The picture above was taken on Easter Sunday the year we set the all-time attendance record for Evangel. Every Sunday hundreds of people worship at Evangel but on all other Sundays except Christmas we have more empty pews then what you see in this picture.
A few weeks ago I had an epiphany-an enlightenment. It was on a Sunday morning right after eleven a.m. As the morning service started I realized I needed a drink of water. I walked back to the church offices and got a bottle of water from the little fridge in the workroom. When I walked back into the auditorium I stood for a few minutes and listened to the congregation sing. I scanned the crowd that morning and the stories of the people who gathered there began to leap one-by-one into my heart. Suddenly I was aware that there were so many people there–so many stories gathered in one room hundreds of them. In a few minutes I would climb the steps to the platform and it would be my responsibility to point them Godward.
I preached that morning with a special unction. There were so many people there. There were so many stories. There were so many hungry hearts. There were so many needs and hopes and dreams represented by the people gathered there in the pews. I have preached here every week for almost ten years now. You see a lot of living in ten years. People are dealing with grief and guilt, dreams and desires, pain and pleasure. And I am there to point them Godward. I am there to speak of things eternal. I am there to communicate Word of the Living God into their lives.
Most of the pews in the large auditorium were filled with people, but I have a weakness. I tend to notice the empty pews. I think of who is not there. It is a subtle form of idolatry to measure my effectiveness, to weigh my worth, even to gage my spiritual health by the number of people who attend on Sunday morning. It’s wrong and I know it is wrong, but it is a subtile and persistent temptation. I notice the empty pews.
That morning I believe God opened my eyes to the great opportunity and responsibility before me represented by the pews that were occupied. I saw it clearly and it was a meaningful insight. It was as if it came to my heart from the Lord this way; “On Sunday morning don’t think about empty pews. Concentrate on the people who are there, and don’t think about the people who are not there. On Sunday think about the full pews. All next week you can go seek out the people who should have been in the empty pews, but not on Sunday. On Sunday focus on the people who are present.”
On Sunday concentrate on the full pews. During the week think about the empty pews.
July 7, 2016