Recently Ron and I visited a local church. It was a denomination that we trusted and we hoped we would find comfort and encouragement.
It's getting harder and harder for us to find music that fits the Christian compromise and provides some sort of inspiration to mature audiences as well as young people. We stood and tried to smile politely while several young people who obviously had never seen a chord chart banged and screeched their guitars until the audience was battered into a ringing stupor.
The prayer was more of a generic call to the four winds than it was a genuine conversation with a familiar God. After a long list of announcements and a video of flashing lights that pleaded with us to attend a dinner, the pastor finally took the stage.
He was about our age but looked as if he had been dragged into a teeny bop mall by a group of Hollywood designers. His hair was salt and pepper but spiked high enough to make any rock star proud. He had a tan that would make George Hamilton jealous. He wore cowboy boots and jeans that were frayed and torn at the knees. He wore a sports shirt - collar unbuttoned - under a suit jacket. He proudly waved a hand that revealed a gaudy gold and diamond ring and a gold watch so big that selling it would have funded a small clinic for a week. He jumped and jittered when he talked and tried to look hip. He introduced his wife so she could make an announcement. She took the stage in 4 inch heels, Tammy Faye makeup and a short skirt. I had to look at the bulletin again to be sure I was in church and not at a seminar on how to look young even when you aren't.
Looking around the room I wondered who they were trying to appeal to. 90% of the congregation was my age, dressed in suits and sitting with their arms crossed. Someone was filming the service so maybe, I thought, maybe he's going to show it on the local Rock and Roll station.
I did my best to get past the way he looked and moved on to what he was saying. For 20 minutes I struggled to pay attention. Not because I was tired or didn't want to be there, but because it was an elementary Sunday School lesson. I dare say if anyone in the audience had attended church or Sunday school for the past 5 years - they did not need this simple sermon. Most people were yawning or doodling or even dozing off.
Finally he showed another video that was nothing more than a moving background with words while some deep throat narrator read the script. I assumed this video was for people in the audience who couldn't read. At this point I punched Ron and gave him a tsk tsk tsk for dozing off. He rolled his eyes and whispered, "I need something stimulating to stay awake."
Finally the pastor caused both of us to resurrect. He boldly announced that God was so impressed with a prophets dedication that he was going to accept the prophets prostitute wife as God's own bride! That got my attention. I scrambled to find a pen and write down the scripture reference but he didn't include that in his tirade about how God wants us all to keep coming back even when we sin and that God will always always always forgives. "After all" he yelled, "we are all his children and he loves us so much he can't bear to turn us away."
With this proclamation Ron and I sat up straight and began shaking our heads no. We believe that God loves to forgive us even when we fail at ridding our life of sin....but....even with God there is a limit. (Romans 1:28) I was writing fast and furious in order to keep myself from jumping to my feet and yelling "Are you crazy?" Obviously we didn't want that kind of scene. This pastor was almost begging the congregants to sin and test the fact that God wasn't really about Hell but only about loving. Finally my anger turned to fear and then to compassion. I began to cry for all those listening. I began to wonder what kind of other lies he was telling this congregation. I wondered how many people would be lead astray because this pastor wanted fame.
How do I know he wanted fame? That's all most pastors talk about any more. They don't talk about how much time they spend visiting the elderly or shut ins. They don't talk about sitting at a young mother's kitchen table and discussing the Bible while she washes dishes or praying with those in the hospital all through the night until miraculously they recover.
Nope....no time for that kind of foolishness. Pastors have laid that kind of talk down or simply delegated it to someone whose not as important as they are. Pastors have to have time to get a tan and run 5 miles a day to stay in shape --- for who? Pastors have to have time to meet with business people and design all sorts of programs so they can draw in the crowds.
And who teaches and prays and makes a personal connection with the congregation? Sometimes the staff - but more than likely that job goes to....no one. That single mom either has to commit to another Bible study in order to make friends or go it alone in her problems. GET INVOLVED is the mandate. How can we help you unless you are involved?
Once many years ago when I asked what I thought was a caring pastor to visit my dis-illusioned son he replied, "Now Debbie. I don't have time to go out and visit with everyone that calls on me. Tell your son to come to church and get involved. If he's in my inner circle I'll have plenty of time to meet his needs." I had to hang up quick before I exploded. What about Jesus command to go out and search for the one lost sheep? What about Jesus call to go into all the world? What about Jesus rebuke of men who favored one sheep over another?
Being a pastor isn't about numbers or how cool you look. Being a good pastor is about being a great shepherd. It's about searching for the lost and being willing to spend whatever time is needed on one single sheep.
I'm terribly afraid that when God begins his judgement of the church, most of the numbers will disappear. I'm afraid when God returns He will find people who saw the church as a safe place to join and have fun without being forced to study and know the character of God. I'm afraid that many people attend today's mega churches so they can tell their neighbors they are Christian, speak some Christianise and have a social club that's safe and fun. All the while they sit in the back and hide the very sins that will keep them out of heaven. Thinking that it's just a matter of accepting that there may be a God but never surrendering to a Savior - they rock along happy that the church they attend is an insurance policy to avoid Hell in the afterlife.
The pastor gets to feel like a rock star, the church member gets to hide his sin and they all have fun doing the program happy dance. Until......God and his holy angels swoop in and yell, "That's it. Everybody out of the pool!" God sits on his throne and begins to pronounce judgement on all the lives that haven't followed his Word.
"Did you take care of my sheep!" God yells at pastor pop star. He straightens his shoulders and announces, "I had 3,546 people in church last Sunday."
God slams his hand on his chair. The angels bow their heads and fold their wings. "Out of those 3,546 people only 47 are going to be saved. I repeat....Did you take care of my sheep!"
"Ahhh....well.....you see sir.....I uh....I preached about loving each other and well....they just didn't listen."
God stands up and his base voice booms. "Did you tell them about sin? Did you visit 92 year old Aunt Lucy that helped to start your church? Did you give her communion and pray with her when she was lonely? Did you sing her favorite hymn until she finished wiping tears from her eyes? Did you visit Mary when her husband died? Did you pray with John when he lost his son?"
"Ahhh...well....um....they weren't on my schedule. It must have been an oversight on the part of my secretary. I'm an important pastor you know."
God raises his finger and growls. "Did you tell the pre-teens that premarital sex is a sin? Did you tell them that all liars will have their day in hell? Did you tell them to respect their parents - did you respect their parents?"
The pastor is now on his knees. "I had 3,546 people in church." His voice trails off as God motions to the angels of judgment.
"I commit you to everlasting Hell. You did not respect my people. You did not teach them about me. You were just as wicked as any sinner."
I personally don't want a hip pastor or music that appeals to local bars. I don't want a pastor that would be more comfortable on TV than in my living room. I want a pastor that knows the way to heaven. I want a pastor that I feel comfortable crying on his shoulder or telling him my problems. I want a pastor whose both compassionate and kind but knows enough about sin to guide me to heaven - not send me to hell. I want someone who knows that he has been given the greatest honor of all, he's been asked to be a shepherd to God's flock.
Hum....makes you think doesn't it?
God loves you,