We preachers sometimes torture the faithful with our complaints about the unfaithful.
We don’t mean to do that. It’s just something that happens, usually as a result of our frustration.
Listen to the typical pastor or staffer addressing the congregation:
“A little rain never hurt anybody! And where is half our congregation? But oh no, they couldn’t make it today. They had no trouble sitting through the ball game yesterday in freezing temperatures! Or playing a round of golf in the rain. But let a little sprinkle drop out of the heavens and they can’t make it to church today!”
Or this one:
“People can stand in the stadium for hours and cheer their team until they are hoarse. But the same people come to church and want cushions on the pews and would die if they had to crack a smile or actually open a hymnbook and sing.”
This sour song has countless verses….
“We can sit for hours in front of the television, but complain if the preacher goes five minutes overtime.”
“We love a good comedian, but if the preacher tells a joke from the pulpit, he gets anonymous letters telling him he’s profaning the Lord’s house!”
Or, another common refrain….
It’s Sunday night and only a handful have shown up. The preacher is fit to be tied. “Where is the dedication these days? People just aren’t as committed as they used to be?”
You get the idea.
Of all the foolish things ministers do, this may be the least smart (I’m bending over backward to avoid using the word “stupid” here): Afflicting the faithful who made the effort to be in church with our frustrations over those who didn’t.
There is a certain cartharsis in playing the blame game.
If as a pastor I blame the absentees for their failures (to show up, to worship, to pray, to give, etc), I can get by with it since they’re not present to defend themselves and will not take this personally.
If I blame others for the low attendance, pitiful offerings, etc., it may look like the problem has nothing to do with my poor leadership or lousy preaching or our weak programs.
The preacher who is blaming the missing members for their shallowness is probably missing the point.
Ball games and golf and television shows and comedians are all about entertainment, excitement, recreation, and diversions. They present a game which is basically meaningless (that is, nothing that takes place on the field has anything to do with real life) in order to entertain us.
Such games have as much in common with a Spirit-anointed worship service as a game of hopscotch does with the Korean war.
Comparing the two is foolish.
Using our attendance at the first to shame us in our lack of support for the second is an insult to people’s intelligence.
A Saturday football game can be a great deal of fun. It works on a hundred levels–the game itself, the fun of a daylong outing with family and friends, the sights and sounds (cheers, bands, crowd noise), the visit to one’s alma mater, a relaxing drive, and such. Unless one overdoes it, this can be as healthy as a mini-vacation.
For most people, Saturday football games are sheer entertainment, are rare, and are a diversion from the day-to-day routine. For a couple of hours, we can holler and complain and laugh and slap-hands and hug friends without it costing anything expensive, meaning anything important, or committing us to anything permanent.
Church is different.
Church is every week–sometimes several times a week. Church is like home in that it’s regular, it’s the same people, and it’s the same theme. Church is real life. Church is mostly all business, not fun and games.
My wife says church is like sitting through a high school history class–it’s real, it’s important, and can sometimes be difficult or even boring. But in no way should we dump guilt on the class because they don’t cheer the professor, applaud right answers, or leave the classroom hyped up the way they do for ball games.
This is just one more reason why everyone who takes a leading part in worship services should plan in advance what they intend to say. We should not leave it to chance, not depend on the inspiration of the moment to supply the words, and not burden ourselves and our hearers with our rants on whatever is bothering us at the moment.
The preacher who counts on the inspiration of the moment to supply the content of his extra-sermonic pronouncements (what he says other than the main message) may find that instead of inspiration what he’s feeling is frustration. And when a frustrated preacher vents before the congregation, nothing good comes of it.
Dumping guilt on a congregation is the easiest thing in the world to do. Since everyone in the room is a flawed sinner, the list of infractions could be endless.
Pastor who flesh out their sermons with condemnations of various sins will never lack for material. And, yes, plenty of members will consider this good preaching.
Whether the Lord does or not is another matter altogether.