It was the end of a worship service and this gentleman made a determined beeline directly for me. I knew he was coming my way, so I stopped to acknowledge him. I was hoping to hear some great testimony about how God was working in his life. But I’ll admit, I was not prepared for what came out of his mouth next. He looked at me, then pointed to the back wall and said, “Have we forsaken our mission? Are we not preaching the Gospel anymore?” I replied with incertitude, “I’m not sure….” And before I could get the next words out of my mouth, he jabbered in with, “Well, with that screen down over the back wall, how is anyone ever going to know our mission!?”
He was referring to the words of the Great Commission from Matthew 28, which were posted across the back wall of the Worship Center. The words read, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” This happened in a previous church I served with for many years. We put those words on the back wall so that they would be the last words anyone sees before they exit the worship service each week. They were a reminder to people to go and preach the Gospel. The reason those words were covered by a screen was because we had also installed a screen that would come down at the beginning of each worship service, so that the vocalists on stage could see the lyrics to the songs they were singing, in order to help lead the congregation in worship. The Tech Director had simply forgotten to raise the screen. An honest mistake to most, but not to this man.
After I realized he was dead serious and not joking, I replied by saying,“You’re absolutely right, I did not even notice that. I’ll inform the Tech Team to remember to pull it up.” And that is what I did, and the screen got raised each week from that point. It wasn’t that he asked the question that troubled me, it was his tone and the way he directed the question that gave me cause for concern. Sadly, I told my wife at lunch after the service that day, “He and his family are on their way out of the church.” She thought I was crazy. A few short months later, that family was gone.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe God is in the details and small things. No church is beyond accountability or the platform for always striving for excellence and getting better, even if it means raising a screen at the right time. We should work to make each other better, and sometimes that may mean having hard conversations. But when we start being critical of small, trivial things, it’s time to check our hearts, because the enemy is trying to get us off the true mission. When we begin to focus on things that have little to do with advancing or impeding with the overall mission of spreading the Gospel to the lost, a little application of Proverbs 4:23 may be needed, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Words on a wall may be a great reminder, but they are not the breaking point for personal, critical pulpits.
The COVID era has provided many critics the opportunity to perform a thorough diagnostic on their churches, and their motives and plans. In many cases, church leaders are having to make unprecedented and impossible decisions in real time as they go along, for something they have never encountered. Many have also seized the opportunity to maximize the criticisms they’ve had long before the pandemic began.
The stark reality for many churches is that many people are not coming back. During the quarantine, they found the couch to be a much more comfortable option. They found better options that provide them with more control and less accountability. Many simply found other churches online in the virtual world that offer something they feel is better suited for their needs. For many churches, it won’t be the same...ever again, and that won’t be easy.
A critical spirit is like a weed dropped down in a bed of fescue by a passing bird. Before long, the storms of life produce the right environment for that weed to grow and fester. And if you don’t deal with it directly, it will eventually root out all the good and the life, and leave you with nothing but wiry grass that consumes and chokes you out. It may look green from a distance when you cut it, but when you get up close to it, it leaves you ugly and empty, and a slave to its will without you even knowing it.
Perhaps another Proverb would be applicable in these times. Proverbs 16:24, “Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” I assure you there are plenty in your church who could use some of your “honey” today, rather than your venom. And if you don’t like honey, then simply change it to “Gracious words are like barbeque sauce, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Either way, it’s a good time flip the cap and pour it out. There’s already enough death being spoken out there. Try to pour out some life and it will change the atmosphere.