I read an article recently that spoke about the most damaging attitude in our churches. I am sure it is something we can all relate to if we have ever been a member of a church. It can grow and spread like cancer and I believe it is destroying our churches today – it is cynicism.
The church I am a member of has always been staunch on “doing it like we always have” and change is not something they embrace, in fact some have shouted down new comers who suggested trying something new, needless to say those people left the church shortly thereafter, never to grace the doorsteps again. Young people in the church had ideas that they felt would encourage a younger generation to get involved and honestly some of their ideas I felt were good and should be embraced or at least attempted, but many refused to change and criticized their ideas.
A number of years ago I wanted to start a singles group in my area. There were no groups for Christian singles at that time. I visited with the pastor and bounced it off him and I asked to utilize the church basement for this. The church leaders at the time were not believing there was enough of a need for this, but with the pastor’s prodding, they did let me use the basement and for a few years it was a success until it became more of a couples group as people married off and did not wish to leave the group. Despite the success of the group, no one encouraged the group when it involved only singles, not until young married couples were involved and then it was celebrated. Maybe that is a reason single people never felt like they belonged?
When I first started attending this church every seat was filled. It was a friendly, open church that made you feel welcome and glad to be there. The church was alive! As time has passed I have seen hypocrisy and legalism grow to the point that the numbers have dwindled down to 20-25 people every week now – that is a good Sunday when all are able to be there. Also over the years young people were not incorporated into the leadership roles, these were mostly held by the pillars of the church who would not relinquish those seats to anyone else.
One year, to my complete surprise, I was given the task of heading the evangelism committee. The gentleman who held this job before me never did anything with it. I worked with the pastor and we were able to open our church up to programs on Sunday evenings that would bring people in to worship with us. All I ever heard from a number of parishioners was complaint and criticism. Many asked me how many more of these kinds of programs they had to endure. Instead of viewing it as an outreach from our church, they viewed it as a drudgery and never enjoyed them nor did they invite people they knew to come. I was disheartened and felt that no one was understanding what I hoped to accomplish by reaching out to others. A very frustrating experience.
I believe that my church has a disease of a cynical spirit. I know that I have become more cynical over time – when I first started going to this church in my teens, I was open and always seeking the good in others. But over time my attitude sometimes has a tendency to lean towards cynicism and it is a trait I am not proud of and I strongly desire to distance myself from it. Now 30 some years later, I believe this is why the church is stagnant. It is laden down with selfish/stubborn desires and not a vibrant, loving refuge as it once was. It is as if the outside world has taken residence within the church doors and the peace people seek is not there – only more criticism and judgment. I believe we as Christians must give up our selfish desires and lose ourselves to Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:24; Philippians 2:3-4).
What a heavy load we take on when we judge and criticize others who are our brothers and sisters in Christ or someone who is searching for Christ and came to our church to find answers – we have taken on a task that is not ours to do – that is God’s job. Is it any wonder why some who were faithful to the church have stopped coming or those who do not yet know Christ see only a judgmental bunch of Bible-thumping church goers with critical words dripping from their tongues? Surely this is not the picture we want to impress upon those within and outside of our churches – is it?
What we forget is that it is not about US – it is all about HIM and we are called to love one another, guide (not judge or criticize) each other, and not categorize each other in separate social classes, financial status, educational status, or dress code/body size and use these measures to keep people at arms length. None of those qualify us to serve God. If our hearts are critical of those in our midst and thereby making our churches appear hypocritical and filled with legalism, it is like a garden overtaken by weeds – it is choking out the love of Christ and the true purpose we were placed on this earth. The Bible in John 3:30 states, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
There is no room for selfish desires in our churches. Jesus was not a selfish man – he was not interested in how much money was in someones pocketbook, how they dressed or the size of their frame, what social or educational status they held – often times he picked the most unlikely people to engage in a conversation with or spend time in their home – even to the objection of His disciples because it was not socially acceptable or against Jewish customs. If we could pray to have eyes to see people like Jesus sees them and act accordingly – how many do you think would desire to accept Christ?
This week – please take time to pray and ask God to reveal the “weeds” of cynicism in your heart and then ask God to remove them and replace them with an open and loving spirit. Our hearts need a spiritual rebirth and by doing so our churches will become a refuge that is a life-giving source of love, kindness, compassion, and peace – something this world desperately needs more of.