe” on the radio. He’s stuck in Groundhog Day hell.
Ever been stuck like this? I have. (Minus the groundhog and Sonny and Cher, thank goodness.) Do the same thing. Make the same mistakes. Cling to habits and traditions that don’t work. It stifles my growth as a wife and mother, as a writer and a Christian. But I don’t see any other way of doing things, and like Murray’s character, I can’t escape.
Churches can be the same way.
Some members resist change; in their minds, what they’ve done in the past is how things must be done in the future. We must sing hymns; we can’t have praise choruses or worship bands with (horrors!) drums. We must have Sunday night church and a Wednesday evening prayer meeting; God forbid our members have free evenings to spend time with family. We must have pews (no folding chairs) and burgundy carpeting in the sanctuary (or beige or brown or whatever).
Why? “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking hymns, organs, or prayer meetings. (Burgundy carpeting is a different story.) Tradition isn’t necessarily bad. Correct theology must be taught and prayer must be continued. They are worth fighting for.
There is something glorious about singing hymns with organ accompaniment, just like there is something invigorating about singing along to electric guitars and drums. So I’m not advocating burning the hymnals or the drumsticks. (I love both.) That’s a personal preference. As long as we’re worshipping in spirit and in truth, there’s no problem with either style.
I’m talking about the spirit of selfishness that wants our way even when our stubborn and divisive attitude hurts others.
Sometimes our entire reason for our resistance to change is because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Or to invert the phrase: We’ve never done it like that before. We’ve never thought about whether this particular type of meeting or church committee or service format really works to effectively advance the kingdom of God.
If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, ditch it.
But for heaven’s sakes, think about it. Consider whether this particular tradition fulfills Jesus’ two greatest commands: love God and love your neighbor. Otherwise, stubbornness kicks in, harsh words are exchanged, and people are torn apart over trivial things. Love is lost.
Like Bill Murray’s character, we haven’t considered that the best way to win Andie McDowell is with kindness rather than tacky come-ons. But while she merely slaps him in the face, a church might die.
A church I attended during part of college almost split over the style of music. Some of the members wanted the music to appeal to students: worship choruses, a band, lyrics projected on a screen at the front of the sanctuary. The other part of the church was horrified: “We’ve never done it that way before.”
Neither side would budge. The church leadership saw a metaphorical groundhog’s shadow and the prospect of a long stretch of spirit-deadening winter, and finally compromised by having two services: a traditional one and a contemporary one.
Neither side was satisfied. I got the impression that there were two churches residing in the same building, neither friendly to the other. (So much for love and unity.) It was never about worship style, really; it was about the members’ attitudes and hearts toward others.
In the movie, Murray finally changes. He breaks the cycle with trial-and-error, testing whether this particular line worked in wooing McDowell, changing his attitude about the groundhog, and showing more love and kindness toward others. He awakes the day after Groundhog Day with the beautiful lady by his side. (He still had to listen to “I’ve Got You Babe” on the radio, though.)
He broke free by changing his attitude from obnoxious to kind, from lust to love, from selfish to sacrificial.
He broke free by being willing to change.
It’s a lesson Christians would do well to learn.