I’m making this post mainly as a means to vent some frustration and grief, and I won’t be going into detail regarding the history and problems alluded to. For those who might be interested in such, I will link to articles from another blog, the author of which is a friend of mine and has been documenting events and patterns in the church in question, and the churches in the area, for a while now.
Imagine a church– a small, country church, less than a hundred members, number of regular attenders somewhat smaller yet. The church has had problems and, perhaps, problem people for some time–several years, anyway–that have been tolerated. But over the course of the last year or so things have gotten worse. Congregants have increasingly manifested ignorance of the Word’s teachings, and of what constitutes a good sermon. Criticism of the pastor has begun to run rampant, usually spread behind his back and heard by him only second- or third-hand. Among the complaints are that his sermons lack “joy”, are “doom and gloom”, and are thus to blame for the apparently joyless atmosphere–seemingly these people are unaware of the fact that a) a proper minister of the Word preaches what he feels led by God to preach; b) rather than complaining and telling him he’s a horrible preacher (implicitly, anyway), they should search themselves and see if they are as diligent as they should be in praying that God would lead him as He wants, as he is supposed to lead them; c) that lack of perceived “joy” may have other causes–such as the judgment of God for too-long tolerated wrongdoing and even rebellion; and d) if the possibility raised in c is true, then mere cosmetic changes such as the addition of coffee to the morning worship experience, besides raising questions of what is reverent and what gives proper attention to the difference between the holy and the common, will change nothing.
It’s bad enough that these criticisms are unfounded and undermining of the pastor’s authority and potentially of his confidence as well, and in a sense dehumanizing. What’s worse is that some of them have come from people within the church that until recently might have been called good friends of his. The actions of those individuals are thus both seditious, and worthy of being considered betrayals of the pastor’s friendship and trust.
The pastor, it is true, has been pressured much lately to avoid the subject of repentance, and to preach happy, joyful messages (as the Ekklescake author has elsewhere noted, no one seems to know exactly what that would entail). But seeking God’s guidance through much prayer and, this past week, through fasting as well, felt called to preach on confession from Daniel 9. The message this morning stressed the importance of prayer to the Christian life, and the benefits of fasting as an aid to prayer. Fasting as a voluntary action was stressed, and some specific reasons one might choose to fast were listed. A main point of emphasis was the value of crying out to God in confession, not just for oneself and one’s own sins but also on the behalf of one’s nation, leaders, even church. The pastor noted how Daniel’s hope for relief from God rested not on the people’s righteousness, because they had sinned grievously, but on God’s mercy and reputation.
The pastor ended his sermon by suggesting that any who felt compelled to stay in the sanctuary following the closing hymn and pray should feel free to do so. He doesn’t normally make such a suggestion, but he felt it appropriate today in light of the subject matter of the sermon, and in light of his concern for the church’s current state and direction. One would think that since so many people in the church have detected something is wrong, that there’s no joy, etc., that some would consider the words of the message and the universal call to prayer, and stay behind–but no, out they all filed to the fellowship hall, chattering as they went. None but the pastor and his daughter remained.
Some might say I’m making too big a deal out of this. As one who has seen the declension of the church and the scapegoating and unfair, sometimes cruel treatment of its minister, I can only say that it reinforces the conviction that the congregation doesn’t think deeply of what it has heard, and truly is blind to the need to seek God diligently rather than apply little gimmicks and fixes in order to save the church they can tell is sick.
I suppose there’s cause for hope in that seeds might have been sown that God will grow in time, but I can’t help but think of how discouraging that response must have been to the pastor. Thank the Lord he has support, from his daughters and from those outside the church, because many within it seem to have abandoned him.