One of the most emotionally charged words in the English language is the word, “guilty.” When a jury of peers declares a person to be “guilty” in the eyes of the law, then a penalty is imposed that might include the payment of a fine, imprisonment, or even death.
The feeling of being guilty is something that is experience by every person, for at some time in life every individual will violate their conscience. Some parents understand that children can be controlled by being made to feel guilty, and will use that knowledge to gain mastery over a child. Parents will speak of being brokenhearted, or disappointed, if a certain behavior is engaged in that the parent does not want a child to do. This is not altogether wrong, but there is much that is wrong when parents use guilt alone to guide behavior because they lack other parenting skills, and do not have other methods to motivate a child.
Certain leaders in society have learned the value of making people feel guilty in order to manipulate and control them. There are nationally known race hustlers who only have to threaten corporation leaders to contribute to their cause, or organization, or else face the public accusation of being racist. There is a prominent political party that uses guilt to advance its political agenda by telling people to pay their fair share, or stop polluting the planet. People are compelled to “go green”, or feel guilty.
It is not unusual for some pastors to preach whole sermons against going to the movies, attending the theater, smoking, drinking, playing cards, wearing certain types of clothing, a style of music, or playing sports on Sunday. One large area of contention, mainly in conservative churches, is the matter of attendance at designated services. Those who attend all the services are considered to be more spiritual, more faithful, and more mature than those who do not attend all the stated services.
The result of this artificial measurement of spirituality is that church attendance has become a source of needless contention, especially when extra services are added to the Sunday morning meeting. Usually, the idea for these extra services, Sunday evening, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and revival services originated with one person thinking they were a good idea, rather than the people as a whole requesting more time together to worship the Lord, or study His Word.
In the end, faithfulness to a man-made tradition becomes the measure of spiritual commitment, maturity, and growth, rather than a hunger and thirst for God. Eventually people get tired of being made to feel guilty all the time, and they react. The lines of communication between the people and the pastor shut down, tension grows, and a separation takes place.
A spiritual leader will either learn to be sensitive to the needs of the sheep whom the Lord has entrusted to his care, and minister to them where they are, and not where he wants them to be, or he will become disappointed, frustrated, angry, and move on to “greener pastures.”
My heart goes out to every person that spends time preparing a spiritual banquet which few will bother to avail themselves of. It can be heartbreaking to see only empty chairs, or empty pews being occupied by a few. But making people feel guilty is not the solution to increasing church attendance for Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, Sunday night, Wednesday night prayer meeting, or for revivals. Neither is catering to the sensual needs of the people the solution.
It is true that more people are likely to attend a special service if there is an interesting attraction. Special song services are always enjoyable. I know some churches attract people by having a Christian comedian perform, or by bringing in a power team of weight lifters. Some churches will attract young people to Sunday school with balloons and banana splits. Special banquets are always a winner, especially if almost everyone in the congregation is promised an award for performing their spiritual services.
And let us not forget the deacons and Sunday school teachers. They are to be leaders, and so some must sign a pledge card to attend all the services. I would submit that forcing a person appointed as a spiritual leader to sign a pledge of attendance is not only counterproductive, it is an abomination to the Lord. All of this is sad to witness in Christendom.
So what is the solution to spiritual apathy? How can the concerned spiritual leader compete with sports and leisure time? The answer is as difficult as it is simple.
First, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Charles Spurgeon was converted on a cold wintry day inside a Methodist chapel in which only a few were in attendance. God will honor the faithful proclamation of His Word.
Second, rejoice at every single person who comes to worship and study God’s Word. Do not despise the day of small things, or a small attendance. Be faithful in the little things. And even if only one person comes, then rejoice. The servant is not above the Master. Jesus spoke to one person one day, a woman who had come to draw water from a well. But that lady made a difference to many others. Rejoice in the rippling effect of gospel work.
Finally, remember that those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. One day a discouraged minister sent a telegram to William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. The telegram said that the minister was having small crowds. What should he do? General Booth telegraphed back a two word answer: “Try tears.” That is good counsel. Try tears. Do not belabor or berate the sheep for not being healthier spiritually. Love them, guard them, and guide them, but do not “shear the sheep” by making them feel guilty. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit’s job to reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8).