Yesterday, after the message, someone thanked me for the strong message. Another said it's the best sermon they've ever heard. Someone else thanked me for preaching the hard truth. But then a close friend of mine asked me: "But do you think people are hearing what you're saying?"
I live with that question.
Here's what I've been saying.
The times are hard, and hard times call for patient endurance. It may feel like the world is falling apart, but we should receive this as encouragement that we are in the Last Days. Just make sure that you're a Follower of the Way and not just just a follower of a spiritualized version of the American Dream. The American Dream is great, but it's not the gospel. The gospel is not about just having a better life.
In fact, if you want to grow your faith, devote yourself to these four things: the apostles' teachings, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer. That is the simplest expression of what it means to be Church! And yes, that highlights the fact that our larger view of church is pretty narrow. We tend to come to church for a worship experience that we enjoy. We get that wrong about worship: worship isn't for you, it's from you. Worshiping God is giving him our entire life.
But we tend to see church as something that helps us get better. And it does, I'm sure. But I think the way we've been doing church has, in some ways, made us worse rather than better.
I keep an eye on the Church. And as I see how attached we are to our above ground systems and structures, I wonder: Would our faith survive underground if it had to? That's a disturbing thought because I'm afraid it wouldn't. Like, I'm afraid that if any of the things we call "church" were taken away, our faith would feel very unfamiliar to us. If we ever had to abandon the sacred things we've made out of "stone, wood, and paper," I wonder if we would feel abandoned by God.
That thought burdens me because, for many, I think the answer is Yes, we would feel abandoned by God. And we just might abandon our faith.
So that's why I keep preaching what I'm preaching about why God has been shaking the Church. He's trying to show us a better way. He's inviting us to a better practice of our faith, and to (I think) a better imagination of what it means to be Church.
There's so much wrong with the Church -- meaning the way we do church. We have run ourselves ragged under a "church growth model" where we think that increasing the size of an organized body of believers with a mission statement, is the same as making disciples. (It's profoundly not.) And because of that confusion, we have become dependent on pastors and the programs they're able to produce, as if that's the solution to this world's problems. If things go bad, hire a better servant. And now we have weak (worn out) pastors and weak (lazy) parishioners to show for it.
I'm not complaining about you for me; I'm fine.
I'm "complaining" about us for God; we're not fine!
And so I believe that he has brought this shaking of our faith to show the quality of our faith. And much of the things that we relate to as faith are failing under the shaking.
I pray that we don't squander this opportunity to build faith well. Because I don't think the shaking is over. That's just my sense. I believe there is danger ahead. It's a storm that will cause the faith of many to slide off of the road, and the love of many to grow cold.
But, like I said yesterday, it's not a storm that's coming, it's a storm that's already here. It's up ahead, in the pass between here and where we're going. And if we keep on going like we're going, we're going to suffer loss for it.
I know it's a sober word.
When I read yesterday what Paul said in Acts 27:21-25, I had the sense that the same could be said for most churches in this season: "We are going to suffer loss to the structures and systems that have been carrying us, but God has graciously given us the lives of all who remain true to him."
I'm not sure how long I'll keep having to bring this message, or how long people can bear it. And I don't know if it's possible to "pastor" a church with a hard message week after week -- like I don't know if people will tolerate it for long. But I also don't believe it's possible to "pastor" a church without doing what I can to protect it from any danger I see.
And all I know is that, week after week, when I ask him to give me a message of comfort, he keeps impressing upon me to bring a message of warning. And so I do.
Am I claiming to speak as a prophet?
I'm not predicting the future. I'm speaking only as one who is looking into the sky and seeing evidence of a storm brewing. And who is looking up ahead and seeing that the storm is already here. Call it what you will. I think of it as discerning the scriptures, discerning the times, making observations, and hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And declaring what I believe is God's will.
These days it's a hard message. But it's not doom and gloom. If you have opportunity to laugh and enjoy life, do it! I'm able to find joy in many things these days.
But don't forget to be sober-minded about these things. We shouldn't be hyping each other up with a message that everything's going to be fun if we just believe. Our message is one of hope that, whatever God brings tomorrow, he will be faithful in it, and those of us who are faithful through it will see the day after "tomorrow."
So we live with sober concern about what we face, and a reasoned joy about what we will see.
We are not yet as we should be. I don't say that as an indictment as much as an assessment. We have been given everything we need for living a godly life. So let's do that. And let's toss off everything that so easily entangles.
Thank you for listening.
I take the responsibility very seriously, and am intent on not squandering your attention. I know that I'm one of many that you get to listen to. And I'm also aware that most people don't hear everything I say. And everyone forgets most of what I say.
This week would you take 5 or 10 minutes with each of the following sermons to refresh your memory? (They're the same as I linked to above.) They represent 12 messages that I want to make sure you've heard. Just listen long enough to be reminded of what I said. And if you realize that you haven't heard one yet, listen the whole way through. I believe this is developing a complete thought that we should all be considering personally and corporately.
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.