“What did you go out to see?” (Luke 7:25)
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)
The other day during the worship service at our church, I had a revelation.
I now know something that had eluded me before.
I know the secret of people who come to church year in and year out and are never dissatisfied with what goes on there. They like the preacher “enough,” they’re generally satisfied with the programs of the church, and you’ll not hear any carping coming from their direction.
They don’t require much of the church.
That’s it. That’s their secret.
These are my notes hastily jotted down in that worship service: “Key to surviving the upheavals in the modern church is to need less and less from your church. That way, no matter what happens you will never be disappointed. Will never be hurt. Will never be offended.”
Such people go to church, they sit through the service, they may connect with what’s going on down front or they may not. But they don’t expect much, do not require anything from the service or the pastor, and thus, they do not leave with an empty tank or a dissatisfied spirit.
They’re just putting in time. Just checking it off. “We go to church every Sunday.”
Not requiring much means not expecting much. After all, if we expect little and that’s what we get, we’re never disappointed.
Such church members are never disappointed.
To be sure, they are pew-sitters (aka, bench-warmers), not anyone you could build a church on. They are occupiers of the ground (Luke 13:7), fillers of the sanctuary, but not workers in the vineyard or witnesses of the resurrection.
Eighteen months ago, I moved to central Mississippi from metro New Orleans where I had lived for twenty-six years. South Louisiana is heavily Catholic. And there are some wonderful Catholic people there. My E-N-T doctor was one of them. Twice, when doing surgery on me, he led the entire operating room staff in prayer. He goes to church every morning of his life to pray for his patients. Yes, every morning.
I don’t know many Baptists who would do that.
But, I knew a great many others, I’m sorry to say, who saw church only as their duty, a chore to be checked off the list. They are buying Heaven’s favors, earning the right to go to Heaven. (And if the reader replies that such people are in every church and all denominations, I will agree. I merely point this out because I lived amid a half-million of them for a third of my life!)
One Saturday night at a wedding in our church, I greeted Mark and Danielle. Mark was a member of our Baptist church and Danielle a Catholic. She said, “So, Pastor Joe, does this wedding count as ‘church’ this week?”
I was not brutal or harsh, as my answer might imply, but I smiled and said, “My friend, we don’t play that little game. We encourage God’s people to come to church whenever they can because they want to. Not because they have to.”
Danielle’s way of thinking was identical to that of so many of my neighbors. They expected little from their church, cared little how the pastor’s sermons were, and never complained. They were logging time inside the building. Checking it off the list.
“There! I’ve got God out of the way for another week!”
Sound like anyone you know?
Ask yourself the question
All of this begs the question: Why do you go to church? What do you expect from your time of worship, from the song service and the sermon, the interaction with other members, the entire church experience? Do you worship with your offering? Do you truly pray? Are you transformed in some way when you leave? Do you understand what our Lord meant when He said Mary had chosen “that good thing which shall not be taken away from her,” referring to her worship at His feet? (Luke 10:42)
So, this Sunday morning as you head to church, what are you looking for?
It’s a good question to put before yourself.
Our Lord asked something similar of the multitudes who had gone out to hear the preaching of John the Baptist.
–“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” (Luke 7:24)
–“But what did you go out to see?” (Luke 7:25)
–“But what did you go out to see?” (Luke 7:26)
Surely, it would be appropriate for God’s people to pause on entering the house of worship to ask, “Why am I here?”
Please note the question is not “What do I expect to get out of this today?” That kind of self-centered approach has no place in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Better questions would be “What do I expect to happen? What do I want to happen? What would God have happen today?”
“What does the Lord want to do in me today?” “How does He want to use me today?”
Asking ourselves that should influence how we worship and how we pray and then, finally, what we expect.
In my opinion, it’s perfectly fitting to leave church disappointed sometimes. If we came to worship and instead were treated to an hour of comedy and entertainment, most of us would be disappointed. If we were promised a Bible study to feed hungry hearts and strengthen the disciples, but instead received something shallow and silly and warmed-over, disappointment would probably be in order.
What we do with our disappointment is another story. In most cases, we would not want to tell the pastor or our favorite deacon. Rather, we should tell the Lord.
That disappointment should drive our prayers for the pastor and church leadership, as well as for ourselves.
Bottom line: Sometimes it’s good to leave a church service disappointed.