One of my favorite biblical events involves prophets of Baal desperately trying to get a fire started by calling on a fictitious "god" to send fire from heaven. They tried with a combination of frantic activity and incessant noise to make something happen. And I have laughed at them. I have been smug about serving the God who did send fire, fire that consumed the sacrifice, soggy altar and all.
But my laughter has been tinged with hypocrisy.
We all want our churches to be warm with zeal and gospel intensity. But there are times, as a pastor, when I am tempted to confuse the volume dial for the thermostat. I've never succeeded at starting a fire by shouting at the kindling. But I've tried.
1. Losing confidence in scripture.
Scripture works, but it's not a tool for the impatient. It operates in a believer or in a church in the same way that yeast works in a batter. The baker who doesn't have time for the loaf to rise, who takes matters into his own hands can change the timetable, but not without changing the menu. The thing that comes out of that oven might have bread's ingredients but won't have any of its virtue. When pastors think that they can produce better results with their own words than they could with God's, they are being more ridiculous than Baal's prophets ever were.
A real commitment to the spiritual temperature of a church or a believer will be reflected in patience for the smoldering of scripture's embers.
2. A disdain for sobriety and reverence.
What happens when Jesus tells us "blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," but the instruction from the platform amounts to a glib "turn that frown upside down!" and we feel that dissonance in our souls?
Sometimes we, as pastors and church leaders, worry that things like the fear of God and sobering awe will take the wind out of our service's sails. But this is mystery. God lifts those who humble themselves; we end up higher for having started in the cellar. It requires confidence in God's activity to take so counter-intuitive an approach.
3. A reliance on personal charisma and pep.
Pastors should be skilled. But I have become skilled to the point where I know that I can, through intensity of expression, artful inflection, the use of moving anecdotes, and the application of my personal energy, get a cooperative congregation to behave in the way I want. And sometimes that's useful for God's purposes. And sometimes it's useful for the pastor's.
A good director can instruct a good actor to "gasp," and what the actor does with his mouth and voice will be very similar to what happens when a heavily indebted man checks his account and finds an unexpected credit. But there is a difference between the two gasps and by stage producing the first kind of gasp in our churches I'm afraid we forfeit the thrill of the second kind.
The next time we feel things are uncomfortably cool let's not reach for the volume dial.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog