Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge offers a colourful portrait of the personality of Jesus, and warns of the deadening effects of religious mutations of Christianity. While we may not embrace all of Eldredge’s theology, let’s not miss the accuracy of his diagnosis when it comes to the dangers of religiosity. We all fall into such mutations of Christianity, so this week I am probing a little from the perspective of a preacher. We’ve thought about loving and knowing God. How about serving Him?
4. Religious activity is confused with commitment to Christ.
“To draw near to God requires a church function of some kind. Church activities are considered more important than any other type of activity. Those who do not engage regularly in religious gatherings are suspect. To question the centrality of church functions immediately places the questioner outside the faithful. Leaders get very defensive about church—but to suggest this fact is to incur something along the lines of malice.” (173-4)
The most committed to Christ must be the people who attend the most meetings. Really? It only takes you missing one meeting to learn one thing: people don’t know your circumstances or your motives. Perhaps you were caught in a conversation of eternal significance, perhaps you were serving God in a private way that should not be broadcast to the church, perhaps your family needed you there. If you ever chose to stay home and didn’t feel guilt before God (although in some churches you certainly would feel guilt before others) . . . then you know one thing. You cannot assume and judge negatively when others miss meetings. I know of preachers preaching pressure to attend faithfully. If that is you, cut it out. Preach Christ.
5. Christian service substitutes for friendship with Jesus.
“Fighting for a cause becomes the expression of devotion to Jesus. . . . Exhausted Christians working for noble causes, but they do not report a daily personal encounter with Jesus. Over time the work itself substitutes for Jesus, and seeking him seems harder than doing more for him. Martha, Martha. Loving Jesus comes first; out of this will flow whatever work in the world he has for us to do.” (174)
There is a reason that many pastors and preachers suffer burnout and depression – they lose their grip on being lead worshippers and lead responders and lead delighters in God. And they become lead activists in the church. Busy, busy. Exhaustion. But loving God always comes before loving people in the presentation of the Great Commandment. We cannot, we must not, fall for the lie that we are loving God by loving people. Love God first. Let him minister to you before you minister to others!
Live that, and then preach that. It might rescue your church.