Archive for May, 2022

Is it true that a generation or two ago churches all across America were more active and more committed to the goal of spreading the gospel than is the case today? Yes, it is true that only a percentage of the population who were active members of churches a generation ago are still active today. And why have so many formally active churches across our nation closed their doors in the last few years?

Those who have done the greatest damage to the ministry of churches in our country in the last half century or so have not been individuals on the outside of churches looking in. It has primarily been the members on the inside of churches, and we have done this in the following ways:

  1.  We have taken the church for granted far too often. We figure that if the church has survived all these years, it will go on surviving and growing in the foreseeable future. It is easy to believe that no one would want to harm or make less effective the ministry of the church.
  2.  We have localized the church by insisting that it belongs on a certain corner or in a certain part of town. We rope it off, wall it in and insulate it against the outside world. We see to it that it serves folks like “us” rather than folks like “them.”
  3.  We limit its message to the parts of the gospel that people like to hear. We have been willing to let our churches go all out for brotherly love, streets of gold, pearly gates and things like that. We have insisted that our churches soft-pedal or ignore such weighty matters as justice, mercy and peace. We demand that it should stay out of such controversial matters as race relations, economic justice and international good will—for these can be and often are controversial.
  4. We silence the prophetic voice in our midst. A tar and feathers campaign is often organized in less than 24 hours to run out of town anyone who dares talk like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos or John the Baptist or John Bunyan and Walter Rauschenbusch. We seek to accomplish our objective by cutting off financial support until the congregation decides to get another leader who is less controversial.
  5. We make the church’s membership selective. We want people kept out whom we consider undesirable. That way the membership remains homogeneous and congenial, sort of like an exclusive club, composed of the right kind of people who live on the right side of the tracks.
  6. We cut off the church’s source of supply. Many churches neglect young people. We have often taught them little or nothing about the church, either about its history, its mission or its future. After all, training young people might intrude on their right to make their own decisions.
  7. We deemphasize its evangelistic outreach.
  8. We believe the church will grow by natural means as children of present church members come of age.
  9. We stifle its missionary message and spirit. We accomplish this by insisting that the church has more to do in our own communities than it can possibly do. Why bother with people all the way across the country or half-way around the world. After all, a church cannot do everything.

The greatest hindrances to the spiritual life of the church and the evangelization of the world are from those of us within the church. Even so, wherever and whenever we find the Word of God powerfully preached and heard and the sacraments administered properly—there it is not to be doubted is a church of God.

You can have the largest church auditorium, the biggest Sunday School and a steeple up on the church so high that it interferes with astronauts circling the earth, but the angels in heaven won’t give a holy grunt until some old sinner comes down the aisle on a Sunday morning and gets right with Jesus.


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Most Christian denominations have an annual meeting where messengers or delegates from constituent churches from all across America take care of the business at hand and have the opportunity to hear inspirational messages. The Southern Baptist Convention with which I am affiliated meets every May in a key city somewhere in America.

Several years ago, at one of our annual convention meetings, I was discussing with a pastor friend how well the Lord’s work was progressing in our two churches. My friend told me that during the previous year his church had discontinued having a mid-week prayer meeting on Wednesday night. When I asked him how the deacons at his church felt about that, he replied, “Oh, they haven’t found out about it yet.”

I strongly suspect that his evaluation of the faithfulness of the deacons in his church was of the tongue-in-cheek variety. Even so, the lack of church attendance by church members is a problem in far too many churches today. The importance of genuine fellowship with other Christians, the value of corporate worship and giving solid commitment to the witness and outreach of the body of Christ cannot be overestimated if the local church is going to make a solid impact on the community of which it is a part.

There are millions of church members across America who have not attended church in several years. They will tell you they are Christians. They will gladly tell you they are church members, that they are members of a specific congregation. They are counting on going to heaven when they die. Yet, they haven’t attended even a single worship service in their church in a huge number of years. Their priority is in other directions, and the truth is that they will likely not attend worship at their church until they die.

They need to hear these words written by an anonymous poet:

                        “Often when I pass the church,

                        I stop in for a visit,

                        So that when I’m finally carried in,

                        The Lord won’t ask, ‘Who is it?’”

If you think of yourself as a Christian, please don’t wait for a hearse to take you to church. If you do:

            You will go regardless of the weather.

            You will go even though you will never be able to attend church again.

            You will be at the altar, but you will not be able to receive God’s

            forgiveness for your sins.

            You will go regardless of how well the fish are biting,

            You will go no matter how beautiful the day is to play golf.

            You will go no matter how many relatives are visiting in your home.

            You will go no matter how many hypocrites are present in the church that



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David Christie, in his classic, “The Service of Christ,” says that there are three great temptations which every Christian minister faces: the temptation to recline; the temptation to shine; and the temptation to whine. This does not mean that these three are the only temptations Christian ministers face, for they are human. It is just that these three are the temptations to which they are particularly susceptible.

Let us look closely at the three temptations Christie mentioned.

The temptation to recline

Serving as pastor of a local congregation is the last place on earth for a lazy person to be. It has rightly been called “a 24/7 job.” There is no substitute in the Christian ministry for downright hard work—and lots of it. Those who want an easy vocation had better flee the ministry as if it were the plague.

An industrious minister knows that if he practices what he preaches he will have to put in a lot of overtime. Responsibilities involve preparation and delivery of sermons, study and preparation to lead Bible study, visitation, conducting funerals, counseling married couples and others who need guidance, etc. ad infinitum. A minister who is dedicated to meeting the spiritual needs of his parishioners cannot afford to give less than his best. HHe must be more than busy; he must be intelligently and purposefully occupied. “This one thing I do,” said the Apostle Paul.

The temptation to shine

So many church members have the habit of saying “I liked your sermon this morning” that it becomes easy for ministers to avoid preaching sermons that a parishioner might not like but definitely needs to hear. When people like what you say in sermons and how you say it, they tend to criticize you less than when your message was aimed at creating conviction for sin.

The physical and financial welfare of a minister’s family depends on the support of the members of the congregation. It is a temptation to play to the gallery, to avoid confrontation, to seek to be accepted—in short, “to shine.” But the minister who yields to this temptation should return his commission to the One who gave it.

The temptation to whine

Things go wrong in churches about as often as they do anywhere else, in families, in business, in teaching, in hospitals or in any other place. That is because church members are human. They are not perfect, they have weaknesses and they make mistakes. They have emotions that can make certain situations very difficult for anyone to handle.

Serving as pastor of Temple Baptist church in Wilmington during the 1990’s I was in my office one day when I heard someone outside in the hall talking loudly. It was obvious that whoever was out there was angry and was blowing off steam. It happened to be the pastor of another church in the city who wanted to know where my office was. The church secretary directed him to my office. He told me about the problems he was having in his church, and yes, he made several derogatory remarks about the leaders of that church. He then said, “I would like for you to recommend me to serve as pastor of another church.”  In other words, he was whining—big time whining. His extremely critical description of the congregation he was serving made it impossible for me to recommend him to serve another church.

Pray for your pastor. He has a tough but very important job. But know this: Any pastor who stays grafted into the Vine—and doesn’t recline, or shine or whine—will do just fine.

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A minister was once asked to speak to a group of businessmen. He began his presentation by taking a sheet of white paper and holding it up before his listeners. He had placed an inch in diameter black dot in the center with a pen. Holding it up before his audience, he asked his listeners what they saw.

One man quickly responded, “I see a black dot.”

“Right,” replied the minister, “but do you see anything else beside the black dot?” A chorus of noes echoed from his audience.

“I’m really surprised,” the minister commented, “for you have completely overlooked mentioning the most important thing—the sheet of white paper!” He then began to make an application of the truth he wanted them to see by explaining how often in life we tend to focus on life’s dark, dot-like experiences while overlooking the innumerable blessings with which we are daily blessed.

Have you ever noticed what gets the biggest headlines in the newspapers and in the daily news coverage on radio and television? It is murders, wrecks, robberies, rapes, plane crashes, fires, etc. Constructive stories that focus on positive things get far less billing. The spectacular, the problems, the deviations from the norm generally get more coverage. How easy it is to focus on negative things rather than on things that are constructive and beneficial to individuals and to mankind as a whole.

In evaluating others—a family member, friend, classmate, co-worker, etc. —it is often easier to focus on the dark side rather than on the bright side. This is also true when we evaluate anything: our town, our church, our organization or our government. Flaws stand out. An anonymous poet expressed it this way:

            “If we noticed little pleasures,

             As we notice little pains—

            If we quite forgot our losses

              And remembered all our gains.

            If we looked for people’s virtues

              And their faults refuse to see.

            What a comfortable, happy, cheerful place

              This world would be”

I am also reminded of another down-to-earth verse which offers us constructive advice: “As you travel down life’s pathway, may this ever be your goal; keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole!”

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