A PERFECT CHURCH?
by David Sisler
Sometimes these pieces write themselves. Other times, when they are finished, I wonder what happened to the original thought with which I began. Even before I write the second paragraph, this is one of those other times.
Last May, while I was planning a summer trip to Samara, Russia, I jotted down some notes under an ambitious title: "If I Started a Church." I prepared the notes to speak to Russian believers who were considering entering the pastorate.
The most important item on the agenda would be: when you enter the place of meeting, expect to meet God. If you do not come to church for that reason, if the pastor does not prepare for the Lord's day with that single thought in mind, you have both missed the point of worship.
Worship is not walking out of the building after the last, "Amen," and asking, "What did I get out of this?" Worship is understanding you are an actor on a stage and realizing that God is the audience. When you leave, ask Him, "How did I do?" The second point was to have the best possible music and musicians. That doesn't mean you must hire the local symphony or choral society -- get them if you can, but it does mean that those who sing and those who lead do their best. Doing your best means you come in prepared!
When I was a pastor it would send cold shivers down my back when someone got up to sing and said, "I haven't had time to practice this song, so you all pray for me. Don't listen to the way I sing it, just listen to the words. And remember, I'm doing this for Jesus."
Frog waller! If you're doing it for Jesus, you should have practiced! If you don't have time to practice, stay seated!
Third point on the outline, everything about the service should lead to the presentation of the Word of God. "That," as Pastor Ben Haden says, "is where the power is." Theories and philosophies, arguments and debates have no place behind the pulpit. It is in the act called preaching that the person who calls himself pastor will meet, or not meet, the needs of his people.
There were other points to the outline, but in between then and now, I began to think about the people who would come to this church. If the three key elements in establishing a retail business are location, location, location, then the three key elements in building a church are people, people, people. But who would they be? What would they be?
To answer that, the pastor must ask, "Will I talk about myself, or will I present Jesus?"
If the pastor talks about himself, he will want to attract people who are like himself. Otherwise, he may feel uncomfortable with folks from the wrong side of the tracks and those who live over there will not feel accepted if they hurdle the barriers.
But if he dares to present Jesus, he will attract the same crowd which followed Jesus. And here is where the trouble starts.
Jesus talked about a different God than His audience had ever met. Under the Law, certain sacrifices were disqualified from Israel's altars because they were deformed, unclean or undesirable. But Jesus said God preferred the prayers of an ordinary sinner to the pleas of a perfect, professional saint.
He said God was like a shepherd who left 99 obedient sheep inside the fence and frantically hunted for one lost sheep. God, Jesus taught, was like a father who cannot stop thinking about his wayward son and every day hopes the prodigal will come home. Jesus scandalized his audience when he taught that God was like a wealthy host who opened his party to the scum off of the street.
Who were the people who were attracted to Jesus? Well, what was the reproach which his critics hurled at him? "This man receives sinners!"
And they gladly received Jesus.
Jesus showed the people a God they had never known. This God is one who draws near. This God is not threatened by the undesirable -- he welcomes the outcast and rewards him with new life. Then he demands that the life change -- it may take time, but change it must. If the convert does not change, there has been no conversion.
A disgruntled church member confronted his pastor one day. "I'm leaving here," he said. "I'm looking for the perfect church."
"Don't join it," the pastor responded, "because then it will no longer be perfect."
Don't let that stop you. On this world there is no "perfect church." There is one in the world to come, but you must join here.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/27/96
Copyright 1996 by David Sisler
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