A Great Reminder
Janet and I attend a church near our home that we have supported for about fifteen years now. It is what is commonly referred to as a mega-church – meaning that it has a very large congregation and somewhere between 10000-12000 people worship there each week-end. Now in the old days, when Janet and I were growing up, that was unheard of. Churches had several hundred people in their congregations – not thousands. In fact, the Presbyterian church where our daughter Kristin works has fewer than 500 people each week-end and that’s pretty common for most churches. The problem is that many people feel lost in such a large place and that’s why mega-churches stress the importance of small groups – getting to know several other couples and then making a commitment to meet together, pray together and to go through life supporting one another – at least for a period of time.
Our preaching and teaching pastors are seminary trained at some of the top schools in the country – Moody, in Chicago, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, north of the city in Deerfield, IL. We have a number of pastors on staff and those who teach the Bible to others have many years of formal schooling in Bible. All in all, the staff numbers 100 and so you can see that it is quite a large church, with an annual budget of $10 million, and huge numbers of ministry initiatives in the community and around the world.
The reason that I mention this is that there are checks and balances to make sure that anything spoken from the “pulpit” is biblically accurate and consistent with the Scriptures. The music is great, at least most of the time, but the most important part of the church experience is the message, or sermon, and it is biblically sound.
There is another church, even closer to our home than the one we attend, that is also very successful – as measured by the number of people who attend. Janet and I have so many friends who like it that we decided to try it this week-end and see what the buzz is all about. We attended our own church Saturday evening and then visited this other church Sunday morning. While I admit that the people were very friendly, and the music was also very good, I couldn’t help but think that I was in the middle of a Disney production. I understand that the experience of church is fundamentally important to most people, but this place made sure that you were on the edge of your seat waiting for the next element of worship to be revealed.
More than 7000 people attended services last week-end and I couldn’t wait to hear from the Senior Pastor. I met him years ago, and he was a likable guy. Back then, though, Janet and I both thought the message was a little thin. Sincere, no doubt, but thin… But since that time, thousands more people attend the church than before and I was hoping that I would be impressed with the message.
Unfortunately, during the forty minute message I heard at least 6 things spoken from the pulpit that weren’t biblically or theologically accurate. And that concerns me. I looked around and nobody else seemed to notice, or if they did, it didn’t seem to bother them. I admit that I can be a harsh critic in a sanctuary. All those years of seminary training and learning about homiletics and preaching have really made me a tough member of the audience. So I have to be careful to make sure that I check my attitude at the door and try to enjoy what is being said so that the word of God washes over me. I don’t know that I was successful today.
I absolutely can’t fault the attempt by the pastor to be authentic and appealing to the audience. I really wanted to be a huge supporter of his. But I just can’t get over the theological mistakes in the message. Even if everything else was great, inaccuracy with God’s word is something that I just can’t tolerate. I can see how our friends would be moved by the message, but I have been in school too long and studied for too many years to let the theology get away from me. And let me reiterate the fact that thousands of people love this church, and this pastor. I just can’t get there from here… as much as I would like to…
So, Janet and I have done our due diligence, and the visit today confirms that we regularly attend the correct church for us. But I am glad that we had the experience. It pointed out to me, yet again, how important it is to accurately preach God’s word. When thousands of people hang on each syllable, it is vital that pastors spend hours and hours sharpening their own skills so that the message they convey is consistent with the actual Scriptures. As a pastor/teacher myself, today was a good lesson for me.
No doubt I have made mistakes as well. I try not to, but there are men and women far more educated than I in their understanding of the Bible. And I have had the privilege to study under some of them. Nonetheless, I pray that God extends grace to me in the teaching that I do for the group that I lead and for the people who follow this blog. The Bible contains a warning for people who are inaccurate with God’s word. And that verse just happens to be our verse for this evening.
From Rev. 22:18-19, only several verses from the end of the Bible, we are told, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
My encouragement this evening is that God wants you to learn His word, and that means that He wants you to attend a Bible teaching church. My prayer is that God will divinely inspire you with His word and that you will undertake the task of reading the Bible for yourself, relying on the Holy Spirit for understanding and not relying on others to interpret God’s word for you. For sure, God will send you the correct people for the part of the journey that you are on. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…