I was reading a book, Thoughts That Fell From a Taco Shell, by my friend Matt Ouellette (a great read if you’re looking for one). He was talking about finding balance as we live in the will of God and recounted a conversation he had with a friend in which they were discussing what they loved about their church fellowship. Matt, in essence, found himself wondering if his view of the church would be more of a flirtatious church, making eyes and dressing to impress but never committing — never having any real devotion, or if it would be the faithful bride of Christ.
One of the questions I hate getting as a pastor is “So, how’s your church doing?” Typically, this question is asked meaning, “So how many members do you have, what’s the average Sunday attendance, are you making the budget, and what outreach programs are you running?” The question is the pastoral equivalent of a spitting contest. The answers to this question are usually even more painful than the question because they’re so often embellished. We round up on the numbers and talk about developing (or dying) ministry efforts as if they’re thriving. It’s like putting a pretty dress, makeup, and a sassy look on a heart that isn’t really invested or willing to commit.
We need to stop flirting with each other and determine to be wholly devoted to God. As a pastor, I cannot allow myself to be concerned with what other people or pastors think. I cannot make my decisions based on what others think is the right thing to do, I cannot blindly follow trends simply because they are logical and reasonable courses of action, and I cannot seek to please outsiders looking in. My purpose is to please God. To please God I must love him above all else so I’ll follow him even when the general consensus would determine that I’m nuts, or lazy, or even uncaring. Jesus will lead us to do what is best, according to his purpose, not what makes sense. And in a culture where church is so often run like a business and where we bow to popular opinion over bowing to our Lord and Savior, following Jesus may ruffle some feathers and catch some glares.
It seems that, largely, churches want to make everyone happy. We want to be liked, but I can find no justification for this in scripture. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). We can’t make everyone happy, and follow Jesus. By virtue of our devotion to Christ and the pursuit of holiness we will separate ourselves from many — even some who claim to be Christian. This is what it means to be sanctified: to be set apart. “Come out from among them and be separate, says the LORD” (2 Corinthians 6:17 referencing Isaiah 52:11). If we flirt with people and try to get them to like us, then how will they see the difference — the radical transformation that Jesus brings? “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). Flirtatious trappings (ideas, beliefs, appearances) are an appalling substitute for true worship.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). This is a picture of unhindered, undistracted devotion. We take this as a charge to bear fruit. We are never commanded to bear fruit. We are commanded to abide in Christ, and as we do, the result will be fruitful. Yet we’d rather surround ourselves with teachers telling us what our itching ears want to hear, namely methods, steps, and approaches to growing our organization and producing some kind of fruit ourselves … often times, apart from Christ. I understand the need for order, intent, and focus. I also see clearly the command to abide in Christ and I think that time spent simply acknowledging the presence of God and adoring him is every bit as well spent as reading articles, books, blogs, and listening to podcasts on church growth, preaching, and leadership. In fact, I don’t notice a strong call to be a “leader,” as we understand that, as I do the passionate admonitions to simply love God and to follow him at all costs.
We cannot be devoted to God and live as the bride of Christ if we do not genuinely love God. We can flirt with being spiritual and impress each other, but God knows our heart. Love for God must be foremost. And love is proved by what we do in the small and quiet moments, in the thoughts of our inner self, and in how we choose to spend our time, energy, and effort. Will we sacrifice our desires and dreams to please God the way we would to win the heart of “the one” we want to marry? Or will we simply tack God’s name on an office door in the castle of our own little kingdom?
Now if you’ll excuse me, my First Love is calling…