When we first moved to the county and began to look for churches, we eagerly searched for contemporary worship services. Our last church, which was non-denominational, had been a refreshing change from the one before.
The church before also offered a contemporary worship style, but it was dated – singing older new songs more frequently and newer songs much less frequently. But for the contemporary music it offered, it’s theology took a turn into complementarianism in a big way. What that meant was that as members of the youth group, the girls would be shamed into stop volunteering to lead prayers (because they shouldn’t) and the boys would be shamed into volunteering to lead prayers (because they should). Apparently, the adult classes would regularly go over Ephesians 5:22-33 where the women would be shamed into stop leading their families (because they shouldn’t) and the men would be shamed into starting to lead their families (because they should). You see, this teaching didn’t fit my family and we weren’t interested in trying to squeeze ourselves into such narrow rules trying to make ourselves fit them. The church had changed, or perhaps we had changed too much for the church to accept us or our beliefs. We were asking questions, dangerous questions, apparently. Was the pastor right in saying that the only way to be saved was to believe that every word he preached was true? That Creationism, Immersion Baptism, and whatever else he taught were nonnegotiable must-have rights of passage to be accepted into heaven? What about my Catholic friend? What if she didn’t believe as my friends and I had been taught all our lives? Would she burn in the fires of hell for having a different understanding of Jesus? Surely, if Jesus is all we need, then is it even necessary to believe in Creationism or Complementarianism? The last sermon we listened to the pastor, he referred to a popular drink among us members of the youth group – suicide. It’s when you can’t decide which kind of pop you want to drink so you mix a little bit of all of them all together. What he was saying that to mix together different theologies was the equivalent of spiritual suicide which would condemn us to Hell. Not only did we have to believe the right things the right way, any mixed up beliefs wouldn’t save us. It was then that I realized that from the start I never had pure beliefs. You see, my grandparents church belonged to another denomination that taught differently. After going through all this, we had begun to be wary of the Creationism/Complementarian theology. We thought that the non-denominational church would avoid having the same problem. Sadly, they also believed in it. Surely, we hoped, when we moved to the new state and county there wouldn’t be any of this toxic teaching.
We were wrong. We found a good contemporary church – but in our time there a deacon used his power to push for more complementarian teachings. When we asked some serious questions about it – they made their position clear. So we knew that the welcome mat would no longer be left out for us. The next church didn’t really push complementarianism, but it was a by-law, something that their actions revealed in the responsibilities and interactions of men and women.
So we tried another denomination – Methodism. For the first time in over a decade there was no complementarian teachings, but we also had to sacrifice contemporary worship.
I said all of that to think about the relationship between contemporary worship and complementarian teaching. It feels like a ‘bait and switch’ tactic, but I know that it goes deeper. Some of it might be fear – fear of being viewed as a church that’s too far to the left, a church that had no regard for sin. Why, a contemporary church with egalitarian teaching might hire a woman as a pastor, or let women teach men, or let men teach children, or let men cook. They might be okay with same-sex families or have no problem with polygamous families. The authority of the Bible would be questioned and all Hell would literally break lose. Many of the churches in this region that are contemporary and complementarian are also Southern Baptist, but they tend to directly indicate that is what they are. Their signs might say “community church” or “worship center”, they might belong to a church association or network that doesn’t clearly mention it’s an off-shoot of the Southern Baptists, but they’re as deeply entrenched and widely spread in this region as kudzu is.
In this county, a massive contemporary / complementarian church had an epic split not that long ago. Since I’ve visited the church only a few times, I’m more of an outsider than an insider. One would think that such a church, built on biblical inerrancy, a fledgling mega-church in and of itself would be tough on sin. But that could very well have been the thing that made the house of cards fall (along with word-of faith type prosperity gospel teaching and legalistic tithing requirements). Half of it’s elders (all men, by the way) left. It’s entire staff also quit. It’s youth pastor became the new lead pastor of the second church. Both churches are now shells of what they used to be – but both remain contemporary / complementarian churches. I don’t think that being contemporary or teaching complementarianism directly lead to the split – but were they a traditional church, fewer people would have been involved. Were the egalitarian then some of the underlying issues wouldn’t have been as likely to have happened.
We haven’t yet found a contemporary church that doesn’t teach complementarianism. So I have to wonder what the connection is that keeps them together. Contemporary worship is all about doing things differently as they were done before. Complementarian teaching is all about doing things exactly the same as they were done before. So on any given Sunday, the congregation might sing “Come as you are to worship …” and yet hear a sermon decrying the evils of non-traditional families. Somehow ‘new’ and ‘old’ together seem to be a common pattern for this region in the form of contemporary complementarian and traditional egalitarian churches. While odds are good that there are traditional complementarian churches; I wonder what explains the absence of contemporary egalitarian churches.
When I talk about this problem, people constantly tell me the same thing, if you don’t like McDonalds, go eat at Burger King. That’s easier said than done when the only restaurants in town are all McDonalds and the nearest Burger King is a few hours away – just far enough to be too long of a drive and too difficult to become a member to participate in events and parties. Some who live in cities don’t understand why there aren’t at least one of each McDonald, Burger King, Sonic, Rally’s, Steak’n’Shakes, Hardee’s, A&W, White Castle, Five Guys Burger and Fries, and Culver’s in each and every community. Truth is, most of them are far too small to support such a varied array of burger joints. Same goes for churches, almost all of the churches in my county belong to the same denomination, they offer the same music and the same teaching from one to the next. The only thing that varies are the people you’ll meet when you go there. This is to illustrate that there is usually very little choice one has as to which church to join. Most of the denominations don’t exist out here – and the ones that do exist out here aren’t very different from one church to the next.
It’s a miserable reality – to have known something that was good in contemporary worship, but to have experienced a lot of frustration with complementarian teaching. To have known something that was good in egalitarian teaching but the same frustration with traditional worship. I thought that the solution was to just bring along my MP3 player, but getting an opportunity to listen to my music is never easy. So we’ve discovered something of a compromise; to continue attending the traditional egalitarian church in the morning and to stream through the internet a contemporary egalitarian church service in the evening.