The Pastor needs to remember that the folks who attend church on Sunday have likely had far more to think about than his church during their week. Most, if not all come to church tired and burdened from a week’s full activity of working, navigating tensions and responsibilities at home, and they come desperately hungry to be renewed. To be reminded they are forgiven sinners, a message acutely needed after a week of mess-ups and failures. Again, very unlikely have they considered, during their week, that much the needs and programs of the church. The pastor, of course, is intensely focused on his world, his duties, in large part to prepare for those several hours on Sunday morning. The very thing that dominates his attention during the week, might be given little consideration by the majority of church members. I am not at all implying that the congregation is not thinking about Jesus and the gospel. I believe they are. My concern is that too often, we on the church staff, are putting 98% of our energy into something that only takes up 2% of the lives of most of our attendees. We put all our eggs into the proverbial Sunday morning basket.
THINKING ABOUT THE DAYS BETWEEN SUNDAY
Perhaps we pastors need to be thinking more about the days between Sundays, where our people are living out their lives.
At the risk of being repetitive (too late, I know) most of our people have not been thinking much about the church during their week. So they come to church longing to be refreshed, encouraged and renewed so they can go back to faithfully serve Jesus in their hemisphere where they spend 98% of their time.
Because I am not currently pastoring a church, I will, on occasion, visit different churches. At the church I attend, I find myself looking for how much of the preparation is proportionately related to where I and others have spent, and will spend, most of our time. Many of us have been grinding away at work. Sorting through relational tensions at home. Dealing with hard-nosed neighbors while committed by the gospel to reach them by loving them.
Imagine if we, the church leadership, put our 98% into their 2% with their 98% in mind. (Granted, you might need to read the previous statement several times.) What I am saying is this: Everything we put into our programs, ministries and even worship services should be to empower our people to effectively live out the gospel where they spend most of their time. We come to church to worship Jesus and fellowship with others, so we might have what is needed for the six days in between. It’s tempting for the pastor to only think about his people as it relates to the one or two hours they spend with us, on Sunday morning, during our services in our building, and perhaps for the far less who might show up on Wednesday evenings. Most of our people come to us having thought very little about those two hours. Imagine if we used that time to prepare our people to serve Jesus where they spend most of their time between Sundays?
LET’S PLUG INTO YOUR WORLD
Most churches I’ve visited or attended in the past several years will spend several minutes during the service urging us to plug into their programs. It’s the most cynical moment for me during that hour of worship. Someone from the front will say something like this; “Let us share with you how you can plug into some of our ministries,” almost as though to suggest that if I’m really going to serve Jesus most faithfully it will need to be in the confines of this place, where I spend only 2% of my time. Imagine if instead, the prepared announcer spoke about where I spend most of my time, that 98%? What if he or she, or even the pastor talked about how the church is positioned and committed to plug into my world.
In Ephesians 4, Paul emphatically stressed that the position and purpose of church leaders exists to prepare God’s people for works of service. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12) Those works of service are most likely to occur where I spend most of my time, that 98%.
This doesn’t discount at all the need for people to serve in Church. That is vital, but it usually consists of a very small percentage of us. Nursery workers, children, teen and adult teachers are vital to the life of the church. But it will take no more than 5-10% of us to do it all. The rest of us are not off the hook, but released to serve Jesus in our work, home and playing environments where the people lost to Jesus are likely to be found.
WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE SERVE US
I remember bemoaning with other staff members or elders how only ten percent of our people get involved in the church, as though the rest of them are only marginally spiritual. I used to feel this way, until I rubbed shoulders with more people during the week, where they are, where they spend most of their time. The dad who’s trying to figure out how to lead well in a home wound tight with tension. The single mom who’s desperately juggling a home life with her need to work as sole provider in the home. The nurse who works night shift on the weekend and can only attend church once a month. The elder who’s struggling with a secret sin. The school teacher who between classes counsels a teenage girl suffering from depression. The principle of that same school taking the brunt of other teachers’ anger for having to fire a long standing colleague for reasons he cannot divulge. The family who just took in two foster kids. The college student who I and her parents are begging not to abort her baby. I tell her I will adopt the baby if she goes through the pregnancy. The crotchety old neighbor who keeps telling me my grass is getting too long. The commercial pilot who’s away too much, and it’s eroding his marriage. His wife who tells me she’s met a guy who’s giving her the attention she longs for from her husband. And she’s scared.
These are the people who show up to church Sunday after Sunday. Who look tired, and some look as though they are in no mood to worship.
They love being there.
They need to be here.
This, their 2%, is their refueling station to go back to a hard, brutal world. For me, as Sunday draws near, I cannot wait to worship and to rub shoulder with others who are there to do the same. All of us come burdened, tired, hungry. Don’t ask me to look happy when I’ve come burdened. Let me keep my arms to my side while worshiping, because it’s my mind and heart that are responding to the powerful lyrics up on the screen. It’s God’s Word that refills me. It’s the worship, those songs, that remind me of God’s grace and forgiveness. It’s there, during that one or two hours that I cling, again, to a faithful savior who’s promised to be with me when I reenter the battlefield, during those days between Sundays.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and
eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your
money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen
diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear,
and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; …“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his
thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon”. (Isaiah 55:1-3,6-7)