Thursday, August 16, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
Many ‘church shopping’ and never commit
Today I write about a somewhat delicate subject, but I have a story to tell that sheds light on a concern that has been on my mind for a good while. It has to do with the self-centeredness of churches.
A friend of mine had serious, serious trouble, and needed to be in church. We’ve all had times like this—when going to church is not routine or dutiful, but when a real crisis of grief and pain is upon us, and the full strength of the gospel is needed.
My friend went to church—a church in a place far from here, I am relieved to say—and my friend was hoping for the minister to say something that would be helpful in this moment of great crisis and sorrow.
But instead, the minister gave a sermon on the internal problems of the denomination and traced the options for withdrawing and affiliating with a different religious communion!
What a wasted moment and abject failure to preach the gospel! This was one person’s desperate moment to hear the good news of Jesus, and instead the preacher focused on the provincial squabbles of the church—all the while pretending that his church was immune from those problems and somehow “better” spiritually than all the rest.
I see illustrations of this again and again. The church forgets that there are some things the church must say that only the church can say, and that the opportunities for this are increasingly limited, and on any given Sunday there may be someone present who is open in a way they may not ever have been before, and may not have a chance to be on any occasion thereafter. Life is an ephemeral, capricious, and transient business, and the church should never waste its opportunity to speak to the things of ultimate concern.
My friend in this situation was rightly disgusted. It only confirmed the widespread view that the church is preoccupied with itself and full of hypocrisy. Here was one congregation of Christians deciding who were “good enough” for them to share fellowship with, instead of taking the gospel to “whosoever will may come.”
There is a great deal of “mewing and pewing” among church members just now. Everyone seems dissatisfied with their particular pastor, congregation, and denomination. Lots of people are “church shopping” and never commit. The ecclesiastical grass always seems greener on the other side of the denominational fence.
But Jesus did not think that the work of the gospel had to wait until he had a pure and perfect audience or set of co-workers before he could go to work proclaiming the good news and enacting God’s kingdom on earth. Far from it! He would do a wonderful miracle and instantly his disciples would turn aside from it and argue as to which of them would be granted to sit on his right hand and his left when he appeared again in the kingdom of God.
Has anything changed? Many of our churches are losing members just now. I wonder if it is because people detect an essential lack of seriousness in what we are doing.
Jesus told us to preach the good news, care for the poor and hungry, and take up our cross daily and follow him. God forbid that we preachers waste our pulpits on anything but these essential matters. Someone may be there this Sunday for whom it will be their only moment of openness. I say “may be.” I would wager there is likely to be.
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