People in church can get upset at the craziest things. A lady pulled me aside once, whispering she had something important to tell me. My mind flashed through worse case scenarios: she had cancer; a deacon had passed out; a car in the parking lot was on fire. With deep conviction, she told me she had seen one of our staff members walking around in BLUE JEANS! She knew I would want to know and speak to him. It was a molehill turned into a mountain.
A pastor friend of mine was verbally attacked in his office for having the staff read a book. An immature man told him he was undermining the legacy of his father and grandfather in the church. How does reading a book threaten your family history? Besides, I thought church was supposed to be about Jesus and his will, not a dead relative's legacy.
Pastors can do crazy things too. A youth pastor got up and told his church that if they didn't worship the way he did, with loud guitar riffs, skinny jeans and hands held high, they weren't real Christians. Didn't Jesus say something about judge not, lest you be judged?
Years ago, an older pastor got upset with me in a meeting when I suggested the methods of the past may not work anymore. He accused me of being a liberal heathen (I'm not, I'm a Florida Gator). He thought we needed two-week revivals, more Stamps-Baxter music and a sermon every week on how we were all in danger of hell. I didn't know how to tell him the pace of life has changed; the average age of people buying Stamps-Baxter music was 75; and, while hell is important to talk about, there were other subjects in the Bible that needed to be taught. He was praying for the 1930s (the years of his childhood) to come back. I was 100 percent sure 1935 was not going to pop up on the calendar again.
One man pulled me aside and told me, "Preacher, we don't need to reach any more people until we take care of the people we have." As lovingly as I could, I told him I thanked God the people of the church didn't feel that way, or else we would have never reached him when he was far from God. Jesus told us to love each other, sure, but he also commanded us to go make disciples.
Someone else asked me not too long ago if I thought another church's growth hurt our church. "No," I replied, "last time I checked we were under the same ownership. Our competition is not the church down the street, it's everything else that pulls people away from God." When any church wins, God's Kingdom wins. It's not a competition.
I think every church has a mission from God, a unique reason God made it to exist. God may gift one church to grow large, gift another church to stay small but be a faithful witness in an under-served area and gift a third church to reach a slice of people that everyone else ignores. Most churches, however, never do the hard work of discovering their unique role in God's kingdom.
Instead, churches are tempted by shadow missions. A shadow mission is when your true mission is derailed, not by something bad but by something that is pretty good. It's good to want to respect God, but wearing blue jeans is not a sin. Getting upset by new ideas means forgetting to ask, "Does this new idea help us accomplish our mission?" Condemning other people for the way they worship makes the style of worship more important than the God we worship. Clinging to old ways can be an idol. We can spend so much time loving each other, we forget to love the least of these; we can forget to love those far from God.
Long before management gurus discovered the idea of mission, Jesus gave his church a clear mission: "Go, make disciples, of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you. I am with you all the time, even to end of the days" (Matthew 28:19-20). The mission of the church is to make disciples - people who live their lives like Jesus; seems clear to me. If a church puts anything above that, it's a shadow mission.
Jesus promised he would be with us each day as we do his mission. Many churches seem to lack the power of Jesus. I wonder if those churches are doing a shadow mission Jesus wants no part of.
That last thought makes me pray, "Father, keep your church on mission."
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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