Well, it is fall again in the Midwest and that means a lot of things to a lot of people. Often it stirs us to the hankering for something, anything in a pumpkin spice variety. Maybe for you, it is the start of the football season and the crunch of the plastic on the gridiron (yeah most of the pads are made of plastic, Google it). Maybe it is the ever changing burst of color that starts “way up nort’, dontcha know dere”. The thing that is probably most prevalent right outside your door though is the fact that churches are gearing up for another season and shaking off the summer hibernation.
Ya see in our never changing culture of the Midwest and across most of the United States in general over the past 4-5 months the local congregations have gone into hibernation. Now not hibernation like you think about although it has many of the same signs. Let’s look at some of the signs that most resemble the other famous hibernator of the Midwest, the black bear, shall we?
- We both hibernate for about 6 months, the black bear in the winter and the average “church-goer” in the summer.
- The black bear’s diet consist of mainly plants and vegetation, the average “church-goer” shy away from meat as well, although they have been known to dabble.
- Black bears keep to the shelter of the wooded areas of the Midwest, the “church-goer” likes the shelter of the steeple and the warmth of the pew.
- Black bears don’t stay in one place very long, as with “church-goer”, when they no longer like the pastor or what is being taught they find themselves searching for something else to satisfy.
Stunning right? The fact is, churches must figure in the lull that is summer time into their financial planning these days, because in the Midwest, let’s face it, the Dells or Six Flags is just gonna be more important come summer time. Don’t get me wrong the Dells nor Six Flags are evil things and YES because of old man winter this is the only time that we have for those things. I get it. I am merely stating for the record that if you asked your pastor about attendance ergo tithing in the Summer months he/she would tell you “traditionally these are our slow months”, probably in those very words. So because the church is, in fact, a business, for most, they have to forecast for the drop in tithes throughout the summer.
We see in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 that Jesus was telling the story of what happens when we hibernate in our faith.
5 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. Matthew 13:25
So while the issue with hibernating within the local church is real, it only exists because of the body, or The Church, has not being given the necessary charge to go forth (yes even in the summer time) and preach the gospel message. Moreover, they are rarely given authority to live gospel-driven lives and bring people to know the Lord in a more vibrant and real way during the hibernation months.That kind of authority lends itself for sleeping “church-goers” to no longer value the pew and the eclectic worship experience, but rather to value the person and image of Christ. That is just flat out bad for business.
Just like the black bear, the “church-goer” will awaken from their slumber and be starving. However, because we have spent the hibernation allowing the weeds to creep into the fertile soil we now take the chance of them consuming the bad with the good. In traditional fashion, we try to undo the damage by throwing every program, small group, youth group, harvest festival, bible study, kick off night, women’s study, men’s study, and all points in between, in an attempt to sow the good from the bad ground. In the parable of the weeds, Jesus tells how the servants were instructed to let them both grow together and then later they will be divided. In fact, He tells them that He will be the one to give instruction to the reapers as to what stays and what goes.
Alber Barnes said it this way…
Satan thus sows false doctrine in darkness. In the very place where the truth is preached, and while the hearts of people are open to receive it, by false but plausible teachers he takes care to inoculate false sentiments. Often it is one of his arts, in a revival of religion, to spread secretly dangerous notions of piety. Multitudes are persuaded that they are Christians who are deceived. They are awakened, convicted, and alarmed. They take this for conversion. Or they find their burden gone; they fancy that they hear a voice; or a text of Scripture is “brought” to them, saying that their sins are forgiven; or they see Christ hanging on the cross in a vision; or they dream that their sins are pardoned, and they suppose they are Christians. But they are deceived. None of these things are any conclusive evidence of piety. All these may exist, and still there be no true love to God or Christ, and no real hatred of sin and change of heart. An enemy may do it to deceive them, and to bring dishonor on religion.
Let’s not be drawn into deception to believing that our words spoke of salvation or the fact that we stand so firmly on a message of “greasy grace” and prosperity, that we are covered in our iniquities. Over those months of hibernation, the enemy has planted weeds among the good earth and will cover them with soft words and the allure of safety. He will put the grand design of the harvest festival and the youth group trips to the pumpkin patch into your mind as a remedy for the hunger you feel after months of hibernation. Don’t be deceived, Jesus is the only giver of life and sustainer of the promise. Only through complete dependence and submission can we truly feed all year long of the bread of life and therefore never have to awake to hunger pangs that are satisfied with the very hint of nourishment, even if that nourishment is sour and riddled with lies.
The charge becomes that the body of Christ would continue throughout the year and encourage and build one another up. Get the word of God in you and then let it pour out in relationship and community. The fact that the very model of discipleship, Jesus Christ, walked, lived, ate, drank and slept in the very same places that the people he was discipling walked, lived, ate, drank and slept should tell you something about yourself. We are created in the image of Christ, not in the image of a man in front of the church on Sunday.
Gathering on Sunday is biblical for sure and I am sure that most of your pastors are wonderful God fearing men, but the reality is that while you were hibernating this summer some of them were wringing their hands to see if you would return for another season. They made all the preparations and put all of the volunteers in place. They made sure the latest curriculum is in and is ready to be distributed the first night of small groups, (held at the church away from the public).
In closing, Jon Ellicott describes the Matthew scripture as thus…
His enemy came and sowed tares.—The act described was then—and still is—a common form of Eastern malice or revenge. It easily escaped detection. It inflicted both loss and trouble. The “enemy” had the satisfaction of brooding for weeks or months over the prospect of the injury he had inflicted, and the vexation it would cause when discovered. The tares, known to botanists as the Lolium temulentum, or darnel, grew up at first with stalk and blade like the wheat; and it was not till fructification began that the difference was easily detected. It adds to the point of the parable to remember that the seeds of the tares were not merely useless as food, but were positively noxious.
Let’s do away with the noxious and draw near to the person of Jesus Christ and ask yourself “what happened while I was sleeping?”