As I was studying for my sermon on John 21 last week, I read a sermon by Charles Spurgeon entitled, "Do you love me?" It was amazingly helpful to me personally for many reasons, but I only want to share one with you. The reason I want to share is that I believe we can find some common ground with Spurgeon.
There is a real temptation to believe that someone else's church is perfect. We may lament, "If only my church were like this pastor's church or that pastor's church, then we'd be alright." Now, please understand that seeing God at work in other settings ought to spur us along to greater faithfulness. We can and should be challenged by another congregation's evangelistic zeal or their commitment to mission work or whatever the case may be. However, we go too far when we begin to assume that because this guy wrote a book or that guy spoke at a conference, their churches must be ideal. That's not the case.
Some seminary coffee shop is probably buzzing while I'm typing, and it's buzzing with the notion that no church can be blessed by God unless it is perfectly biblical in every aspect. Don't hit the "comment" button yet to blast me. I believe in a church functioning biblically. I believe that God's blessing is on our being biblical. I believe that when we stop pursuing biblical faithfulness in all things, we begin a journey on a dangerous, slippery slope into a religious wasteland.
However, this is not my subject today, and I'm not interested in chasing a bloggit (i.e.- same as chasing a rabbit, only in blog form). What I am interested in is sharing with you the encouragement I found in this sermon by Spurgeon. It's easy to feel like it's just our church that isn't everything the Bible says it should be. We long for the "New Testament church" as we look at Acts 2:41-47, often forgetting that the actual New Testament churches carried the problems of Corinth, Laodicea, Galatia, and more. In the midst of this search for biblical fidelity, I hope we can find some encouragement from Spurgeon's candid look at his own congregation. Allow me to state things that a pastor might say today and then quote Spurgeon's words for you.
1. Our church doesn't have biblical church government.
Spurgeon said, "Dearly beloved, I have been of late perplexing myself with one thought: that our church-government is not scriptural. It is scriptural as far as it goes; but it is not according to the whole of Scripture; neither do we practice many excellent things that ought to be practiced in our churches."
2. We need to be assimilating and discipling new believers more effectively.
Spurgeon said, "We have received into our midst a large number of young persons...I think there ought to be on the Sabbath afternoon, a class of the young people of this church, who are members already, to be taught by some of the elder members. Now-a-days, when we get lambs, we just turn them adrift in the meadow, and there we leave them. There are more than a hundred young people in this church who positively, though they are members, ought not to be left alone."
3. The deacons are acting like elders, but they shouldn't have to.
Spurgeon said, "If we had elders, as they did in the apostolic churches, [the teaching ministry] might in some degree be attended to. But now the hands of our deacons are full, they do much of the work of the eldership, but they cannot do any more than they are doing, for they are toiling hard already."
4. It's not just the pastor's job to disciple new believers.
Spurgeon said, "By God's help I will take care of the sheep; I will endeavor under God to feed them, as well as I can, and preach the gospel to them...I would that some here whom God has gifted, and who have time, would spend their afternoons in taking a class of those who are around them, of their younger brethren, asking them to their houses for prayer and pious instruction, that so the lambs of the flock may be fed."
5. Our church is nice to visitors but isn't really open to new people.
Spurgeon said, "[One complaint] which I have often heard is, 'Oh sir, I joined your church, I thought they would be all brothers and sisters to me, and that I could speak to them, and they would teach me and be kind to me. Oh! Sir, I came, and nobody spoke to me.' I say, 'Why did you not speak to them first?' 'Oh', they reply, 'I did not like.' Well, they should have liked, I am well aware; but if we had some means of feeding the lambs, it would be a good way of proving to our Savior and to the world, that we really do endeavor to follow him. I hope some of my friends will take that hint..."
6. People need to get up out of the pew, stop whining, and do something for Jesus!
Spurgeon said, "I beseech you, do something to prove your love; do not be sitting down doing nothing. Do not be folding your hands and arms, for such people perplex a minister most, and bring the most ruin on a church - such as do nothing. You are always the readiest to find fault. I have marked it here, that the very people who are quarrelling with everything are the people that are doing nothing, or are good for nothing. They are sure to quarrel with everything else, because they are doing nothing themselves; and therefore they have time to find fault with other people.
I write all of this not to give you more ammunition for your Monday morning pity party about church. I write all of this to remind you that you are not alone. The same battle for the people of God to BE the people of God has been going on for centuries. It is not new with this millennium. Things weren't perfect in the 90s, the 80s, the 70s, the 60s, the 50s, or any other time in history. Pastors have always pulled their hair out because they cannot seem to help their flocks "get it."
I take great heart from the fact that Spurgeon had some of the same struggles that I have. I also take heart that even in the struggle, he was faithful to preach the Word in season and out of season. Stay steady, my friends, and be faithful. If you are a pastor, take heart, and do not grow weary in well doing...I had to be reminded of that at lunch yesterday. If you are not a pastor, then pray wholeheartedly for your pastor, and don't be the "good for nothing" that Spurgeon talked about.