7 Viruses That Infect the Church
“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13).
The nature of computer viruses, as I understand them, is that a kink is placed in the inner workings of these systems which infiltrates all aspects and makes it impossible for the computer to do the work for which it was intended.
They are called “viruses” for good reason. Plagues are the result of viruses being passed along from one person to another until millions are infected and a great many die.
Quarantining the carriers has traditionally been the means of stopping the virus in its tracks.
In the Kingdom of God– the church on earth, if you will– bad ideas and wrong-headed philosophies function in the same way as viruses. They infect a church and as members and leaders interact with other churches, as people relocate and assume places in other congregations, the infection is spread.
The result is always deadly.
Here are seven viruses which I have observed affecting and infecting the Lord’s work on earth today....
1) The people who come to church are our customers and our job as leaders is to satisfy them.
I first encountered this from a longtime friend who was teaching on the campus of a well-known and historically conservative Christian university. Bobo–not his name, but close enough; the “Bobo” will give him a smile–would use part of one class period each semester to share his testimony with his class, no matter what the subject he taught.
He told me, “It’s vital that students know the world-view their professor is coming from. If they don’t, they can make some major errors in receiving his teaching. So, I tell them how Jesus Christ entered my life and changed me forever.”
The dean called him in. “You must not do this anymore. You have a diverse population in your classroom, many of them from different religious backgrounds, and your little sermon is upsetting some. Bobo, you must understand that as a Christian college, we have a product to sell. The students are our customers. If they do not like what we have to offer, they go elsewhere. If enough of them leave, you and I are out of a job.”
Bobo soon transferred to another college.
Church leaders fall prey to this kind of carnal interpretation of our mission. Our role is to satisfy the pew-dwellers. If they are unhappy with their leadership, they go elsewhere, the church dries up, and we are out of a job. Therefore, we will soft-pedal any preachings and standards that upset any segment of the congregation.
The second virus is like unto the first….
2) The pastors are here to make us happy and if they don’t, we get rid of them.
It is a rare congregation that can abide a minister who speaks the whole truth–”preaches the Word,” Scripture calls it–and upsets members from time to time.
However, I will go so far as to say that any minister who does not offend or upset some of his people from time to time is probably playing at his assignment.
A faithful minister keeps pushing his people toward the Lord’s goal for them. Pushing is uncomfortable. We want to push back.
There is a thinking abroad in the land that if the membership is unhappy, they will desert the program, withhold their offerings, and find other things to do on Sundays, and that therefore, the role of the leadership is to keep them happy.
“Pastor,” the little committee said, “we thought you would want to know that some of the members are unhappy with you.”
The minister, looking around at the six distinguished men and women who were standing in his office, said, “So?”
“Well,” the speaker said, “We thought that would matter to you.”
The shepherd said, “It does, but not much.”
“Then we are under a misconception here,” said the spokesman. “Our understanding is that since a pastor serves at the pleasure of the people, if they are unhappy with him, he is failing at his job. And thus, his continued employment is in jeopardy.”
The pastor said, “There is a misconception, but it’s on your part. The minister was not sent to make the congregation happy. He was sent to make you holy and spiritually healthy and to make the Heavenly Father happy. Those are two vastly different concepts.”
There are not 10 members in a hundred who get this distinction. And we are paying a severe price in terms of pastoral turnover, church divisions, and ministerial illnesses.
3) Deacons are to handle the business of the church while ministers take care of the spiritual side of matters.
I’ve encountered this foolishness in several churches, and in every case, the result has been disastrous. There is not a single word in all Scripture–not one–which would substantiate this wrong-headed notion on how churches are to be run (or led).
Anyone who knows the first thing about Congress sees that whoever controls the purse strings calls the shots. That’s why men and women we send to Congress vie with one another to chair the appropriations committee. Even if a bill is passed by a unanimous vote, if it’s not funded, nothing happens.
Power brokers inside a church–and they are not all deacons, believe me (I do not mean to slander these good people!)–quietly work in the background to insert themselves or their lackeys into the key decision-making slots. From there, they control the preacher and the staff.
“….shepherd the church of God, among whom the Holy Spirit has made you the episcopos” (Acts 20:28). Episcopos is Greek for “overseer” or just as literally, “supervisor.” Epi = upon or over, and scopos = to see. In context, Paul is addressing the pastors/elders of the Ephesian church.
The pastors do not keep the books, do not necessarily hire and fire staff, do not need to man the phones. But it all comes back on them. They are the only God-appointed overseers of His church, and according to Hebrews 13:17 they will stand before Him and account for the souls of their people.
You and I do well to assist them in their divine work and not impede it.
4) I give my offering when I agree with the church, and withhold it when I don’t.
To do otherwise, someone insists, is to be unfaithful. “After all, why should I fund something I disagree with?”
Answer: If someone is doing something unscriptural, unethical, or illegal, don’t fund it. But if you are simply in disagreement with the leadership, get over it and bring your offerings to the church. Act like a grownup, not a selfish kid on the playground who wants to take his ball and go home because he didn’t get his way.
Few things speak about your maturity in Christ like how you behave and continue serving and giving after you did not get your way on something you wanted the church to do, but were outvoted or were simply told ‘no’ by the leaders. Even pastors get told ‘no’ at times. It hurts, but we go forward, eyes on Jesus, doing our job. It’s what mature people do.
It helps me to see that in Mark 12, our Lord praises the widow for bringing her small offering into the temple treasury at the very time the temple was under the control of a bunch of crooks! One chapter earlier, Jesus had called them “a den of thieves.”
Bring your offering, Christian. Be faithful. Even if you did not get your way, even if something the church is doing turns out to be unwise, even if your pastor insists that his way is better than yours and events prove otherwise, bring your offering. Be faithful.
5) If I don’t feel like doing something, even though it’s the right thing, to do it anyway would be hypocritical.
I run into this a lot. It’s far more prevalent among pew-dwellers than most pastors think.
What it does, however, is to make one’s feelings the authority in his life. “How I feel” becomes the standard, the Authority I consult before doing something. And how scary is this?
Our feelings come and go, they fluctuate based on a thousand things (body conditions, the weather, what someone said to us at church last night, our jobs, how the kids are doing in school, our psychological makeup, unconfessed sin, guilt, whether we like our wives or the preacher or the chairman of deacons!), and they are completely–completely!–unreliable.
Many a person who has not learned this valuable lesson (not to trust their feelings) has gotten married or divorced as a result of how they felt at a given time, only to see the error of their ways later.
When someone uses this line to me–saying “If I don’t feel it, doing it would be hypocritical”–I answer, “No, it would be acting on faith!”
As a pastor, many times I called on a church member who disliked me intensely (and in some cases, I returned the compliment) but who was in need. They had had a sickness or tragedy in the family and they needed a pastor. I did not want to go. I felt nothing but hostility from him or her (or them). But I went out of obedience to the Lord and by faith that it was the right thing to do.
And without exception, on the drive home, my heart soared. I knew this was of God, that I had done right, that He had blessed. In some cases, I had made friends of that bitter person(s). But whether that happened or not, obeying is always the right thing, regardless of how I feel.
6) It’s the pastor’s fault.
Blame it on the preacher.
After all, if a football team turns in a losing season, you can’t fire the team, so you get a new coach. And, if he’s a Nick Saban or Les Miles or Sean Payton, within a year or two, he’s ringing up the wins and bringing home the trophies. It happens in sports, and it happens in the business world. A company in trouble changes CEO and he turns it around.
“Our church needs a new vision.” So, they fired the pastor. He was a good man, a godly man, and he deserved better than that church gave him. But the Lord took care of him. Almost seamlessly, he began a ministry in another church 75 miles away and now, nine years later, he’s still there and doing a great job. The offending bunch that ousted him? Well, they’ve been through several pastors and continue to flounder.
“There is a malaise in our church,” was the consensus in the deacons meeting where firing the pastor was the topic du jour. The preacher knew this congregation had been torn asunder by division for several decades, and the church’s problems had not arrived when he did. But, they sent him packing anyway. Many of the best people exited as a result of such heavy-handed treatment of God’s appointed leader, and to this day, the church limps along.
People do not know what they are doing when they drive a pastor away needlessly. (To be sure, if he is violating God’s law, Scripture’s mandates, or his marriage vows, send him on his way without apology!) I fear that what we reveal when we blame the preacher is that we do not believe in God’s leadership, do not believe in the power of prayer, and do not want to yield our will to His. And “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
7) The church is a business and should be run as one.
Like all of these statements, this is a half-truth. We do need sound financial and managerial concepts in effect in our churches. When I became leader of the “New Orleans Baptist Association” with its 130 SBC churches in a 5-parish area in 2004, the first thing we did was bring in an accounting firm to review our handling of finances and make recommendations on how to be more effective and faithful.
In many cases, however, this line (“the church is a business and should be run like one”) is a cover for resisting acting on faith.
The pastoral team presents a vision to the church to begin this program, construct that facility, initiate that mission, or employ this person. The money is not there to fund this. (This is important. Do not miss this key element: They are presenting a vision for which no money is available.)
The pastor tells the church (or the deacons or some leadership council): “People give to vision. If the congregation is inspired to do this, they will fund it. Let’s step out by faith.”
Some old head, usually a geezer my age or so, but not always, sits back shaking his cranium, insisting that the preacher has his head in the clouds. “I know we want our ministers to have faith,” he will say in grave tones as though he just came down from Sinai with the final word from on high. “But we simply do not have the money to do this. In fact….”
In fact, he goes on to say, pulling out sheets and charts, “Our giving this year is less than last year, if you deduct the special offerings we received for the Guatemala mission trip. We did get that estate bequest when the saintly Sadie Goodwill passed on, bless her soul, but we’ll not be getting another one of those. So, our giving is actually down. And now we have our leadership asking us to do this project! My friends, this would not be sound economic practice. In fact, it would be foolhardy. I think not.”
“By faith Abraham went out not knowing where he was going.” Sound familiar? The Lord delights in asking His people to step out on faith, to head out in a general direction without any guarantee where it will end up, just because He said so.
If you cannot handle this, if you do not believe in acting on faith, please do yourself and your church a favor, friend. Quit calling yourself a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And whatever you do, when asked to become a key leader of the church–a deacon, chair of this committee, treasurer, whatever–decline the honor. Please. You are not up to this. The church deserves better than you.
Well. That’s it.
That’s my list today. If you have been in church very long, no doubt you have encountered other viruses–wrong-headed ideas that have taken root and are poisoning your church and are being exported to other churches–that need to be confronted with some high-powered disinfectant.
And what is the disinfectant which treats these heresies?
“Preach the Word.”
That’s always God’s remedy, isn’t it?