He told me that the church service was a complete failure. His words crushed me. But after hearing his complaint, I had to agree. I think that’s why his words still weigh so heavy on me, several days later.
The man wasn’t talking about the church where I pastor. It was another church, in another town. The man’s family had been through a lot of adversity in recent months. It was more adversity than most of us could could ever imagine. Now, just as things were starting to settle down, it was time for my friend’s son to move away to college. The whole family loaded up and made a weekend event out of it. They wrapped it all up on Sunday morning by going to a church that I had recommended.
I’m somewhat familiar with this church. I’ve visited it several times. I knew that it would be a good place for a young college student to get plugged in. That’s something that I desperately want for students who are leaving our church for college. This family, perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever known, needed to hear an encouraging word from the Bible.
Instead, they got an infomercial.
When my friend gave me his assessment of the service he said, “The preacher never cracked open the Bible one time and all he did was ask for money and try to sell stuff.”
Pastor, you have one job to which all of your other ministerial responsibilities take a back seat. Preach the word. But sometimes we get too distracted to obey that simple command. We get distracted with buildings and budgets and chasing relevance.
And the sermon moves to the backseat.
Or into the trunk, bound and gagged.
And the people suffer.
I recently met a man whose daughter had just been killed. I’ve been thinking a lot about him and how the church that I pastor can reach out to him. To the best of my knowledge, he’s not connected to a church. I have no reason to believe that he is a Christian. I hope that he shows up to our church one Sunday. Or another church for that matter.
But when he does, I pray that he is not met with a sermon about how everyone needs to start giving more so that we can build our new building. I hope that he does not encounter a sermon about financial blessings or taking your sex life to the next level. I hope that he hears the gospel of joy and peace and reconciliation that comes through the forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ.
More and more, I’m starting to wonder if I’m setting my hopes too high. After all, new gymnasiums don’t pay for themselves.
A mentor once told me that there is a broken heart on every pew. It grieves me to think about all of the pain that is in our churches. But it grieves me even more when I hear stories about the supposed remedies many of those churches are distributing (or selling) to those broken hearts.
You might have a great music scene at your church.
Your church might have a really swell building.
And your church might be the home of a few celebrities.
But if the Bible is never opened to show hurting people and sinners the living hope that is available only through Christ Jesus, it’s not a church that you have. What you have is a civic organization.
Hurting people do not need a civic organization.
Ultimately, the do not need a slickly produced concert.
And they could not possibly care less about your new building.
What they need is to be reminded that there is a just and holy God who, by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we get to call Father.
And pastor, if they don’t hear that from you, who are they going to hear it from?
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? Romans 10:14 (ESV)