Pastor's Blog

In my two most recent blogs, I mentioned ideals that I held when I came into ministry.  In “Ideals, Thermometers, and Mountain Climbers” I mentioned the use of a painted thermometer to track giving towards a project, and in “Winning Alice Back” I mentioned that I believed it was the Holy Spirit’s job to apply preaching (and not the preacher’s).  Both illustrations are connected to ideals I held about how the Spirit of God works. 

When I began ministry, I expected a LOT from the Spirit of God.  The biblical theory behind my ideals is simple.  First, when we say the Bible is “inspired” we mean that it is the product of God’s Spirit.  His Word was generated by His breath.  What the Bible says is what the Spirit of God says.  That’s how He speaks and that’s the tool I expect Him to use to touch hearts.  Second, the church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  Christianity teaches that the Holy Spirit lives amidst the entire church and in each individual Christian.  Put those points together, and the way God gets things done is by His Word being understood by His people.  His Word, His truth, motivates and moves us to accomplish what God wants from each of us as individuals and from all of us working together as a body.

I believed ANY attempt to motivate people with a gimmick or manipulative technique was WRONG and cheapened the work of the Spirit of God.  I felt it was a failure to trust the Spirit to work.  It was an attempt to artificially do His work for Him.  The first thing I tore down when I came to Mountain View was the little wooden board at the front of the church where the amount of the previous week’s offering was displayed.  What did we need that for?  I was told people gauge their giving by the need.  I could hardly believe it.  You either pledge a percentage of your income to God or you don’t.  If last week’s offering was bigger than expected, what do you do -- keep back part of the next week’s offering for yourself? 

When I traveled with a gospel quartet in college, a church where we sang held “Pack-a-Pew Night”.  The family that brought the most visitors won a prize.  The church was full, but I was so livid at the gimmick I could hardly focus on singing.  Were people there because they wanted to be, or because they wanted to win a stupid prize?  It seemed cheap – like another church I knew of that had held a week-long evangelistic conference and every night put a $100 bill under one of the chairs, and whoever sat on that chair got the money.  Why do you think people attended THOSE services?  Did anyone care about the message?

I preached once at the Bowery Mission in New York.  I was told to fill 20-30 minutes.  I preached and then invited my unkempt and unshaven listeners to trust Christ.  I was met with blank stares.  So I closed in prayer.  I had hardly said “Amen” before all of them rose and RAN to get in line for dinner.  I was ENRAGED.  Not at them, poor souls.  But at the mission.  Why not just feed them, instead of FORCING them to sit through a 30-minute message to get the reward of a hot meal?  I WAS THE GIMMICK, and I felt cheap, an insult to the Spirit of God.  He could probably do more through the love of the offered meal than the endured message preceding it.

Occasionally people from “Spirit-filled” churches visit our church.  The first week they sing with eyes closed and hands waving wildly in the air.  They loudly whisper “Jesus, Jesus, oh Jesus, yes Jesus” when I lead in prayer.  Until they realize NO ONE ELSE is doing these things!  Each week their waving and whispering gets less and less.  Twice I’ve had such people tell me the Holy Spirit wasn’t in our church because we didn’t sway, wave, or whisper.  Both times I asked why, if the Spirit of God was moving them to worship that way, did they stop?  No one asked them to stop, and no one criticized them for what they were doing.  Both shrugged and said, “I just don’t feel the presence of Jesus here.”  From my perspective, they have cheapened the work and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit and confused it with an emotional manipulation induced by low lighting, emotional music, and crowd psychology.

I have more to say on this topic – next week.

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