As a passionate observer of the modern church, I have observed some "meaningless activities done under the sun." I have seen churches lacking vision, the will and the power to fulfill God's mission in the world. I've seen churches focusing on annual one-time-big-time achievements and yet failing to develop sincere, loving relationships amongst the members. I've also seen preachers not getting the respect that they deserve. The people are not able to listen to, and be changed by, the message God has sent through the "messengers of His Word." Instead, they dwell on the imperfections, the problems and the faults of these leaders. Although the churchgoers do want to grow, they suffer a spiritual plateau, or worse they go astray. They simply cannot put themselves under the guidance of these "faulty leaders."
When I placed these observations under the lens of the Scripture, I've found two reasons why churches are bound to go astray. I've mentioned one reason in my other blog entry: Sheep for Slaughter: Shepherdless, that it is because (1)the church people have rejected God as they reject His messengers. Instead of listening to the message, they criticize the pastors. Instead of seeking God for His leading, they depended on their own shallow understanding. Instead of relying on His grace, they depended on their own strength. Instead of showing mercy, they offer abominable sacrifices. Instead of repenting, they continue on in their disobedient ways.
Now, hear ye, the second reason is just as important. It could be (2)the church leaders are leading the church people astray.
Malachi has provided A WARNING TO THE PRIESTS in the ancient Biblical times, and I think these are just as applicable today. The priests preserve the knowledge of God; they provide people instruction; they are the messenger of the Lord of Heaven's Armies (Malachi 2:7). Although in today's times, there are no priests that do ancient church rituals (i.e. burn incense, offer sacrifices), our church leaders and pastors serve the same purpose, as they help direct the entire congregation in their relationship with God.
They are warned to:
A. Honor God's name
Honoring God's name means "acknowledging God for who he is -- the almighty Creator of the universe, who alone is perfect and who reaches down to sinful people with perfect love" (NLT Study Bible). Knowing that we are a bunch of sinners that deserve death, we must prioritize God who has given us life. "How?," you might ask. Begin by "loving Him with all your heart, soul and strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). This means listening to what God says in His Word, and then setting our heart, mind and will to do what He says.
Truth be told, our church is not growing. In fact our numbers are getting smaller. And sadly we are still holding on to the same ways and structure as we did in the past. True, the church may have the money to spare, but is this how we should spend our money? Priests, have you really asked God how to spend the money? Are these the sacrifices God really wants from you? Have you prioritized God with your heart, soul and strength? Are you sincerely seeking Him? Are you sincerely willing to do whatever He says -- even if it means drastic change? I cannot forget a "priest" telling me about how he does ministry, "I admit that I am okay with doing what's been tried and tested."
B. Preserve God's Message
Malachi was angry at the priests who were appointed to be God's messengers -- they did not know God's will! Imagine having pastors, elders or deacons that don't meditate on God's Word or are not acquainted to the different books of the Bible because they were too busy. How could they preserve the knowledge, if they have no knowledge? How could they provide instruction to the people? How could they become a messenger? How could they lead people to the right path?
Perhaps the book of Malachi would like to keep pastors and leaders in tune to God's Word. Priests, may you be encouraged to dwell on the Scripture more than on any other books and references. You need to know what it says, what it means and how it applies to daily life. As a messenger of God, you need to live out the knowledge that you have, and to share the knowledge that you have preserved, in order to turn many from lives of sin. If you fail to do this, the church would surely be led astray.
On the other hand, we as the flock, also have to responsibility to read the Scripture. We need to verify if the priests are teaching us rightly about God.
C. Show No Favoritism
There are several classifications of people in the church. Some have BMWs, while some barely have food on their table. Some are Filipinos, while some are Chinese. Some are already octogenarians, while some are still in their teens. Malachi warned the priests from showing favoritism to the influential and favored people, to those who supported them financially. "The priests were so dependent on these people for support that they could not afford to confront them when they did wrong" (NLT study Bible).
It is very tempting to give a higher priority to the older and the richer, but God abhors this kind of favoritism. "If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers" (James 2:9).
This is not simply an issue of equality. Having favoritism shows that we honor men more than we honor God. The real sin is not in insulting the poor or the young; It is actually insulting God when we despise those whom he has equally given the gospel of grace. Showing favoritism is the same as questioning his grace, and ultimately, deeming his grace as worthless! (from: Spiritual Favoritism and Why God Hates It). Let's remember that our significance doesn't lie in the talents, the offerings, the sacrifices, the ministries that we bring before Him. All of us stand equally before God now that we are a new creation, it is Christ that He sees in us.
Many of the priests today have indeed given up their all for the sake of the call. They have withstood the initial tests of raised eyebrows and questions like, "Why be a preacher? There's no money there!" Now that they are in their important appointed positions, the enemy is all the more itching to take them out of the picture, or if not, use them to lead the people astray.
I hope that as messengers of God, you will take heed of these three warnings. If you forget to honor God and become complacent to your past successes, if you fail to share God's relevant message to the flock or if you show favoritism, God will indeed make you "despised and humiliated in the eyes of all people" (Malachi 2:8). Your people would know if you truly care enough for them -- you would be sincere in guiding them according to God's will.
As for us, the flock, let us pray for our pastors and leaders that they may not be discouraged in leading us to grow in our relationship with God. The devil is working against them. Let us not work together with the devil and give them a harder time. Instead, let us become a source of encouragement to them. I've tried becoming a church leader, and when you are in that position, rarely do people you serve affirm you in what you do. So let's be generous in giving encouragements. It's not that difficult.
The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
~ Malachi 2:7