Over the next few weeks, I will revisit articles that drew the most feedback in 2010. Here is number two… In America today, a significant number of people are switching churches, or leaving altogether. I’ve found that judging “rightly,” as well as unwarranted criticism, both play significant roles.
Last week we concluded with point four:
4. Do you have a critical spirit? This could also translate into a cynical, or negative, attitude. If you do, you’ve already turned a deaf ear; it will be difficult to discern God’s leading. Of all the books I’ve read, the sermons I’ve heard, and the devastation I’ve seen firsthand, one common denominator was present: Divisive, cynical, and judgmental people never experience true freedom, contentment, or joy. We must avoid being a “divisive man” who is proud, unteachable, and eager to dispute. Paul has harsh words for this type of person. (Refer to Titus 3:10-11.) Unwarranted criticism and judgmentalism, though skillfully masked, can, and will lead you in the wrong direction.
5. Are your expectations of the church and/or pastor realistic? Your pastor may not be a motivational speaker, the worship may not descend from the portals of heaven, and you may not be greeted with hugs and smiles from everyone, but these are not necessarily reasons to leave. As a matter of fact, we should be thankful that we live in a nation where we can worship God, and faithfully preach the Word without fear of death or imprisonment (at least for now).
It’s not realistic to think that all the sermons and worship services will meet our every need. As in marriage, it’s vitally important that we don’t enter into things with unrealistic expectations. Without humility and a teachable spirit, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get clear direction in this area. Humility does not mean that we become passive observers, but that we live in total surrender to God, and align our expectations with His. Expect the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, to transform you…not pastors, and others.
I do believe there should be passion in a true spirit-filled church. After all, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire” (Lloyd-Jones). Fire, passion, unction, and anointing should resonate from the pulpit, and the church. “Excitement” is often the by-product of a radically changed life.
Is preference influencing your decision? When it comes to preference, the questions are endless: “Why is the worship music so loud? Why is the worship so subdued? Why don’t we sing the old hymns? Why do we sing the old hymns? Why are we using instruments? Why aren’t we using instruments? Why do we have a choir? Why don’t we have a choir? Why are they sitting? Why are they standing? Why are they raising their hands? Why aren’t they raising their hands? Why aren’t the pastor’s messages topical? Why are they topical? Why are they wearing a suit and tie? Why aren’t they wearing a suit and tie? Why do we have so many guest-speakers? Why don’t we have guest-speakers? Why aren’t the services charismatic? Why are the services so charismatic? Why don’t we take communion every Sunday? Why do we take communion every Sunday?”
The list never ends. I remember telling my pastor that I really enjoyed the worship service one morning. He smiled and said, “A few others commented just the opposite.” As you can see, preference plays an enormous role in our lives, but this isn’t always a bad thing. Personally, I think that what many are referring to as racism or division within the church has nothing to do with racism or division at all, but preference. We all “prefer” certain settings and styles of worship. Ethnic groups, as well as age groups, generally have preferences that are based on experience and upbringing—on what is familiar and comfortable. This may be another reason why God has granted us Bible-believing denominations. There’s nothing wrong with having preferences, but there is something wrong when our preferences become the standard by which we judge others. Enjoy your God-given preferences, but don’t allow them to become the standard by which you evaluate others.
Love and grace should be the driving force behind motives. In closing, it may appear that I’m siding with the church on these issues; I’m not. My goal is for the reader to examine motives, and to then make the right decision. It’s been said that people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. Again, love and grace should be the driving force behind our motives, not winning arguments or proving a point.
An attitude of constant criticism is not a positive character trait; it often reveals an inner drive to exalt oneself. Get rid of it. Always ask, “Is love truly guiding me?” before making an important decision. Furthermore, if you’re not in the Word, the Word won’t be in you.
Don’t let discouragement and failure stand in your way. I could write an entire book on my failures, but instead, I try to follow the apostle Paul’s advice and I encourage you to do the same: Forget about those things that are behind you. Instead reach forward to those things that are ahead of you (Philippians 3:13). Forget your past mistakes, but remember the lessons learned because of them.