Here is an insight into my self talk: I think, “Gee, the Son of God became flesh and blood for me so that he could show me the face of God, die on a cross on the third day, rise again so that I might live and reign with him in eternity. Isn’t that the best news ever? Doesn’t that just make you want to dance and sing and smile and tell everyone how happy you are and how much you love them and, more importantly, how much Jesus loves them?”
And sometimes I say to myself: “I’d be a whole lot happier if I felt like the people at church ‘got it.’ I’d be a whole lot happier if they showed up more frequently, gave more generously, volunteered more freely. I’m not even sure what value many of them put on their faith.”
Welcome to the twisted mind of a pastor. As a pastor, you know you’ve got what everybody needs: Jesus. But it’s often frustrating how hard it is to give Jesus away for free. It’s hard to even get people to show up sometimes.
There are 10,000 reasons not to go to church: “I have to work; we’ve been running and running, and we just need to rest, we need family time; we have a soccer game, a swim meet, a track meet, a golf tournament, a baseball game, an out of town game, a show-choir competition, a spelling bee; we have to go home and be with our parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins (whatever) for their (insert) birthday, anniversary, graduation, wedding shower, baby shower, etc.” My favorite excuse for not coming to church is when people have out of town company. After all, we wouldn’t want to make our guests uncomfortable by inviting them to come to church with us. Neither would we want to excuse ourselves for an hour to go on our own.
In the Midwest, winter is a problem. Faced with a driveway full of snow, people often times are too tired these days to snow blow themselves out on a Sunday morning. I’d be OK with this spontaneous family time around the fire and an extended family breakfast if it wasn’t for the fact that when the spring and summer comes, the weather is apparently too nice for people to come to church.
Would it help if we built an outdoor amphitheater for good weather services? I’m game, but ya’ll have to start writing some pretty impressive checks.
Most churches try to make church-going as easy as possible. We currently have three services, for instance, starting at 8:00 in the morning. But 8:00 is too early or it’s too traditional or too inconvenient. We try to make church relevant: we try to make it the best hour of people’s week. But that doesn’t cut it either. We're asking for feedback on other service times now on the website. Feel free to click your thoughts. I know that our flock can be witnesses to Jesus on the soccer field. I know discipleship can happen outside the church building. But if you don't get fueled up, how can you minister?
We even try to make church fun. Fun? Isn’t that a strange value for a church to have? Maybe, but Paul said it best: “I have become all things to all men in order that I might by all means save some.” But apparently we aren’t always fun enough.
Sometimes, in my Andy Rooney moments, I wonder if we should make church more competitive. Competitive? Well, isn’t that what’s going on at the tournaments and meets and games that everyone is going to on Sunday mornings? Maybe we could find a way to make church into a team sport, charge fees, and then have a trophy or other award at the end of the season. Oh, but that’s right, the God season never ends, He's a year round sport.
Someone out there is saying, “Tough talk, Pastor John. Way to encourage the flock. NOT.” Why should I even be bothered by this stuff? I ask myself that a lot. The trouble is that I’m haunted, as a shepherd responsible for presenting my flock before the Lord, by this very troubling thought: If they can’t figure out how to work their schedules so that they can go to the tournament and still go to church, how am I to believe that they will be able to work their lives so that when a moment of decision arrives, they will follow Jesus and not just go along with the crowd? The simple fact is, I’ve got a point. Talk is cheap. People say they believe a lot of things. But if you want to know what someone really believes, look at what they do. Our actions always betray what we really believe.
I’d feel better about people not being in church every week if I knew that they were praying together as families, reading their Bibles, sharing their faith with the other parents or kids on the soccer field. But honestly, I have yet to be told anything like this by anyone ever. The scary truth is that in the North American church we are light on prayer and Bible reading and light on private and public worship. And that’s why I get grumpy. Because I want more for my flock. I want them to know Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. I want them to be equipped for the living of these days. I want them to be able to stand on the day of temptation. I want them to give themselves fully and with reckless abandonment to God.
So now we come to my control issues. Turns out, only Jesus can save people. Turns out, unless the Holy Spirit enables people to believe, they can’t. Wow. So I have all this passion and frustration because I so desperately want my flock to know and believe Jesus and the whole time, Jesus has the power to do just that. So then guilt overtakes me: I’ve wasted all this time on people. Instead, I ought to flee for refuge and help to the only One who can make what I want a reality: Jesus himself. Jesus, I beg you, help me, my family, my church family, my neighborhood, my doctor, my dentist, my barista, my city, my county, my country, my world; Lord! Help them to get you! Help them to find you irresistible.
May all the time I spend trying to make church acceptable to my congregation, may it all be better spent with You, Jesus, pleading, interceding, begging you on their behalf. Because You can change people, I can’t.
Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ