Today’s blog comes out of an e-mail I sent out to our church family this morning. I will be taking some liberties by changing and adding on to the original e-mail. I am doing this because after I sent the e-mail, I realized that this is not just something that has happened at Southside Baptist Church in Decatur, Alabama. I can look back at every church where I have served, and I can see the same pattern again and again. I do not believe that I am the only pastor to whom this has happened. And I want to add one caveat before I go further. Things are good at Southside right now, and the only reason I am writing this is that I want them to stay that way. So with that in mind, let me share with you the gist of my e-mail.
“I am extremely excited this morning! No, God didn’t give me a special revelation stating that Jesus is coming back today, but He could, and I wouldn’t mind a bit. No, I am excited about what God is doing at Southside in these days before Jesus returns. I will share a little more about this in just a few sentences, but first, I want to give us all a big word of caution. Every time God starts working to do something grand, the devil tries to jump in and stop it. We must be careful to not allow the devil to use us. That means that we must stay prayed up and focused on the task at hand. We must be positive and help our brothers and sisters stay positive. While God inhabits the praises of His people, the devil will manipulate our negative thoughts and words to bring damage to the fellowship. Let’s make sure we don’t allow that to happen this time around!
Here is the exciting part — last night, we had 25 children and 23 youth in their programs. No, that is not a typo. In addition, we had some new volunteers helping out with our youth. However, we are in desperate need of more volunteers in our children’s department — especially the nursery. At one point, we had 4 in the nursery last night. So if you would be willing to help out in either the youth or children’s programs, please volunteer today. And if you are not willing to help out, would you pray and ask God to show you how you can get involved. That’s the thing about church — God expects all of us to do our part to make the ministry effective.”
Now, let me deal with the exciting part first. While for many of you, the numbers quoted above would not be cause for excitement, I must explain that we are a mostly senior adult church. We lost most of our young families in the last several years due to situations that I will not get into here. And now, for the first time in a couple of years, we can see God moving once again to bring these children and youth to us. That is cause for celebration in and of itself; however, we have also seen four of these youths make professions of faith. Can you see why I am so excited?
But every time I get this excited, I am also filled with a bit of trepidation because I have seen it happen over and over again. The devil decides to drop in. Most of the time it starts innocently enough. There aren’t many people who get up in the morning and say, “I wonder how the devil wants to use me today.” But human beings tend to be a negative lot whose critical spirits sometimes are used by Satan himself. Peter told us that we are to be aware that this evil being is always looking for his next victim, and all it takes is for one of us (yes, I am talking about Christians) to let our guard down just a little bit, and he will jump right in. And it doesn’t take long for the direction to change. Where the fellowship is sweet, suddenly a bitter root is planted, and it spreads like kudzu. Where once there was peace in worship, suddenly tension is felt and the Holy Spirit is quenched. Where once the church was moving forward under the powerful hand of God, the enemy rears his ugly head, and the ship hits an iceberg that makes the one that sunk the Titanic look like an ice cube. And then, people start picking everything (including leaders) to pieces under the guise of trying to provide a solution to the problem.
Now, for those of you in my current church and in my previous churches who feel like I am talking about you, please know that is not my intent. I am not looking to offend or to challenge you in any way. I am pointing out a pattern that I have too often encountered and hope that I never encounter again. But I also want to offer a solution – the only solution – to the problem at whatever stage you may find yourself in. This is profound, so take a deep breath and brace yourself before you read the next paragraph.
The solution is prayer. First, pray that God will guard your heart and prevent you from becoming the negative influence that Satan will us to start division within the church. Second, pray that God will reveal to you if you are already becoming that negative influence, and if you are, ask Him for forgiveness, repent of your sin, and commit to never allow a critical spirit to take root in your heart again. Third, pray that God will protect the fellowship of the church and guide His leaders as they make decisions about the church’s present and future.
Pretty simple, huh? And yet, this solution has the potential to change your life, my life, and the ministry of your church.