Let's Stay For Church

It’s one of those images burned into my mind from many years ago. I drove past the neighborhood church often as a teen-ager. Their sign identified the church on the front side, and on the back side it read, “Let’s stay for church.” The back side of the sign was clearly visible from the church’s parking lot, so this was a message to the membership about the value of corporate worship.

Their schedule reflected the typical evangelical Sunday morning schedule many yet follow: small group Bible study, or Sunday School, earlier in the morning, then “church,” or worship, following. Apparently church leadership felt in that day that members needed reminding that the day wasn’t complete if they short-circuited the two hours they could spend in God’s house.

Things really haven’t hanged much in 40 years! Some Christians yet find excuses for not supporting worship, be it for family get-togethers, trips or rest. But sometimes Christians neglect worship altogether. This was a burden for a pastor friend in another county. He lamented that church members took the entire morning away from church for family birthday dinners and the like. Clearly frustrated, he told me, “We don’t have night church, so they have all afternoon to party with their family!”

The Old Testament prophet Malachi was likewise frustrated when his people brought unworthy sacrifices to the Lord. He chided them, “If you offer the same to the governor, will he be pleased with you?” (Malachi 1:8). We might extrapolate this passage and ask, “Would your employer accept the same excuses you offer the Lord?”

Corporate worship is commanded in scripture. It’s valuable time for at least three reasons.

One, we gather to praise God. Worship is God-centered, not person-centered. The Bible says God dwells among his people when they praise and worship him (Psalm 22:3). We need God’s presence to encourage us in our broken world.

Two, we gather in fellowship with God’s people. An old preacher used to define fellowship as “two fellows on the same ship”! We don’t serve God alone, and it’s encouraging to be with other believers, to make friends, and to support and pray for one another.

Three, we gather to equip ourselves for ministry in our world.

One of the late Robert Schuller’s rationales for a glass church was his belief that churches shouldn’t “hide” behind stained glass, but always focus on the world outside their four walls—a world in need of God’s love. Certainly, stained glass has its place, but Schuller’s idea is a good one. Worship isn’t done until we’re inspired to take our faith home and to the marketplace.

It’s not a bad motto to remember every week: “Let’s stay for church.”

A Hill To Die On

I remarked to a church member lately that a certain matter wasn’t “a hill to die on.” We tried something new, but I told him if people didn’t like it, we’d go back to what we had. It occurred to me that I’ve mellowed in my senior years. There was a time I had several hills picked out for my last stand—just like Gen. Custer.

One was the weekly newsletter we had years ago. The church secretary thought that if she could hurry up, get it printed and mailed before the weekly deadline she earned God’s approval. I always instructed her to let me proof the copy before she went to press. One week I had a conference and was out for a day. True to form, she went to press the Tuesday I was away. When I returned I saw she’d had my Sunday scripture listed as Psalms 23 instead of Psalm 23. “Psalms” is the entire book, but individual chapters are a “psalm.” I had her re-do the newsletter before mailing.

Whereas she needed to know I was serious about proofing, in retrospect, I might have been the only person who noticed the incorrect reference had it been mailed as printed originally. I believe now this was a molehill rather than a hill to die on.

The trade-off for wisdom is that it comes with time after bad choices. We often joke about exchanging our aging bodies but keeping our mature brains, but, unfortunately, life doesn’t partner this way.

The scriptures extol the value of the elders—the aged of the faith community who imparted wisdom in decision-making. Elders received some of their wisdom from God, to be sure, but they also received it from a lifetime of choices, disappointments and regrets.

One Presbyterian elder told me about a session meeting they’d had with the pastor. The young minister grew incensed over some policy about which he was overruled, and my elder friend told him to calm down and hush.

“There’s no use in arguing,” he said. “It’s just a matter of calendars. We’ve been around much longer than you and have more wisdom!”

I’d never heard this phrase before, but it’s a good one. Calendars bring wrinkles to our faces and gray to our temples, but also wisdom to our minds. The church needs the wisdom of her seniors.

That’s not to say we don’t need the enthusiasm of the young. We certainly do. Paul instructed Timothy not to let any man despise his youth, but also not to rebuke an elder but afford him double honor (1 Timothy 4: 12, 5:1, 17). Mutual respect makes the church effective in the work of the Lord.

The Futility of Worry

I suppose I’d not realized that the second thing I do upon entering the car, after the seat belt of course, is turning on the sound system for radio or podcast. A few days ago I pressed the power switch, but the radio did nothing but stare at me with a black screen. I pressed the power switch a time or two to no avail. Then I dug out the owner’s manual to find which fuse controlled the sound system. Of course, the fuse wasn’t in the under-dash box that was easy to find, but in the engine box that was a bit harder to find.

I stopped at an auto parts store and asked them to test the fuse and discovered it was good. The attendant told me that the unit had a fuse behind the radio, and I’d probably have to pull the radio out of the dash in order to fix it.

My heart sank. I began to think in reality the radio was dead and I’ve have to shell out $150 or more for a new one, plus installation. However, I put the old fuse back in place and the radio came on as normal. I suppose the fuse had worked loose or been nudged in the last oil change. But I was happy the problem was solved so easily.

It occurred to me that many of the major problems I’ve dealt with in life are like this radio issue—imagined, not real. This is akin to the oft-told story about the senior adult who thought she was going blind before realizing she was still wearing her sleeping mask! Most of us are adept at anticipating trouble to the point we run half-way to meet it.

Worry is one of the primary maladies of our age. Doctors insist physical repercussions include ulcers, insomnia, indigestion, heartburn, headaches and irritability. Surely there’s a better way, especially since many of our fears are unrealized and our worrying useless.

Jesus’ counsel in the gospels is a word we need to hear. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” he said. “Tomorrow will have enough troubles on its own. Your heavenly father knows what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God . . . and everything else will fall into proper order” (Matthew 6: 32-34).

The Apostle Paul had similar advice. He wrote, “Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead bring your earnest concerns to the Lord, and don’t forget to thank him” (Philippians 4:6).

Prayer and praise beat worry any day of the week. Most of us need to hear and heed the admonitions of scripture that we trust in the goodness of our God who loves us and does all things well.

The Difficulty of Doing God's Work

In his new book, “Faith,” former President Jimmy Carter includes Millard and Linda Fuller as examples of those whom he’s known and admired. The Fullers founded Habitat for Humanity, an organization that has built or renovated 2 ½ million homes in 70 nations. One of Millard Fuller’s greatest accomplishments was convincing the Carters to partner with Habitat, and the former first family has helped with Habitat builds for the past 35 years.

I was intrigued by a quote Carter included from a Habitat staffer: “Millard has the dreams, and then we inherit the nightmare of fulfilling his vision.”

I suppose every church deals with the “nightmare” of fulfilling vision. We’re committed as disciples of Christ, following him into pockets of need in our communities. But superintending ministries can be difficult for several reasons.

One reason is that ministries are staffed by fallible human beings. Leadership guru John Maxwell often says the joy of ministry is people, and the difficulty of ministry is people! That’s because we all possess two natures: vipers and violets as F.W. Boreham used to say. People can be wonderfully cooperative and generous, and people can be petty and obstructionist. But Christian leaders realize we must work with those we have and develop people into greater Christlikeness.

Another reason ministry is difficult is because of criticism. The old adage is that it doesn’t take much size to criticize, but criticism is part of every ministry I’ve ever known.

The late televangelist Oral Roberts was accosted by a critic who castigated him for a ministry.

“How do you do this work?” Roberts asked.

The man sheepishly admitted he didn’t do this work.

“Sir,” Roberts replied. “I like the way I’m doing this more than the way you’re not doing it!”

Another reason ministry is difficult is because of resource shortages. Churches aren’t to be savings accounts, piling up larges amounts of money for the proverbial “rainy day,” but rather checking accounts, receiving gifts from God’s people and investing these funds in worthwhile endeavors. Even though we know this, most churches still struggle with a lack of resources.

In our church we often say that we could spend ten times our current benevolence budget to help so many people in need around us. But we also have other ministries we’re committed to. Some studies suggest the average Christian gives just over two percent of their income to the church. We can only imagine the ministries we could do if more people moved to the biblical model of the tithe.

Ministry is hard, but we must do it. The Lord of the church insisted, “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21).