I am at home, sicker than a dog, and that has left me with a short fuse – which just got lit. I read an article today about Christian pastors and priests leaving the church in droves. Recently I’ve seen ads for beautiful old churches that are for sale and can be bought for $1. I think there is a correlation.

The article talked about worship being “safe” but that if you mention a political cause all hell breaks loose. The young pastor gets fired up and passionate about causes but gets sucked dry by arguments about the color of the carpet in the church narthex.

Yeah, the church is filled up with plenty of ordinary household issues. Furnaces go on the fritz, carpets get threadbare, the secretary quits without giving notice, on and on. Every household has its routine maintenance, its challenges, its chores. So what?  The church is also filled up with people who live for meetings and want to stretch them out into eternity. Don’t let them. Play nice, but have an agenda, do business, have a life, go home.

But don’t throw away the church because worship is safe and you only get passionate about causes. If worship is “SAFE” then something is wrong. Worship isn’t about camp songs and playing nice. Worship is about life altering change and disruption. If you make it about politics, or you make it about this or that cause, you have missed the boat.

If you substitute the Gospel with a cause – whatever it is – you have just become a branch office of the SPCA or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or some such. Worthy causes – but not big picture life altering. The Gospel isn’t about the Republican or Democratic platform, it isn’t about pro-life or pro-choice, it isn’t about LGBT agenda. The Gospel isn’t about saving the whales, or fighting global warming, or paying your workers a living wage.

I have friends who are Christians who love the person their grown child loves and lives with – but are dismayed that their adult child sees no point in marrying that person – or that their adult child is waiting to marry the person that they are living with until this or that event happens. I see frazzled, tired parents at church who are busy shushing their children while attempting to placate them with Cheerios, toys, dolls, and puzzles to keep them quiet. Why don’t they quit that losing battle and teach their kids what the heck is going on in church?

Why do we think teenagers with raging hormones will suddenly learn to get excited about church? Why not let them in on what is going on in church when they are little and have a thousand questions they want answered?

I have had pastors tell me that they have no time to talk to people about baptism (we have a book for that); I have had pastors tell me that they have no time for sermon preparation. I have watched shows on TV where athletes or actors have spoken about their first tennis game at age 3; or about learning to play the piano at a similar age. What are we waiting for with church? Is the Gospel important at all – or just some box we check off to prove that we are civic minded caring people?

Once upon a time, I belonged to a church that was urged down a path toward becoming a gay church. Not, mind you, a church that welcomes all sinners including gays, but one which was intentionally for gays. I cautioned them that it would cease to be the church. They didn’t believe me, the transformation happened, and even some gay members left. Do I have an issue with gays? No. Why did I say it would cease to be the church? I said it would cease to be the church because whenever you substitute any issue for the Gospel message – you radically transform the nature and character of the institution. You are putting a cause in place of the Living God.

Worship that is done well isn’t safe. Preaching isn’t about placating the masses into a deep slumber. It isn’t about turning those in the pews into card-carrying lobbyists or community organizers. It is about meeting the sinners of the world and shining light into their frustrating, hurting lives and offering new life. It is about meeting the perfect Christians who are spit shined and properly attired and blowing the cobwebs out of their eyes.

Quit wasting time playing games in Sunday School and teaching vacuous Vacation Bible School. Teach little ones what the pictures in the windows are about. Teach little ones about the weird furniture in the church. Teach little ones what the colors of the church year mean. Figure out a way to get little people to actually listen to what is being said. Quit sabotaging church and leave the Cheerios and toys at home.

Stop encouraging adults to view the time prior to worship as gossip catch-up time. Encourage the congregation to take time before worship to prepare for worship. One church I attended had this in their bulletin:

Be thoughtful, be silent, be reverent; for this is the House of God. Before the service speak to the Lord; during the service let the Lord speak to you; after the service speak to one another.

I once visited a church where there were girls old enough to get pregnant who weren’t old enough to take communion. What the heck is wrong with this picture? If we throw away the radically transformational gospel that shakes up lives and turns depair into joy – we have only ourselves to blame.

The church is much bigger than a cause. If we quit looking at it as a platform for whatever it is that we are excited about today – we might actually do our parishioners a favor by getting out of the way of the Gospel. We might actually see Millennials return to church. We might actually quit seeing so many church buildings being sold.

Quit playing games. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

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7 Responses to Kumbaya

  1. Pingback: The Fear of Dying and The Tools for Battle: Kumbaya – 2.0 | When the River Won't Flow

  2. I suspect that many pastors get discouraged because they need to be micromanagers who spend their days spinning so many plates that the don’t have time for themselves or their families. If you want pastors to “last” in ministry, come alongside of them and offer to help. It’s hard to focus upon preaching the Gospel when you are doing everything from typing and printing the bulletin to spending large amounts of time with people who know that they need the help of a professional therapist, but come to the pastor because the counseling is free.

  3. AECRM says:

    I suspect that there is, in many congregations, nearly limitless work for a pastor. Pastors may need to learn how to spin off work to others — even if the result isn’t perfect. Jesus tells us to follow. He doesn’t tell us to follow after the bulletins are typed and printed by the pastor. Sounds as if you know some pastors who could use some help. We found some simple ways to do some of these things. I have come alongside and offered to help — and in several churches, it was the start of some amazing partnerships between laity and clergy that strengthened families, improved worship life, etc. I’d enjoy chatting with you further about this if you have the time or inclination. In any event, thank you for taking the time now to stop by & share your thoughts.

  4. AECRM says:

    Pastor Gillespie, I looked at your blog and see that you are a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. So am I. I graduated with an M. Div. in 1985 but did not pursue ordination. Where were you there?

  5. I was graduated in 1988 and have served in ministry for 29 years.

  6. Pingback: Career Counseling, Our Passions, and Some Surprises | When the River Won't Flow

  7. Pingback: The Fear of Dying and The Tools for Battle: Kumbaya – 2.0 | When the River Won't Flow

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