*Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder
Copyright July 23, 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton
In recent years, I have observed many Christians, who in the name of repenting of self-righteousness and of Pharisaism, (which definitely has been a need in the church) have become so focused upon making their churches and ministries “seeker-friendly” that they become like a bride who gets so caught up in making guests feel welcome at her reception, that she forgets why she got married, and never leaves for her honeymoon, abandoning her frustrated groom, standing at the car door! It is important to make guests feel welcome in our churches. But just as one’s home does not exist for the guests, but for the family who lives there, we mustn’t revolve our church families around those who are only peripherally interested in meeting our Daddy. Jesus presented a gospel that was never sugar-coated, but required our very lives for Him.
We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mt. 10:16), lest some unbelievers with ill motives (or sometimes even professing believers), who are present in our churches, become a source of division, strife, and harm to the church because of their negative or self-driven focus. (I Tim. 1:20; II Tim. 4:14) I’m not advocating judgmentalism, nor paranoia, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Tim. 1:7) Yet again, we must learn to spiritually see and hear, so that we only do what the Lord is doing, not being led by our mere intellect, emotions, or good intentions. (Jn. 9:39-10:5) But it is a historic fact that many “wolves in sheep’s clothing” have destroyed many good churches, (Acts 20:29) because they were made more welcome than the Holy Spirit was.
So how do we practically apply this, avoiding the ditch on either side of the road? First, we make our church or ministry a place where welcoming the Manifest Presence of God’s glory in our worship is the number one priority; where waiting together upon the Lord’s clear direction in worship, prayer, personal ministry, teaching and preaching, prophesying, etc. is the main focus. (That in itself is sufficient topic for an entire book.) We must be open to allowing God to redirect in the midst of whatever we are doing, as He wills. The saints of old ministered to the Lord, rather than gathering merely for Him to minister to them. (I Sam 2:11; I Chron. 6:32) When we minister to the Lord’s heart, He will minister to ours more effectively than if we sought our own needs first. (Ezek. 44:10-16)
Secondly, we must welcome newcomers without apology for who we are, but merely explaining to people what they may expect and why things are done the way they are. This means being loving, gracious and respectful, even to those who do not stay, if our unique expression of “Christ in us the Hope of Glory” isn’t what they were looking for. We mustn’t be smug or offended with others whose expressions are different from our own, because we never know when God may bring them back to us later on down the road.
Thirdly, we must ask Holy Spirit for His standards of love and grace, along with His definitions of holiness and church discipline, without sacrificing one for the other, as is historically common. If we make either end of the spectrum into a lukewarm formula of rules, (Rev. 3:14-22; Rom. 5:20; 6:1) we have just missed it. If, in the name of freedom and grace, we tolerate behaviors or attitudes which God calls intolerable, we have just missed it. If in the name of church discipline, we are harsh with those who are already repentant, who are asking for help, we have just broken the Lord’s heart. If we spend more time in criticism of those whom we suspect of being in sin, than we do in praying for them, we are hypocrites. If we laugh at sin, in order to make sinners feel comfortable in our midst, we have insulted Jesus’ Cross and the reason He laid down His Life for us.
I’m not saying to reject people, but that we must ask Holy Spirit to set the boundaries and priorities for how we love Him, and how we love people in ministry, in that order. It’s like on the airplane, when they are showing emergency procedures, they instruct parents to put the oxygen mask over oneself first, then over one’s child, because someone who passes out can’t help anyone else. So we must attend to the needs of the Lord first in worship and listening for His Voice, and of the sheep, second — the baptized believers — before we attend to the felt needs of the merely curious. True worship will empower us to love the seekers to the point of revelation and discovery of God’s grace for themselves, but we can’t give them what we don’t have.
So let us not be distracted, nor led astray by the devil’s schemes and tricks. (II Cor. 2:11) Let us not confuse the voice of what sounds good, with the True Voice of God (Jn. 10:27). Let us not confuse our mission (sharing the good news of Christ with the lost) with our purpose for existence (holy intimacy with the Lord Himself). Let us worship the Creator, not the gifts He gave us.