December 8, 2016

No doubt most “jobs” or “professions” have elements that are awesome, while at the same time duties that are… shall I say… undesirable. Even celebrities who make loads of money and are in many cases doing what they love still have to deal with paparazzi and the public.  They can’t leave their homes without being followed.  They can’t eat in a restaurant without being assaulted.  Everything they say and do is examined and published.  I’m thinking all of that would get old REALLY FAST!

So, what would you guess is the most undesirable part of pastoral ministry? Well, it probably depends on the pastor but…, speaking for myself, somewhere near the top of the list has to be functioning as the “attendance police.”  Do you know what I mean?  You’re going to think I am exaggerating but… I have had conversations over the years that go something like this.  I run into someone in the grocery store who has some history with the church; maybe they are or were a member.  They say (awkwardly with no eye contact), “We have not been to church in a while… we have… um… uh… had some sickness in the family.”  I understand that… well if it were not for the fact that it has been 10 years since they have been to church!  Seriously I kid you not.  Those conversations are always accompanied with the feeling from them of “Why did we turn down this aisle!  And why did we have to run into him!”  You can imagine how much I love being the guilt producer in people’s lives.

Can I be very frank here? Your involvement in worship is between you and God… not between you and me or any other pastor… period.  If you choose to not attend church, then that’s your choice.  Learn to live with it and take responsibility for it.  Don’t make excuses or blame others, i.e., the pastor, the music person, some member who offends you.  You don’t go because you choose not to… period.  (Do I need to mention that there are surely instances where folks are physically, emotionally or even spiritually unable?)  But having the flu for 10 years… well… seriously?!

I have mentioned on a number of occasions that I wish we would use the phrase “going to worship” rather than “going to church.” It just lends a different “feel” to what we are doing.

Clearly there are many references in the Old Testament to worship. In some cases we’re told that God doesn’t like us hypocritically going through the motions.

Hosea 8:13

Though they offer sacrifices as gifts to me, and though they eat the meat, the Lord is not pleased with them. Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their sins: They will return to Egypt.

Malachi 1:14

“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

 Malachi 2:3

“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it.

Do you get the impression that God is not a fan of insincere and false worship? Uh… yeah.

However in Hebrews 10, the author says:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Clearly we are called to come together and – here is the key phrase – WORSHIP GOD! DON’T GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS!

So for those who do not see the need to worship God regularly, maybe it’s best that they don’t place themselves in peril by faking it. Or at least wait until they get over the flu so they don’t spread it around.  I’m not saying people should be made to feel unwelcome in worship.  I’m just saying I understand why they are not there.

Let me finish by saying this. To the degree that I am able I take responsibility for my part in all of this.  What do I mean?  I think we clergy have not taught worship well.  I think I have not taught worship well.  Probably because we/I don’t know how.  And we have portrayed a boring God who sits on the edges of our lives waiting for something dreadful to happen so He can show up riding in on His white horse; rather than teaching about the personal, loving God who cares about every aspect of our lives.

“God forgive me for leading your people astray. Forgive me for teaching them how to faithfully work through a bulletin, to do their religious duty, but to never find the Living God.”

That is a deeply sobering prayer.

See you in worship… maybe.

-Bill L


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