It’s a good bet that church pews will be more packed than usual these next two Sundays. Local congregants and pastors will likely struggle to remember the names of those who come to pray and sing next to them on Palm Sunday and Easter Day. Once again, it is time for the CEO (“Christmas and Easter Only”) crowd to emerge. My perspective on such folks is perhaps unique, stemming from a conversation I had years ago.
On a rainy Saturday, the day before Easter, I was leaving the church office when a man drove up and rolled down his window. He stopped because he saw my car there, and he asked if I was the pastor. He then continued, “I know my wife is going to want me to go to church with her tomorrow.” “Good,” I replied. His face got a bit more serious. “I guess that’s what I really wanted to ask you about,” he said.
“The last time I went to church with her was last Easter, and I wanted to go. But it was a bad experience,” he explained. I’m sure I looked perplexed, responding, “How could Easter possibly be a bad experience?”
“Well, I guess I don’t go to church as much as other people think I should.” I nodded, “OK.” “So,” he continued, “what I want know is what you preach about on Easter.”
“Well,” I said grinning, “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be on the Resurrection!” He grinned as well, and perhaps looked even a bit relieved. So, I had to ask, “What were you thinking I might preach on?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” he replied, “I just wanted to make sure. You see, last Easter when I went with my wife to church the pastor preached for 30 minutes about people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. And I swore I would never go back to church. But I was thinking maybe to give another church a try tomorrow.”
As we spoke, the rain came down more and more, and by this time in the conversation it was pouring. I invited the man in. He politely declined, but said he would consider coming to Easter service the next day. And he did, with his wife. I have seen him many times since then.
Yet here is the point: Would I love for this man to attend church every Sunday? Sure I would. Still though, three things became very obvious to me in that conversation.
First, guilt never brought anyone to church. Has anyone ever been “guilt-ed” into becoming a faithful, sincere Christian? No. It doesn’t work. The use of guilt is a strong-arm approach that ultimately, at least in my opinion, does no good.
Second, this man was indeed at Easter service that day. That’s where any pastor would want him. This gentleman came very close to rejecting church — and maybe even his relationship with God — because he felt he was being rejected, or at least was unacceptable in a church. I saw that day what damage can be done from a pulpit.
Finally, I began to see my role as a pastor in a different light. While I can influence people to seek God, in the end, God is in control of touching hearts and calling people to Him — not me. My job is not to evaluate their faith or commitment, and certainly not to make a judgment about it or decide when it is that they will draw close to God. That is God’s role — and God’s timing.
Perhaps my job is more of a bellhop, helping people feel comfortable and at home in the house of God, and assisting them to get their bags in off the street.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.