Target on the back

Sometimes I think there must be a target on the back of churches and their leaders. Whenever I see someone take a shot at the church in conversation, or on Facebook, or over dinner, I want to look at the back of church leaders’ shirts to see if there is the old familiar target everyone is shooting at.

The burden of elders and preachers and congregations, too, is they must be right one hundred percent of the time else people begin to take aim. Not only must they always be perfect, but they must be perfect with the right attitude. They can’t be smug or judgmental or harsh. And if they fail on any point, at any time, the command rings out: “Fire at will! Any church, any church leader, just take your free shots!”

In the back of the critic’s mind, of course, is the fact that in his day Jesus took on religious hypocrisy too.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).

The great thing about finding a hypocrite in the church is that this discovery frees one from carrying out any of his own responsibilities! As we all know, two wrongs make a right!

In a congregation of, let’s say, two hundred, what are the chances of finding one, just one hypocrite in the church? And when he is found, you have the wonderfully freeing “Aha! Gotcha!” moment. “Brother Smith, that’s why I don’t go to church – there are hypocrites in that church!” “Brother Jones, did you know that I was sick, and not one person sent me a note!”

Can I make an observation with fear and trembling? Is it possible that some of the “hypocrites” we spot in churches are actually human beings trying hard to live right and slipping up once in a while? Rather than our hyped up and over the top outrage at the supposed hypocrite we just found, perhaps we could exhibit some compassion and understanding towards our erring brother?

If you really want to worry about a hypocrite, perhaps you should look in the mirror. The person you see there is the only one you can change, and for what it’s worth, the only one God has demanded that you change!

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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