As a pastor, I hear a lot of criticism, from people inside and outside of the church. From the inside, I hear about things that are usually, let’s just be honest, petty – I don’t like so and so or so and so doesn’t need to be doing whatever or why don’t we do X,Y, Z like other churches do. These kind of things are not unusual criticisms and frankly, every pastor I have ever known has heard them in one form or another. From the outside, I usually hear two: the church just wants my money or the church is full of hypocrites. As to the first criticism, churches need money to function. The truth is if we don’t have money, the lights get turned off, the ministries we do don’t get done, and yours truly would be doing something else to feed his family. This was true in the days of the early church and is still true now.
And as to the second criticism, the church has, at times, failed miserably and spectacularly. Statistics about church attendance, understanding of the basic tenets of faith, and general participation are enough to make an indictment stick. The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word that means, “a person playing a part on the stage”, “one who exaggerates”, “a pretender.” When you are speaking a gospel or talking about a way of life that you are not living into, you are by definition a hypocrite. It reminds me of the saying, “Your mouth is writing checks your body can’t cash.” Depending on who is evaluating the situation, there may well be a lot of check writing for empty accounts.
So, what’s the solution? What do we do to change the way the world around us sees us?
“Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”
This is without a doubt one of my favorite sayings, a Franciscan gem though most often attributed incorrectly to Saint Francis himself. This wonderful idea is simply that how we behave, act, present ourselves should be completely and totally intertwined with who we truly are. It is, in its own way, a definition for integrity – being the same person within and without.
Living into this starts with us not only talking about but living into Jesus’s two great commandments: love God, love neighbor. Loving God means living in a way that shows that our whole heart, mind, soul, and spirit are given to the work of the Kingdom of God. Loving neighbor means being that kind of person for those around us: the ones we like, the ones we don’t like, the ones we don’t now about yet. If you are doing it right, you won’t have to say anything. People will know from your actions who you really are, and they will be able to spot the fakers when they slip up, and they always do.
Don’t just do gospel, be gospel. The world is watching. Give them something worth seeing.