Here in the Pacific Northwest the churches have one thing in common with Starbucks–there is one on every corner. Well, almost. Then there is the main regional competitor to Starbucks here in Whatcom County, Woods Coffee. After that you have Tully’s, Seattle’s Best, and a host of small mom and pop operations following in their wake. No one seriously threatens Starbucks, although in certain locations Woods puts a small dent in their business. The smaller shops specialize in exotics and offer a homier atmosphere. They know they will never be up there with the giants of the designer coffee industry, so they don’t even try.
In the past two months I have had a sampling of churches in the area: big churches, tiny churches, mid-sized churches–you name it, I’ve seen it. After thirty-two-plus years of preaching myself, the church-hopping experience has been a real eye opener. The really big churches that are filling their buildings to capacity offer two things: production-quality music and specialized small groups for every imaginable demographic category and sub-category. In the services of these churches there is very little emphasis on sound doctrine or the preaching/teaching of the Word. There are quite a few smaller and mid-sized churches trying to implement their model in hopes of keeping a few more bodies in the building.
Yesterday on a whim I attended a small congregation that has been around for years. I have driven past it literally hundreds of times but have never visited on a Sunday. There were maybe forty very warm and friendly believers there who seemed to know and like each other. A very sincere man stood and led in some of the great old hymns. The congregation then spent about ten minutes sharing needs and praying for one another. The young pastor preached a really passionate sermon on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The message was well-prepared and well-delivered. The content was excellent, and his theology was sound.
I couldn’t help but be amazed when I thought that every week scores of people pass this church on their way to one of the mega-congregations. This young guy preaches his heart out week after week, and he is like a well-kept secret. To change the figure, he is like the hole-in-the-wall diner frequented by a select few who are in the know and love good old-fashioned food, while hundreds of others plough through the drive up line at the Burger King down the street for whoppers and fries.
My heart goes out to this young preacher, his family, and his congregation. I have been where he is at, and I have done what he is doing. Only I started back in the 1970s when you could at least find a few believers who knew the Bible and cared about sound doctrine. This young man has a whole career ahead of him and, honestly, I don’t envy him a bit, considering the direction our culture is headed.
But we need young men who are devoted to God and His Word. Now is not the time to throw in the towel and adopt the if-you-can’t-beat-them-then-join-them philosophy. The reason Americans are so biblically illiterate and doctrinally ignorant is that from the schoolhouse to the churchhouse and everywhere in between we have de-emphasized Scripture and theology in favor of feel-good humanistic philosophy. Just go to the local Christian book store and you will see. It used to be that these venues offered Bibles and a few other assorted items. Now they are massive emporiums of self-help, psychobabble, so-called Christian fiction, magazines, music, greeting cards, plaques, and other assorted varieties of knick-knack items, trinkets, and junk.
So you young bucks preaching the Word keep your chin up and be faithful to the Word. No one will write books about you, but God sees your faithfulness. You might need to take outside work to support your family, as I had to do. But one thing I can tell you from experience–I would not trade the years I have spent immersing myself in God’s Word for anything. There was a time when I looked enviously at the guys leading the huge churches. But I have seen them fall time and time again, so much so that I can assure you that all that glitters is not gold. Hang in there, my brothers in ministry! You need not be Starbucks to offer a great cup of coffee.