Do church leaders consider the frame of mind people are in when they come to church? Do they comprehend how they are perceived? Does it matter? What does God expect of church leaders relative to how they relate to their audiences?
Acts 4:13 reports a church experience I think would be admiral. It says, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus."
Can you imagine what that might be like? Imagine that you went to church on Sunday. The preacher in the pulpit didn't appear to be educated or trained as a theologian or even as a preacher. But he was bold. And you just knew that he "had been with Jesus." What kind of after-church dinner conversation might that spark? We show up at Wendy's, get our food and set down. Along comes another family from church. They sit down at the table next to us, and remark, "Boy that preacher! You can really tell he's been with Jesus!"
Okay, I admit that it sounds like a foreign conversation, even to someone as outrageous as me. But why? Should it be a foreign conversation? Has our preacher been with Jesus? Are they Jesus' words that he (or she) is speaking from the pulpit or stage? Better yet, would we - the audience, recognize someone who'd been with Jesus? Have we ever been with Jesus ourselves?
My favorite author, A. W. Tozier had something to say about the relationship between the preacher and his audience. Here's what he had to say:
"The contemporary moral climate does not favor a faith as tough and fibrous as that taught by our Lord and His apostles. The delicate, brittle saints being produced in our religious hothouses today are hardly to be compared with the committed, expendable believers who once gave their witness among men. And the fault lies with our leaders. They are too timid to tell the people all the truth. They are now asking men to give to God that which costs them nothing.Our churches these days are filled (or one-quarter filled) with a soft breed of Christian that must be fed on a diet of harmless fun to keep them interested. About theology they know little. Scarcely any of them have read even one of the great Christian classics, but most of them are familiar with religious fiction and spine tingling films. No wonder their moral and spiritual constitution is so frail. Such can only be called weak adherents of a faith they never really understood."
It's probably safe to say that if Tozier were alive today, he would not be an upcoming guest on Oprah or Larry King's television shows. It's probably safe to say that he wouldn't even be welcome in some of the most extreme Christian venues available today. Would Mr. Dobson at Focus on the Family welcome him? Maybe. But folks, what if there is even some truth to what Tozier had to say? What if we have become such demanding consumers of religion that our church leaders have caved in to the "popular demand?" How many of us would have the moral fiber to stand up and say it's time for a change?
The churches that I attended this past weekend both experience that I call a "revolving door." In other words, people come and go quite fluidly. Is that okay? (I already know it's "normal.") But isn't that what Tozier is talking about when we speaks of "delicate, brittle saints?" Maybe it's time for churches to get into the faces of their members and say, "Look, it's time you grow up!" Maybe it is time that we grow up.
You know, now that I think about it, the amazing transformations in the Bible that attracted so many new believers and Christ-followers were always produced when others could be perceived as "having been with Jesus." The woman at the well, for example, didn't go to town and tell everyone how her life had been changed by what Jesus said to her. In fact, her life was not changed by Jesus' words. Rather her perspective and her life were changed by the fact that she was with Jesus. And when she went to town to tell folks about it, it was the fact that they realized she had been with Jesus that was so impactful.
Has your pastor "been with Jesus?" Have you been with Jesus? Shouldn't that be the order of the day for all of us?