Perhaps we are the most vulnerable to channeling the Prodigal Son’s older brother right about now.
As we anticipate sightings of Christmas and Easter worship attenders this Sunday, we may find ourselves thinking, “Well, there you are, all happy and cheerful as if showing up these few times a year is OK. The rest of the year we are left here to work and serve and keep this church running while you are out enjoying your free time each Sunday. So you’ll just have to put up with the verbal digs and thinly veiled resentment embedded in our effort to welcome you to worship. What did you expect anyway?”
That’s who we become when Older Brother Syndrome infiltrates our souls.
It’s funny how everything in life is a spiritual issue, a spiritual growth opportunity. The way we greet so-called “C-and-E” worshipers this week says more about us than about them. Since Easter worship presents us a very focused and specific opportunity to witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ, let’s do the spiritual work it takes to ready ourselves for witnessing well.
First, let’s recognize their stories are complicated (like ours). Everyone has a story; everyone is a story. Those who rarely participate in worship in churches, but who may be in your church this week:
- Are there because they hope there is good news left somewhere in this crazy world.
- Are there because they recently met a Christ-follower who inspired hope in them and they wonder if it’s possible to find more in your church.
- Are there because someone else is pressuring them to do so.
- Are there because they are honoring their elderly parents, transporting them and assisting them into the sanctuary.
- Are there because they want their children to understand their Christian roots, regardless of the current state of their spirituality.
- Are there because of nostalgia, but secretly hope something more than pleasant memories will come their way.
- Are there to impress someone, maybe even someone who died years ago.
- Are there with their outdated understandings of God formed in childhood Sunday school.
- Are there only after hiring a specialist to sit with their special needs child so they could get out to come to your church for worship.
- Are there this year, but doubt they will return again next year.
- Are there this year, but are not sure they want to live another year to return next year.
We don’t know their stories, but everyone is a living, breathing human story. Everyone one of us carries a longing for spiritual connection and a hopeful vision, regardless of the defensive layers we use to shield us from the lack thereof.
Second, let’s welcome them like Jesus does. When we gather on Easter Sunday, we will be a huge bag of mixed motives. In actuality, that matters not.
“This Easter Sunday is the perfect time for us to imitate our Lord, welcoming everyone like Jesus does.”
What matters is that we gather to worship God, celebrating the Resurrection. Does Jesus stand at the door screening out those with impure motivations? As far as we can tell, Jesus preferred to hang out with the sinners over the judgmental religious of his day.
This Easter Sunday is the perfect time for us to imitate our Lord, welcoming everyone like Jesus does.
Third, let’s trust the power of the gospel. Honestly, many preachers and worship leaders feel huge pressure this week to hit a home run on Sunday. Recognizing the import of the day, they want to be their best, delivering sermons, liturgy and music that move people toward faith. Some will even ratchet up that pressure until it becomes performance anxiety, shutting themselves down in the process.
But here is the good news: The gospel itself is where the power is. This year you may not have the most poignant illustration ever. You may not feel wonderfully inspired. But no worries, because it’s not about you anyway.
The power is in the story, was always in the story. Jesus died, buried and resurrected — that’s the good news of the gospel.
So, preachers and worship leaders, tell the story and trust God. That’s more than enough, a banquet for we hungry pilgrims. Just tell us the story and trust God.
Fourth, let’s resolve our undercover irritation before Easter Sunday. On a human level, it is a bit irritating that we serve through God’s church faithfully all year with little thanks, followed by people breezing in and enjoying a huge Sunday we have diligently worked to prepare.
And you can hear the self-focus all over the previous sentence. When we are in that space, it’s not about the C and E worshippers, it’s about our own toxic spirituality. We are looking through the lens of fairness or just rewards. We are looking at our service through God’s church as obligation rather than our response to God’s grace in our lives.
“It’s not about the C and E worshippers, it’s about our own toxic spirituality.”
When we are there, it’s time to resonate with Jacob and wrestle around with God and ourselves. If we don’t, our undercover resentment and irritation will come through as we engage with C and E worshippers this week. Passive-aggressive, we shall be.
When we honestly wrestle with these spiritual issues, the likely outcome is confession. Fortunately, when we confess our sin, God is gracious and quick to forgive. Then comes change (repentance), going a different direction. Confession and repentance detox our systems, making space for God’s grace and love.
Whatever we do this week, let’s do the spiritual work required to resolve these issues before engaging those who are looking to us for a glimpse of Christ. Through the grace, power and love of Jesus Christ, the resurrected one, may this become so this week.
Mark Tidsworth is founder and team leader for Pinnacle Leadership Associates. He has served as a pastor, new church developer, interim pastor, renewal pastor, therapist, nonprofit director, business owner, leadership coach, congregational consultant, leadership trainer and author. Ordained in the Baptist tradition, Mark is an ecumenical Christian minister based in Chapin, S.C.
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