22 August, 2011

It's the Same Old Thing

After a busy and emotionally draining weekend of taking Ashley off to college then church, I have to confess that I was sorely disappointed at the number of people who were missing from church on Sunday. I try not to let the number have any effect on me, but it does. No since denying that fact. One of my "spiritual fathers," W.C. Ratchford had a great way of illustrating this. He would say that it is like a mother who spends a week preparing for a day in which her children were all coming home to be together under her roof again. She plans out a great meal, goes shopping to find all the pieces of that meal, and then spends hours preparing and cooking the meal, sets the table and lays out all the food... only to find that half the family says, "no thanks, I'm not hungry" and won't even come to the table. 
That is precisely the discouragement and pain that the pastor feels when he prays, seeking the face of God, studies and prepares the message for his family... only to find that a part of the family simply did not come to the table. I know, most people in our churches will simply get defensive about that statement and present their litany of excuses, but those excuses do not in any way negate the pain and disappointment. This is clearly expressed in the Word of God where the writer of Hebrews penned the words, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24,25)  The thing is, very few will ever consider the Pastor  when reading or discussing this verse.  I have a private messaging board where most of my members are pastors, and just about every week, there is one or more pastors come on the board, a safe  place, where members cannot see or read their pain, and express their frustration and heart break about how so many of their people did not come on any given Sunday. No one seems to really comprehend the hurt that comes when you have spent literally 10-15 hours in prayer and study to prepare a "meal" only to find that a huge portion of the church simply did not come. They are too busy with life, and rather than come to the table, they will hit up a fast food drive through, by turning on the TV and watching the TV preacher instead. Selfishly, they feel content in the knowledge that at least they were fed somewhere, but they do not consider that their own pastor has been wounded by their rejection. Paul said to "consider one another," yet few ever consider the pastor.  They fail to even think about how it must feel when time after time, week after week, anywhere from 15-35% of the "family" fails to come for  Bible study or worship. They use the justification that they can pray, study and worship at home... but that is totally "self" focused and not considering the pastor or the other members of the body who recognize that part of the body is missing. Yes, it hurts the other members when part of the family is gone. Ever been to a family gathering and some of the family were not to make it? It's just not the same.   I was chatting online last night with a friend who is a pastor and discussing this. He shared with me how that at his church they have around 80 in Sunday school every week, but about 20 of his people leave before the worship begins and that another 10-15 leave after worship, including some of his praise team. He said, "this is the ultimate slap in the face, as they come to do their thing, but walk out just as he is about to preach." Again, they only focus on self, not considering others. I wonder, have they ever thought about how that makes the pastor or the others that they are walking out on feel? Probably not, as this is pretty common in churches from my talking with pastors.
Where is the "consider one another" in this approach to church life?
I was thinking on this earlier this morning when one of my Facebook friends posted the above mentioned scripture... and it hit me. Whoever the writer of Hebrews was, expressed very early on in the history of the church that the same issue was happening way back then. It is not a "new" trend at all... It's just people being people. I pray that at some point people begin to consider others. Evidently the Father had some strong thoughts on this topic, for He included it in the Bible as a warning and instruction to His church.


Anonymous said...

I've often heard my dad speak of times when he got something from the Lord and just knew it would help Sis. Jones or Bro. Smith with something going on in their life...only to get there and find they were missing.

We all know that there are "excused absences." Things do happen. But I believe that God holds us responsible to some degree when we COULD have come to the table...but did not. Remember Jesus weeping over Jerusalem? They COULD have come to Him and been gathered under his arms like chicks...but they would not.

I've seen some thoughtless stuff in church. I've seen preachers stop the music and say something like, "We don't need no music to worship." The truth, though, is that God has placed a lot of things in the church to promote worship, to facilitate certain atmospheres. It reminds me of preachers who say, "I don't need this hear microphone." They think they are showing how excited they are, how anointed they are. But they aren't. Some people can't hear as well as others...so they don't enjoy the service as much.

To the point, one thing I hear from some preachers is that it doesn't matter how many are there, they will preach just the same. No, you won't. You may try, but there's a whole different dynamic when the place is filled to overflowing. There's just more excitement. Remember those Promise-Keeper events in stadiums? Try doing that in a church with 14 men in attendance--it's not the same.

Same with preaching. You WANT to preach like you're preaching the General Assembly, but when there are 40 people in a room that seats 200, it's hard. (NOTE: I'd rather be with 40 people in a room that seated 30, than with 300 in a room that seats 2000.)

Darrell, I was especially touched by the frustration that a pastor fills when people show up to do their part, then basically ignore the rest of the service. THAT IS A SHAME.

Here's what I think a pastor must do. First, he's got to give fair warning. Sometimes people are just oblivious. If they are going to be on the praise team, they are there for the duration and so forth. THEN, if they don't do that, move them out. It would be better to preach in an smaller atmosphere of sincere support...than in a much bigger atmosphere of indifference. Give me 20 people hanging on to my every word...over 200 who are yawning, occupied, indifferent, or uncaring.

It begins with your worship leader. If he's part of the problem, he needs to be told. If nothing else, he may need admonish his singers. A preacher cannot be effective when every time he comes to the pulpit, he fills like a dagger is being sunk into his chest. I've seen this happen. People compartmentalize the services so that they are "on" when their part is on, then turn off like a light bulb when their part is over. It's immature at best...and dirty at worst.

But with all of that, there is this:

(Heb 6:10 KJV) For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Acts-celerater
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Today at 11:33 am

Anonymous said...

Praying for your frustration. I think maybe it could be a time for a new season in life. Look for a new place to plant and grow. It's a joy to serve the lord. Get more leaders that lead and don't do it all yourself.

Darrell said...

To the second Anonymous poster, I appreciate your concern, but I assure you, it is not time for a "new season" meaning a move. I'm where I belong. Yes, some of this is my own thoughts, but I also shared the thoughts of another pastor who I'd spoken to. Ironically, I've received a couple of dozen responses from other pastors thanking me for saying what they've been feeling. I'm not alone here. This is a real issue in the Body of Christ. Sadly, I've also been getting a flood of stinging messages from people telling me that it's all me, that they won't be put under a yoke of bondage. The problem is, people don't understand that liberty does not mean free to live as one pleases. Not when you've been bought with the blood of Jesus.