I'm a confessed church-hopper. It's been that way for almost a year. I keep asking myself, "Why?" In one or two smaller churches I've met some wonderful, loving people and in other congregations, I met no one because they have an "invisible visitor" policy. I've attended warm, inviting large sanctuaries and cold, indifferent smaller places of worship. I've walked into churches that held business meetings on Sunday morning instead of conducting business with God. I've walked into congregations hurting in my heart to hear from God and walked out with a church budget spread sheet that I tossed in the nearest trash can.
Actually, all of these obstacles can be overcome either through my own friendliness, or willingness to get involved in small groups to meet people on a more personal level, or just by having a church make a commitment to reserve Sunday morning for the teaching of the Word of God. It's all fixable.
However, three problems keep cropping up in churches that I can't do a thing about. This past Sunday I attended a large, modern church and after 20 minutes of listening to the sermon I had to leave. I've never done that in my life as a believer. This church displayed one of the three problems I am about to discuss.
Here they are in case you're curious,
First, some pastors preach out of a dry Bible. These men stick to the word and like glue they adhered to the text so much they are unable to say anything practical or useful from the Word. In my own experience teaching the Scriptures, I'd pray for the Lord to make the Word come alive to touch hearts of people in the congregation. I'd plead with the Lord to bring tears, laughter, joy and relief to the people hearing the Word.
Yet some pastors have turned their teaching into an extended Bible commentary. Great information. Intellectually stimulating comments. But dry and lifeless. The pastor probably never leaves his study and interacts with real people with failing marriages, chronic illnesses and troubled teens. These pastors cannot bring the Bible into the 21st century. Perhaps a year away from the pulpit and working in a supermarket or a hospital might make them "real people" and not so plastic and rigid. What a waste! I could've stayed home and read a good book.
Second, the wet Bible is used by the pastor who will get up before the congregation and say, "As I was preparing this message last night . . . " Those words tell me this man is not prepared. He has not studied or poured over the word during the week. His presentation is superficial and predictable. I heard a pastor this week give a watered down message. He would read a passage of the text and then say, "Isn't this crazy . . . that God would dwell with His people?" I thought to myself, "Crazy?" What a strange way to describe God's presence. This pastor used this term about 6 or 7 times. I had to leave. He said very little about the text. I would have found more respect for the Koran in a mosque than I found in this church for the Holy Bible. I felt ashamed to be a Christian where such little respect was shown for the Word of God. He might as well been preaching out of a Marvel comic.
The watered down sermons are the ones where you hear tips and principles and 7 how to's on finding peace or fixing your family or re-roofing your house. Most mega churches are based on this kind of preaching where the pastor thinks he's "one of us" because he wears sandals in the pulpit and a Hawaiian shirt and no tie. The pastor is not one of us; the pastor is held to a higher standard. He livs in a fish bowl where people watch his every move. If he says the word "shit," that'll be the topic of the week in the small groups, If his kids screw up in school, the uproar is much greater than if Joe Blow in the back row has 4 teens who are all smoking dope. In the same way, in trying to be "one of us," the pastor does not study the word "like one of us." Who is he trying to kid?
Finally, there's the no-Bible pastor. No Bible! He's not even looked at his Bible. His message is about nothing. Ideas. Concepts. A book he's read. His identity as a Jewish person or a black person. Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor, is a no Bible pastor. He's got fire, but it's not the fire of the Holy Spirit. It's the fire of his politics or hatred of whites. It's not the fire of the Holy Word. If the word of God is not taught in the pulpit, it's time to go home and watch Sunday afternoon football and pop open a few beers. The pastor is wasting your time. If he's afraid to teach the Scriptures because people might leave because they're seeking a purpose-driven way to wash their car or have the greenest lawn on the block, then he needs to seek a new profession. If the pastor is just catering to all the people who want their own "personal Jesus," he does a disservice to the bigger picture of the God we worship as our King not my personal divine servant. I wonder if some Christians are confusing Jesus with Tinkerbell or Jiminy Cricket?
Some pastors even hold the Bible when they speak but the words they speak do not come from the Bible. They tell stories and anecdotes and get people laughing. They're entertainers. They want to build their church on being a funny pastor or erect a mega-congregation on telling people how to get rich or healed or be successful. They are no-Bible pastors. They give their people the "Show of Shows" as they prance back and forth across the stage like a Vegas night club act. if they're gong to go that far, then bring out the Vegas dancing girls along with the Viva Las Vegas pastor.
So which pastor is the one you ought to be looking for? It's simple. You'll know the moment he opens his mouth. He's the man who has humbled himself before the Word of God, prayed over it and meditated on the text and read the commentaries, studied the original languages and prayed over and over, "Lord, what do you want to say to your people through this passage of holy text?" But if every week you're hearing a man of God teaching the same thing over and over - the same prophetic message, the same cry for more giving, the same focus on the importance of Israel, the same favorite passages, the same promises that God will heal all diseases, the same focus on faith . . . . this man has not been in the Word of God. He preaches out of his own mind . . . an un-submitted mind to the Spirit of God. He's got his mind all made up what he's going to say and he's going to bend the Scriptures like Gumby to make God's word adapt to his pre-conceived ideas.
So what if every church is not a mega church? Big deal! But every church deserves a pastor faithful to God's word whether that church grows to 17,000 or stays at 170 in its membership. The goal for the pastor is not to be purpose-driven but to be driven by the Spirit of God through the words God has inspired and placed in the pages of a book that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation.
Football games this Sunday or Church . . what will it be? If your pastor can't take you line by line through the Scriptures, then those seats on the 40 yard line might be the better choice.
You can always find a good self-improvement book at Barnes and Noble; but when the word of God is taught no book in Barnes and Noble or you can find on Amazon.com can compare to the empowerment of self-improvement God can accomplish in your life through His word.