Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.
“Church Shopping” is a phenomenon in the contemporary church that I have not quite wrapped my head around. Oftentimes when a family, or an individual, moves to a new community they will try out a number of churches, regardless of denomination, until they find one that fits with their understanding of the way church is supposed to be. They will use their own rubrics and check-lists in order to determine whether the church is a good fit; Was I genuinely greeted and welcomed to church? Is the church full of people around my stage of life? Was the worship authentic and life-giving?
In Staunton I have been struck by the more particular phenomenon of “Pastor Shopping.” When we have new visitors that become regular attendees I often ask them, in preparation for membership, where they came from and how they arrived at St. John’s. More often than I would like to admit, many of the responses have to do with a disagreement or a frustration with a pastor from their last church: He walked around too much while he preached; She wore blue jeans during worship; He doesn’t preach from the Bible; etc.
I will admit that there are plenty of churches that are detrimental to Christians’ faith. Pastors and congregations sometimes lose sight of the Gospel and become so inwardly focused that they forget to proclaim the Good News of Christ. However, I also believe that as Christians we have the responsibility to “stand firm in one spirit” with our brothers and sisters in Christ at our churches. The fact that so many are willing to leave a faithful community, after years of shared discipleship, because they disagree with a pastor is a frightening reality for the contemporary church.
It is my hope that if we have people at St. John’s who do not agree with what I preach, or how I lead, that they would be faithful enough to share their frustrations with me, and strive to continually serve “side by side for the faith of the gospel.” If we continue to commodify the church, which is to say if we make it into something that people can pick and choose like they pick and choose a cereal brand, then we will continue to have churches that are filled with people who are not challenged in their faith journeys.
Whether I’m your pastor or not, have you shared your thoughts and concerns with your pastor? Are you lovingly honest with them about their preaching? Have you prayed for them?
Perhaps today is the day that we can begin living our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ with our pastors, with our families, and with our brothers and sister in Christ.