I’ve spent the last few days in Myrtle Beach with a group of senior saints from my church attending the Springtime Jubilee. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and worshiping together with gospel music and preaching. I think my wife and I were the youngest ones on the bus except for our associate pastor and his wife. Our church classifies anyone fifty-five and up as seniors so we qualify by just a few years. We can learn a lot by hanging around with the older church folk. They’ve lived through much in their lifetime and have learned to lean on the only One they can trust whatever the circumstance may be. You will never hear a sweeter sound than the prayers of some of these dear ladies, even if it’s a simple prayer of blessing the food. Sadly I don’t recall ever hearing my grandmother pray. She was a quiet, humble person but she was quick to let anyone know that she trusted in the Lord. Her fruits could be seen in the character of the three godly children she raised.
Like my grandmother I’ve never been very outspoken. You typically won’t find me engaging strangers in conversation. That seemingly minor character trait puts me at a bit of a disadvantage in following Jesus’ command to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations”, so it is something I pray about sometimes. The quiet nature that God gave me does however have it’s advantages. It gives me opportunities to listen and reflect on what I hear. Everyone needs someone to just listen sometimes. Listening attentively is a good way to learn, and learning along with experiences brings about wisdom. I think humans have a natural inclination to strive for knowledge and wisdom. We want to at least appear as if we’re smarter than those around us. I’m amazed at the outrageous sums of money people will spend trying to become wise. If they would only consider God’s promise we find in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” No, God’s not going to print a doctoral certificate with your name on it, but if that’s His plan for your life, He will make a way.
True wisdom from God comes with a second gift, that of discernment. Old King Solomon understood that when he recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” (1:18) Wisdom and discernment gives us just a bit of insight in seeing people as God sees them. Some, like that praying grandmother, fill our heart with joy. But then sadly, there are so many, that when we try to look on them through God’s eyes, brings us brokenheartedness. Although we can’t fully know the condition of someone’s heart, we can have discernment from God’s word. “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)” (Ephesians 5:9) When these fruits are missing we can be almost certain that Christ is not in their heart.
My career started out by working in the machine shop. It was a job shop and the primary customer was the Department of Defense. I loved the work and was always eager to learn. My supervisor took notice of that and I was given increasingly complex parts to make. Some of them made me scratch my head a little but I never refused those opportunities. I made some mistakes, scrapped some valuable parts sometimes, but I didn’t give up. Soon I was moved up into a shop leadership position and eventually into a technical office position. The advancement opportunities were there for anyone but not everyone was willing to step out and take advantage of them. There were a few older men who had worked in that same shop their whole life and were still doing the most basic tasks. They were good workers, ones you could count on being there, and they could see the rewards of putting forth just a little more effort, but they just didn’t want the added responsibility.
There were about one thousand people at the Springtime Jubilee, mostly senior adults. Most had probably been in church since nine months before they were born. This is the Amen crowd, the hand raisers, the shouters. They buy the gospel music CD’s and read the Christian books. Surely these are all mature Christians. But as I mingled in the crowd, not really engaging anyone I didn’t know, not eavesdropping, but just picking up snippets of conversations, I begin to realize that there is indeed a lacking of spiritual maturity within the church body. Amongst the excitement and joyful sounds of praise and exhortations, I also heard bits of ungodly criticism and bitterness. Although we are blessed to have many senior adults who have faithfully served the Lord, those who stepped out, striving to be Christ-like, it appears some have been satisfied to sit on the sideline. Just like those old men in that machine shop who shun any added responsibility, they are missing out on so many heavenly rewards. Like the steward that for fear hid the one talent he was given instead of using it to gain maybe just one more and for his slothfulness received punishment, although the idle Christian will not lose his salvation, he will lose the rewards that God had planned for him.
Are these “sideline Christians” really a problem that the church should address? They are really only hurting themselves right? The answers are definitely yes and definitely no. Being slack in service is a strong indicator that they are slack in reading and studying God’s word, not to mention their prayer life. Failing to personally study the Bible results in having only a weak second hand understanding of the doctrine of the gospel. Satan is always looking for a weakness that he can jump into with both feet to create havoc and division within the church body. Paul addressed this problem in his letter to the church in Corinth.
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1Co 3:1-3)
So how do we address the problem of spiritual immaturity within the church? Do our teachers need more training? Nothing wrong with that but they have the Bible which is sufficient. Do we need to start some new program? Heavens no! Then what?
As I began to find the words to answer this question I just realized that God inspired me to write these thoughts to teach me. I need to trust Him enough to get out of my comfort zone and engage those strangers in conversation to make sure they know Jesus, then to encourage those on the sideline Christians to get in the game. When we continually hear those critical or bitter words we need to recognize that is our prompt to reach out to that person with love and meekness. Encouraging that person to serve along beside you puts them in a position of accountability and takes them on a sure footed journey to spiritual maturity. We can be the difference that allows them to enjoy the eternal rewards God has planned for them.
The topic of Christian maturity first brought these verses to mind from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phi 3:12-14). As a Christian for the last fifty years now I know that I fall far short in the level of maturity that I should have, still, “I press towards the mark”.
I leave you with a positive note and a couple challenges. At the end of the Springtime Jubilee the pastor gave an invitation. After the final prayer, a dozen hands went up proclaiming they had trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Angels were rejoicing in heaven! I challenge you first to pray for God to surround those new believers with mature Christians who won’t let them sit on the sideline. Challenge number two gets personal. Be the one who reaches out, asking those on the sideline to serve along side you. Strike up a conversation with that stranger and tell them what Jesus has done for you. Allow Christ to work through you to disciple the new and sideline Christians. Be Blessed!