“And seeing a fig tree by the road, [Jesus] came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again.’ Immediately the fig tree withered away” (Mt. 21:19).
People are tired of going to fig trees that promise fruit, but offer a hungry person nothing but leaves to eat. They’ve been eating leaves or chewing on bark, but there is no fruit, no sustenance, no nourishment. One day they wake up and say, “No more. Whatever this place used to mean to me, whatever purpose it used to serve in my life, this place no longer represents the Lord Jesus. I can’t fully explain it, and I don’t completely understand why or how, but the religion of church is hindering my relationship with the Lord and it is time for me to leave.”
You do find two groups of believers in the Book of Revelation who were doing well, who received no rebuke, only praise from the Lord; only two out of seven that He expressed satisfaction with. Before you begin to think that your church is one that Jesus is satisfied with, let me tell you one thing both these had in common: both of them were suffering persecution. Isn’t it interesting how persecution has a way of re-arranging your priorities? Isn’t it amazing how the only two that Jesus was completely satisfied with were the two that were going through deep affliction and persecution? Persecution brings adjustment. It brings a sense of eternal purpose.
I had a ministry to burned out pastors when I was still working for a denomination. What a great ministry; there’s never any lack of burned out pastors. I would take over their pulpit for one or two Sundays and give them a break so they could take some time off, spend time with their families, go get counseling, or do whatever they needed to do but couldn’t take time to do because they were so consumed with running their church. That opened my eyes to a lot of things.
I remember getting a call from a pastor of a medium-sized church, and he wanted to take me to dinner. I agreed to meet him because I was flattered, and I was really looking forward to it because he was someone I considered “successful.” His church was growing, they had a nice building, he drove a nice car and had nice clothes. I was struggling with all those things so this man was someone I kind of looked up to. I was hoping I could get some words of wisdom or some ideas that would help me become as successful as he was.
So we met for dinner and things are going well. He seems friendly and I am just on the verge of asking him, “What is the secret to your success?” The words were on the tip of my tongue, and then this pastor broke down right in front me. His personal life was a mess, his church was a mess, and he wanted me to take over his services for a couple of weeks so he and his wife could take some time off and put their marriage back together. I nodded and listened but inside I was thinking, “My God! Here I am looking to this man as an example of success, and he is a nervous wreck.” And that meeting taught me something. I learned not to judge success by the outward appearance of things. I saw that pastors are just as clueless as anyone else, but they have to convince themselves and everyone around them that they really have it all together. Most of the time they do not, and you can only be a hypocrite for so long before the whole things takes its toll on you.
I like to teach, and I have a heart for pastors. If it were up to me I would probably be working with burned out pastors. But God had something else in mind. “Leave them alone, Chip – they are blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall in the ditch.” And God showed me that until a blind leader falls into a ditch, they cannot be healed. He can’t have his eyes opened until he realizes he is blind and has no business trying to lead others. My efforts to help them by taking over their pulpit for a week or two was like treating cancer with a band-aid.
Pastors aren’t bad people. Pastors, for the most part, are good people who become trapped in a bad system. It’s the religious system that is at fault. Yet this religious system was created by people – well-intentioned, good-hearted people who thought they were doing something for God. And now this thing called “Churchianity” has become a monster, a grotesque creation of our own hands, and now we can’t control it; IT controls us. It masters us, all the while tricking us into thinking that when we serve IT then we are serving God. The work of the Lord becomes more important than the Lord of the Work.
How far we have fallen from the days when people could look at disciples of Jesus and would notice that they had been with Him. They had been with Jesus. Now we look at religious folk dressed up and going out to eat lunch on Sunday and all we can say of them is that they have been to church.