Updated: Nov 21, 2021
I'm currently participating in a weekly Zoom cohort with eight or nine other pastors, and our group topic deals with prayer and seeking the will of the Spirit in our lives and ministries. And guess what we do for the majority of our time together each week? You guessed it...we talk. More accurately, my fellow pastors talk, each regaling the rest of us with his latest spiritual victory or the wisdom of his age, while the next of our group's self-aggrandizing theologians seeks to one-up the last guy with a little craftier wisdom designed to impress the group or, better yet, elicit the ever-coveted "Yes, yes, great point, [insert name here]" from the cohort leader. Every now and then I try to make a point, but my reflexes are rarely quick enough to beat one of my colleagues to the microphone unmute button, so I am most often left listening to a string of sounding gongs, all the while checking the clock to see when I can get back to the real work of ministry. What a complete waste of my time!
However, what is most distressing to me is that if I could reach that unmute button fast enough, I'd be right there with my fellow pastors, flapping my lips together and making noises that neither edify my fellow "cohort-ers" nor further the work of the Kingdom. Sure, some in my group would likely claim to be encouraged by our discussions, and they may even testify to some manner of spiritual-ministerial growth because of our corporate study, but at the end of the day, I find the entire ordeal quite discouraging. When this dispiritedness first began growing in me, I was unsure of the reason(s). For the most part, our cohort is comprised of well-meaning, intelligent followers of Christ, whom I truly believe want to do great things for Him. And our cohort leader is a nationally renowned evangelical leader who, again, is a seemingly faithful disciple of our Savior. I should be enamored by this group and thankful to be a part of it...but I'm not. And this perplexed me for several weeks...until I figured out why.
You see, I am tired of talking. I'm tired of trying to impress others. I'm tired of church programs that seek to make money for the church or fill seats in the sanctuary more than they seek to make disciples. I'm tired of shallow Christianity...or should I say "Churchianity"--that is more of a cultural-traditional statement of faith than it is a humble lifestyle of repentance and submission to the One who is the object of our faith. I'm tired of church budgets, church buildings, and church bands. I'm sick and tired of charismatic church leaders who have forked tongues and dine with silver spoons. And I'm tired of the constant barrage of trite "Christianisms" that seek to find simplistic solutions to complex problems and, thus, alienate those who are wrestling with their faith and genuinely searching for a deeper walk with the Lord. But most of all, I'm ashamed that I've been a part of this for so many years! I'm ashamed of my complicity in this conspiracy of pridefulness and inauthenticity. I'm tired of my own strategies and worldly wisdom. I'm tired of perpetuating shallow Christianity. And, without a doubt, I'm tired of not listening.
"Not listening to what?" you ask. I'm tired of not listening to God. This is not to say that I don't pray or seek God's "still small voice." I do. But I somehow always fall short of the mark. In my own pride, arrogance, spiritual immaturity, or whatever it is, I find myself frequently falling prey to the unfortunate trappings of American Christianity that place greater emphasis on church growth than on personal and corporate spiritual growth. What a sad state of affairs for the contemporary church! And most of my colleagues don't even see it and certainly don't take any personal responsibility for it.
So, folks, we are left with only two options. Either we continue down this path and watch the church slide deeper into its already well-hewn septic tank of mediocrity, or we shut up, drop to our knees, and start listening to God. Instead of pontificating incessantly using our wisdom, we should doggedly seek His wisdom. James and Paul clearly and uncompromisingly teach us that prayer is the centerpiece of faith (James 5:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20, et al.). If our cohort and leader were truly focused on the matter of prayer, then we would talk less about it and do more of it. And if we truly wanted to grow in our lives of faith and ministry, then our knees would be sore after every class session. As it stands, my colleagues and I suffer from the current ailments of our over-funded, over-constructed, over-programmed, and under-humbled contemporary church, and until we fix these deficiencies, we have no hope of fulfilling our Great Commission to make true disciples for Christ.