“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
My preacher friend was rendering his opinion on a certain large church with which we are both familiar.
“The people are like the fans of (a certain college football team). Individually, great people. Salt of the earth. But put them all together, and they are horrible. Prideful, boasting, irritating.”
That’s an analysis I’ve not been able to shrug off. If it’s true–and I’m in no position to judge–it’s a devastating assessment.
The Ascended Christ said to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing–but you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
The reality is often far different from what we want to believe, from what we aspire to, from what we advertise.
Dare we ask the Heavenly Father to tell us the truth about our own church?
Imagine a consultant standing before a congregation that has paid his hefty fee for an in-depth analysis of their situation. Imagine him saying something like….
“You folks have an unrealistic opinion of yourselves. You take pride in your beautiful buildings and your history. You glory in your budget, in your mission offerings, in the salaries you pay, and the records you set. But the sad truth is…. you folks are an embarrassment..”
He would have their undivided attention.
“In truth, you are an embarrassment to God and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You are miserable in your praying, poor in your loving, blind in your doctrine, and naked in your righteousness. It’s a wonder to me that God has allowed your church to continue to exist.”
No consultant would say such a thing, of course. Not if he ever expected to work for another church.
But the Lord Jesus is no disinterested third party; He is the Lord of the Church. The Church is His (Matthew 16:18) and He has a right, the authority, and the wisdom to give His analysis. If you’ve read His messages to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3), you are well acquainted with His bare-knuckled reports. Like a physician giving the bad news to the patient’s family, He tells the truth.
The question then becomes, How would we react to such news? Would we drop to our knees and pray, “Lord, have mercy” or start building our defenses?
What we often do…
We would never be so crass as to do what the Pharisee did when he bragged on himself to God. “God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers…. I fast twice a week and give tithes of all I possess….” (Luke 18:11-12)
But we come mighty close to it when we compare ourselves with one another, when we compare our church’s numbers with other churches. Some denominations even hand out certificates. This one gives so much per capita. This one leads the denomination (or the county) in giving to this or that cause. Our church did better than the others.
And we puff up.
Someone asked me why churches insist on naming themselves “First” (as in First Baptist, First Presbyterian, etc). I assume it was because they got their first and decided there was a certain advantage to being king of the hill. But I don’t know. And, since all those “First” slots have been filled for some time now, new churches in our denomination are creatively naming themselves everything from Replenish to Reformation to Renovation, from Redemption to Regeneration to Roger.
A friend who pastored a large church in a metropolitan area sent me his weekly bulletin. Across the top was emblazoned their logo: “Claiming (city) for the Lord Jesus Christ!” When I suggested that there are other churches in his city that want a piece of the action and that a more honest slogan might be something like “Working with the Lord’s churches to claim (city)…” he told me to mind my own business.
There seems to be no end to the efforts we will make to make sure everyone knows we are the best. Help us, Lord.
I cannot forget hearing Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart say on radio some years back that his ministry was the best thing the Kingdom of God had going on Planet Earth. Within a few weeks, he had met his comeuppance and his little empire came crashing down. Pride goeth before a fall.
Help us, Lord. Humility is always in order.
We despise bragging. So, in order to brag on our church, we do something one step removed from that.
We get others to do the bragging for us.
The state denominational paper will be happy to tell the world that your church is rich, that your mission gifts are the highest, that your facilities are the best. The executive of your denomination will be happy to come to your church once a year and hand out plaques and recognitions and to praise your church. It’s what they do.
God help us.
What we almost never do…
We almost never have a time of spontaneous, heart-felt, confession and repentance, accompanied by testimonies, weeping, and whatever else God sends with no thought to the hour, the PR value of it, or how it will upset the rest of the schedule.
A pastoral counselor said, “Sometimes when a person sits in my office pouring out their sins and failures in weeping and broken-heartedness, I almost find myself envying them. Because God is near to them, nearer than He is to self-sufficient me.”
“God is near the broken-hearted and saves those of a contrite spirit.”
What if we started believing that? What if we started confessing our failures as churches, our shortcomings as pastors, our sins in leadership?
How would one go about having such a service of broken-heartedness for his entire church? Could we put it in the bulletin and announce that “On Tuesday next we will gather here in the sanctuary for a time of repentance and humiliation before God”? “Oh, and please bring lots of hankies.” Would that work?
I don’t think so.
I suspect this will happen only as a result of a combination of strong biblical preaching, individual humbling of ourselves before God, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit. Strong biblical preaching. Individual humbling of ourselves before God.
Continually. Day in and day out.
Until God decides we mean business and answers our prayer.
Wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord. (Psalm 27:14).