…I had the privilege and honor to teach and preach at the Sandy Bay church of Christ. This special group of Christians praised God with their beautiful singing, worshipped together, and fellowshipped after services, just like I have witnessed in hundreds of other church families. It was a beautiful sight.
Like many buildings in Jamaica, the church building is an open-air building. There is no glass in their windows, and the doorways stand open. Most Americans would look at the building and assume it was still under construction—which it is, but it is still very functional for this group of Christians. It was only this past July that the congregation was finally able to afford to put bars on the windows and in the doorways. This new security allows them to finally be able to leave material things we take for granted out in the open. Fred’s wife, Dorothy, mentioned that in previous years it would take 45 minutes just to remove the boards from the windows, set out all the chairs, set up the sound equipment, and carry in the song books. This had to be done at literally every service. With this new “security” they are able to leave their newly constructed pews in place, along with songbooks and their meager sound system.
One of the special things that one discovers when traveling throughout the world is that the prescription which God gave mankind to follow for the New Testament church is not conditional to “programs,” a type of building, or a specific culture. His “recipe” for New Testament Christianity works in every culture, for every group of people. It has been working for 2,000 years, and will continue to work (Lord willing), long after we are all gone. The people in Jamaica had gathered this morning to hear the Gospel preached in a pure and simple form. They were not concerned with programs, and they didn’t want someone sugar-coating the message. (In fact, I think the expectation was for the preacher to preach at least 45-60 minutes…, which I had no trouble complying with.)
In New Zealand, they serve a delicious dessert called pavlova. It is basically a sweet merengue and is commonly served with fresh fruit. The consistency is very light and fluffy, and it almost melts in your mouth. Having a sometimes-insatiable sweet tooth, I fell in love with it instantly. In fact, I occasionally have cravings for it when I’m back home in Franklin—a town in which you can’t get good (if any!) pavlova. But I am smart enough to know that too much of this delicious dessert will make me sick. And I also am keenly aware that my body would not survive on pavlova alone. It needs true nourishment.
I’m concerned that “programs” and pavlova is what we are serving in many of our congregations today. Take a moment to look over your bulletin at all of the activities that are offered. We have “programmed” ourselves so much, that oftentimes we forget Who we are there to serve. (In fact, I’m afraid the concept of servanthood is foreign in many congregations). Sadly, this has caused many congregations to become very inwardly focused—rather than on the community around them. This inward focus can be seen when someone visits a congregations and approaches it asking: “What does this congregation offer for me and my family?” Many of these programs are eating up lots of church dollars, as we gather weekly to sit around and discuss non-spiritual matters. Add to this that many pulpits are preaching a steady diet of Pavlova. Oh, it sounds good to the ears, and it makes us feel good when we leave the building. The stories are funny and the delivery is well-rehearsed. But where is the meat? Where are the Scriptures? Christians cannot grow on a steady diet of Pavlova. We need to be challenged. We need to have our toes stepped on—causing us to reflect and make changes in our lives.
For those who are reading this who might be concerned that some might leave if you end the “fun programs” and stop the Pavlova preaching, I would ask: “Aren’t they already gone?” If they do not love God enough to keep His commandments—but instead seek entertainment and pleasure—couldn’t we make the case that these individuals have lost their first love? Isn’t God’s plan that has been in place the last 2000 years still affective today? I think it is sad that many American children can’t sit through an hour long worship service because they have been so conditioned to be entertained.
Some might read this and say: “But what about the children.” Again, my question would be: “What about the children?” Do we want to raise warriors for Christ? Or do we want to babysit young people in modern youth rooms to ease our conscience? Friends, the time has come for us to be honest with ourselves. We are spending more money than ever, hiring all kinds of church staff—and yet our kids are leaving the church in bigger numbers than ever. What we are doing with all of the programs is not working.
I believe that what the church needs is not more programs and Pavlova. We need what the people of Jamaica need. And what the people of Ireland need. And what the people of New Zealand need. And what the people of Russia need. And what the people of Nicaragua need. And what the people of the Ukraine need. We need a love for Jesus Christ. We need the Gospel preached. And we need to reach out to the lost.
Bible verse to consider: “preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine” 2 Timothy 2:4.