Friday, August 21, 2009

Back Door Revival

During my first 2 years as pastor at Sherwood, we were growing at a rapid pace. It seemed we could do nothing wrong. Hundreds joined, and we were baptizing new believers almost every week. There was energy and excitement everywhere. It would have been easy for me to say, "Don't make any changes; just ride the wave."

But in my heart I wasn't comfortable. There was a pocket of legalism in the church, and I knew I had to confront it. I've come to believe it's easier for an alcoholic to be converted than it is to soften the heart of a hard-core legalist...

Too many churches, however, don't want God to upset their system... God forbid a wind would blow in and disturb the status quo... I unexpectedly rattled i during one service in January of 1990. ... After one particular choir special, I started clapping, not for the performer, but in praise to the Lord... A man came to my office first thing Monday morning to confront me about it.

"Don't you know that clapping is a sin?" he asked.

When I quoted the Scripture that says, "oh clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" (Ps. 37:1), he said that was Old Testament and didn't apply to the church now. I then pointed out that the Old Testament is full of Christ, that Christ honored it, and almost every book in the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament... "I didn't come here to argue the Bible with you, preacher, I know what I believe"...

One thing that came to light, for example, was that a handful of leaders in the church were not respected in their community because of their business practices. their images were different than their substance. I wrestled with what to do - or if I should do anything at all. By outward appearances, we were successful... Why mess up a good thing?

The life of a Pastor is hard - if he chooses to follow God whole-hearted in ministry. I have a handful of Pastors that I know, which I admire and respect, who have been chewed up and spit back out because of their resolve. I've become very close to the pastor's family here in Anchorage. And though I haven't heard the story from him, what his wife and his daughter have shared from their hearts about the trials he's faced in that ministry have led me to admire him and respect him. Pastor Steve has already proven himself to have a strong resolve and not compromise holiness for popularity when it comes to his church.

The funny thing is how people's definition of "holiness" changes based on their personal preferences. I kind of laughed at what Pastor Catt went through as a result of clapping during service... I know that what Pastor Steve and his congregation faced seemed to be the opposite; that they weren't holy enough because they weren't clapping and shouting enough. I've known of people who criticize the worship at Christ Fellowship for not being "spirit-filled" because people weren't falling on the floor slain in the spirit or speaking in tongues.

When did we as humans ever take up God's role and decide WHAT was an acceptable offering unto Him?

In fact, if I remember my college Bible history class correctly, the biggest thing that infuriated the heart of God about the vendors in the temple was more than the robbery and extortion: People would travel for days with their sacrifice to the Lord, that they had loved and prepared for that whole year - only to show up at the temple and have a Pharisee say that it "wasn't good enough". Then they would have to sell their sacrifice for really cheap (which the Pharisees usually kept) and had to purchase a brand new offering at a higher price. And this mattered to the Lord so much that when Jesus was on earth He drove these people out with whips. It wasn't the business, it was the hindrance; hindrance to prayer, hindrance to have all people come unto Him.

Lord, help us to not be Pharisees when it comes to worship! Help us to not hinder or belittle ANYONE's offering of worship, within the Kingdom of God, no matter how different from our personal preference it looks.

Legalism wasn't accomplishing anything if the unsaved souls looking in weren't impressed. I can imagine Catt's heart about those business leaders... And it happens in every church... And I'm thankful I'm not a pastor! It's a really tough spot for a Pastor to be, they have so many issues to address more than we are responsible or accountable for, and we need to pray for them.

We need to pray that they won't be afraid to rock the boat, no matter how good things seem. That was Michael Catt's introductory question in this chapter - what he struggled with. We need to realize that there's more to the health of a church than what their Sunday Service looks like (everything looks good Sunday morning anyways!). The HEART of the church is what God looks at to see where He can bring His harvest into, where He can pour out His Spirit. And I believe that Pastors have discernment to see where the heart of the church is... And they need to follow God.

If you know the rest of Michael Catt's story, you see the reward in it. But at this particular chapter, there isn't.

"If you want to see how quickly God can crush your fleshly ego, tell Him you're willing to lose half of your congregation to see revival. He might test you on it."

Pastor Catt began, slowly but surely, addressing all these issues from the pulpit... and taking stands unlike any Southern Baptist pastor ever had. And at this point, he faced horrible consequences for it. He calls this chapter "Back Door Revival" because the revival they were praying for usually came after hundreds at a time walked out the back door of the church. They've lost about 800 members to that congregation over the next 10 years. Most of the churches that are dear in my heart don't have 800 people to lose to begin with!

It wasn't just the people walking out (which breaks a Pastor's heart every time), as much as the attacks, criticism, gossip that come with it. Former pastors criticized Catt and said he ruined their church. During Sunday, people sitting around his wife would grumble and complain and long for their former Pastor, so they can get back to the "good ol' days before Catt stirred up the church". There was a lot of mistrust. Oh Pastors, and families of Pastors, be strong and take heart! The Word doesn't say that to warriors of God over and over for no reason. These trials unfortunately come to ANYONE who stirrs ANYTHING over God's calling. Paul and I went through it over a youth ministry. We didn't even have the authority or ability to change ANYTHING about the church! I can only imagine how much worse it gets for men higher and higher in leadership (women tend to be too manipulative, controlling, and cut-throat to struggle with these things when they are high in leadership to be affected by this. Not all, but a lot).

Some one said to me after one back-door purging, "Pastor, you shouldn't be upset. Every malcontent and high-maintenance trouble maker has left the church. You ought to be praising God!"

For those of us who aren't the head pastors (mostly everyone), we need to be encouraging and supportive in prayer. Deeply. It gives our pastors the strength to lead the flock according to God's direction.

The direction that God had for Sherwood was to prepare them to be the church that could produce amazing movies and have amazing ministries. They had to embrace freedom of worship and blended worship. Pastor Catt said he got a lot of heat for bringing in a black gospel singer to do a concert at his church - but for all it was worth, their congregation is now one of the most multi-cultural and diverse of his denomination. It bridged a gap between his church and the community they needed to reach for His kingdom. The congregation that stuck with him through all this learned the truth about worship and prayer. It took many individual hearts deeper in a relationship with Him and deeper in a love for others - deeper into the heart of God.

The greatest reward for us and our Pastors if we unite, submit, and develop this lifestyle of prayer and worship - true worship - is this: Our church will grow. But it won't grow from stealing members of other churches, we won't be recycling believers. It will grow as a result of unbelievers joining the Kingdom of God - God's desire for the church and the deepest concern of His heart.

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