BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
I had lunch one day with a friend of mine who is the senior pastor of a large church. His church had just finished a major building expansion, which has provided them with a huge, gorgeous worship and education facility. I was anxious to hear about how much my friend was enjoying the new building and the ministry opportunities that came with it. But, much to my surprise, he had only negative things to say about the building. After listing complaint after complaint for several minutes, he finished by saying, “Congregations that don’t have a building should be thankful. If I had my choice, I’d sell our building and have our church meeting in rented facilities until the Lord returns!”
I may have just caught my friend on a bad day – maybe his congregation is experiencing conflict over the color of the carpeting in the sanctuary, or the size of the nursery, or the wattage of the light bulbs. But it was a good reminder to me that, even when it comes to our churches, it is very easy to find yourself looking enviously at the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
Are you content with your church? The Apostle Paul once said that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (I Timothy 6:6). Contentment is a fruit of the Spirit that drives out envy, resentment, and frustration. We usually think of contentment in terms of our money and possessions, but I think that we are just as likely to be discontent with our church and envious of other churches. We find ourselves saying, “If only we had the youth ministry that church has…”, or, “If only we had musicians that other church has…”, or, “If only we had the educational programs that my friend’s church has…”. A seed of discontentment takes root in our hearts, and, if it’s fed with constant sprinklings of envy, it blossoms into frustration and disdain for your own church family.
I think that this kind of discontentment with church has been intensified in our mobile and media-saturated culture. Through travel, television, radio, and the internet we are exposed to thousands of other churches, ministries, and preachers – something that Christians a century ago couldn’t have imagined. This is certainly a blessing in many respects, but it also gives our restless souls many opportunities to look longingly at the green grass beyond our ecclesiastical fences. The problem is that you can’t really know a church from a distance. If you get close and get involved, you’re going to find that sinners saved by grace are the same “works in process” no matter where you go.
So how do we find contentment in our own church setting? Paul was ministering in a Roman prison when he wrote, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). He wasn’t content because of his circumstances – he was content with Christ no matter what his circumstances happened to be. And He believed that Christ would meet his spiritual needs and enable him to be faithful no matter how easy or difficult his ministry context happened to be.
Being content with your church doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the strengths of other churches or to the weaknesses and failings of your own church, and it doesn’t mean just accepting the problems of your church. But it does require that you intentionally focus upon the blessings that the Lord has given to your own church and thank Him for them. It also requires you to accept the Lord’s will regarding the current state of your church, believing that He has supplied everything that your church needs – in terms of spiritual gifts, leadership, workers, and material resources – to do all that He is calling your church to do right now. It also requires a commitment on your part to be part of the solution to the problems that you see in your church, at least through the means of prayer. And it requires that you trust that the Lord will provide all that is needed in the future to become the church He has designed.
The promise of our Good Shepherd to provide green pastures for us is both for the present and the future. You will not be totally satisfied in this life, but if He has provided you with a church family where the Word of God is faithfully taught and proclaimed and the people of God love each other with the love of Christ, then He intends for you to rest, be fed, and be content there. If you’re feeling spiritually discontent and unfulfilled, maybe it’s because you’re spending too much time looking over the fence!