30Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD.
31And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
32And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
33And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.
We see in this passage a group of Old Testament people practicing what we call in this New Testament era "playing church." It is a phenomena that people mostly point out as a big church problem. But as a 20 year+ veteran of small church pastoring I can tell you with all assurance that it is a real problem in small congregations as well.
Note some of the symptoms. First of all these folks were faithful. We like to talk about the "sometimers"--the people who are members but aren't faithful. We often feel like they are the ones holding the church back. But this passage clearly shows that sometimes the people there every time the door is open can keep the church down too.
Second these people liked their preacher. They listened attentively to every word that Ezekiel said. They treated him with respect and did not bring him grief in the sense that we often think of. They weren't trying to run him off. They didn't try to shut him up or tell him what to preach. They were glad to let him hear from God and then deliver the message to them. Who wouldn't like to pastor people like that? But all was not well.
Third they showed much love. In an age where there seems to be so little love, how can you find fault with those who do? The Bible is clear that one of the characteristics of those who play church is that they don't mind showing love for others.
All of this sounds good if we could stop here. But the story goes on. In spite of the good things noted above, these people were not godly. They came to the services, hung on every word, acted with love, but they did not do what God told them to do in the messages.
They bragged about the preaching. In today's setting they would shake his hand warmly at the back door and say "you really stepped on my toes today" but then go on living the same way they always had. This is a familiar pattern isn't it? I can't tell you how many people have complimented my sermons but their lives were not changed and they kept living in the same sins no matter what was said.
People who play church are of little use to the kingdom of God. I don't suggest you should get rid of them. I am just stating a fact that other than making your attendance numbers look good, they are not really helping your church. Unfortunately, this really hurts in a small church. You know your people and you know who is just playing. It pains your heart to watch the ones who are not really serious with God.
But be encouraged pastor. There are those who do care what God has to say enough to let Him change their lives. And with God's grace you will get to see Him work in their lives. They make putting up with the players worth it all.
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