As my time as the Spiritual Formation Pastor for the Oak Gardens Church has come to an end, I will devote my next few articles to sharing some of my reflections from being a part of this great faith community. In this article, I want to share front row seat insights on what I witnessed while watching Dr. Paul Day lead the church to make a monumental transition. I was fortunate to see a captain in action.
For decades, the churches of Christ have had unique theological perspectives on the usage of instruments in worship services. The churches of Christ are known in the denominational community to be strongly opposed to the usage of instruments in worship, with a stance so severely grounded even to the point of many believing that one was deemed to have lost their salvation. Over the years, White churches of Christ have transitioned from a dogmatic and legalistic stance to a grace-oriented position that leans on the liberties that Christians have in Jesus Christ. However, most African American churches of Christ have held on to the traditional view that the usage of instruments is a desecration against Scripture. There are a few African American leaders who have transitioned to a grace-centered perspective, but may not have plans to incorporate instruments in their worship services, except for at least one person, Dr. Paul Day.
When I arrived at Oak Gardens four years ago, Dr. Day informed me that this church was transitioning to incorporate instruments in their worship service. It was then that I realized that one of the reasons why I believe I was sent to be a part of this family was to see a captain sailing a ship across a vast ocean to a destination that only he was able to see. Here are some principles I learned watching a captain in action:
Look, what do you see!
Pastor Day has a deep love for the universal church, the churches of Christ denomination, the traditional Black preaching style, and everything else that has to do with the Christian narrative. Having been the son of a preacher, Pastor Day has always been around church. Though he was closely connected to the church, Pastor Day was also linked to culture and society. Pastor Day saw a vision of a church that was for the unchurched. He realized that the beloved way of doing church, which was primarily designed for Christians, was not conducive for the unchurched. Pastor Day realized that is was time to change the atmosphere and culture of Oak Gardens in order to speak the language of the broader society. Therefore, the vision for Oak Gardens is to become a safe church for the unchurched. Pastor Day is committed to doing whatever it takes to be sure that the unchurched are not hindered from having an encounter with Christ as a result of methodological practices.
What I have learned from Pastor Day is that a leader must be able to see a new reality for self first before seeing it for the church. Meaning, Pastor Day had to first change his style of “doing church,” his style of preaching, his appearance, and his language. He embraced the vision for himself before making sure the church saw the vision. Before moving a church or an organization toward a direction, can you see what you see for yourself? Prior to relaying the vision to others, are you able to communicate the vision to yourself? Do you see an alternative reality that you are excited about?
Speak, but be quiet
In the early periods of conversations about providing an instrumental service, Pastor Day would tell me to ride with him to visit older members, both who are seasoned in age and those who have been with him for the nine-plus years of the church’s existence. Pastor Day wanted to teach and demonstrate to me that when leading a community of people, a leader, prior to casting vision, must honor those who have been with them from day one.
Sharing the vision with the established members of your church/organization is critical because if new members decided to leave, the church will be secured because of the faithfulness of the ones who have been present the longest. I believe that one of the reasons why Oak Gardens did not experience a mass exodus as a result of incorporating instruments is because of the countless personal visits and conversations Pastor Day had with loyal members. These members felt respected, honored, and a part of an inner community of people who would pray, discern, and participate in a monumental move happening with the church.
Once Pastor Day spent a significant amount of time with a group of members, it was time to begin the conversation with the entire church. Pastor Day was strategic in his approach when addressing the church. Opposed to being blunt and direct, Pastor Day spent months at a time painting a picture that would cause one to have a desire to be a part of this grand mission of being a safe church for the unchurched. As a young millennial, I questioned why it took him so long to inform the church that we were going to add an instrumental worship service. Once or twice, I expressed feelings of frustration, wishing he would just communicate with the church the changes that were coming. As I reflect now on his strategy, I confess my lack of patience in light of his pastoral ability and capacity. As a result of walking with Pastor Day, I’ve learned to be gentle. Pastor Day taught me not to force changes on those who are where I once was.
In conclusion, Pastor Day taught me that the purpose of vision is to lead us on a journey of lessons more than it is about reaching a destination. May we as leaders see a vision for ourselves first. May we learn who to speak to, when to speak, and how to speak. May we learn to be gentle with the people we are fortunate to lead.