I just got back from my regional denominational conference. I'll admit, I'm one of those people who really enjoys this conference. For one, it's only two days long and for two, I always seem to get a spiritual recharge from attending. I know a few people who really dread going. I can understand that to a degree -- I hate having two days tied up too -- but still I always feel like I've been in God's presence after I get home. Whether the speaker is fantastic or barely mediocre, God uses the words spoken to soften my heart like a meat tenderizer.
This year was shaking out the same way. The devotionals were really getting my mind rolling over things I needed to work on in my life and my ministry. The music was especially touching. I should mention that my church, as a singing entity, is... um... not professional quality. Yeah, that's it. Not professional quality. So when I get into a group of people who can really sing, God talks the shivers into running wind sprints up and down my nervous system. It was that way again today. I even got to sing some harmony -- something I don't try at my church too often. So it was all coming together for me.
Conference was supposed to end just after noon today. And it was great. Music. Preaching. Seeing friends. Just like normal. Then a little over an hour from the scheduled end of the conference, this kid stands up to address the delegates. I say "kid" partially because of his age(although he's only 15 years younger than me), partially because he's fairly new to our region and partially because he stepped on the way we "old folks" have always done things. You see, this kid got up while I was feeling good about the conference and talked about how badly he was feeling about what had been happening! How dare he! Why was he precipitating on my parade? Honestly, his words were not well chosen. He sounded confused at times. But the convicting Spirit of God was present.
The kid's point was simple: after a rousing service Sunday night, attendance at the early morning prayer gatherings were miniscule. To his reasoning, this meant that all the exhortations and urgings given on Sunday evening, which met with rousing amens, were not being taken seriously. To his mind, a message urging us to do things Jesus' way would mean that we'd all be jamming the prayer gathering room the next morning. His logic may be faulty (any meeting held first thing in the morning is not going to be the most attended session of the day), but the main message was not. We conference veterans were used to hearing what we need to do, agreeing to do it, then going home and forgetting about it. Right there he nailed me, and I know I wasn't alone. We like the sound of what we hear, but apparently not enough to change our lives and our churches and our ministries.
How do I know he nailed others besides me? Because I see the same phenomenon happen with church every week. Worshipers file into the pews for a one hour spiritual recharge like fat people gathering for a buffet. Yet does anything really change in their lives, in their Christian walks Monday through Saturday? The charge to "take it to the Lord in prayer" is written down, believed, and heartily sung while in the sanctuary, but ignored once the fanny hits the car seat on the way home. The encouragement to "love your neighbor as yourself" gets heads nodding and loud amens, but when it comes to dealing with real live neighbors the words of Jesus become quaint, pie-in-the-sky rhetoric. It's not a matter of disagreement. It's a matter of action. We believe it, but we just don't do it. Or we just don't want to believe it applies to us.
And so the kid's message which so rudely slapped us back to reality this morning is a charge not simply for the pastors and laypersons coming home from conference. It's a challenge for everyone who say all the right things on Sunday, but put Christ in the shadowy background during the week. It's a test for those who love God, but love their own lifestyle more. It's a reminder for all of us that as James said, "Faith without works is dead," and if we don't love Jesus enough to conform our life to His words then we should examine how much we really love Him in the first place.
When we say "Amen!" do we mean it enough to change?