Years ago when I was a youth pastor, there was a particular summer night where the usual youth group crowd was really low. I wasn’t surprised as it’s just something that tends to come with church attendance during those two brief months in the Seattle area when the sun comes out and people make the most of the warm, long evenings.
I remember the night well as I stood on the stage and my first words of the service were, “hey, where is everyone tonight?“. Just then a 12 year old girl said, “What about us? Were here!” Immediatley I realized how rediculous and hurtful my words were to those students who had taken the time and effort to join us for our gathering.
A 12 year old girl helped change me begin to re-think church growth, my insecurities, and empty chairs.
It was Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher from the late 1800’s who once said, “when we focus our attention on the empty chairs, we do a disservice to those who fill the chairs”. This is a brilliant statement which many people and pastors in today’s church need to think about and wrestle with!
Spurgeon’s words should force pastors to confront their motives, insecurities, and approach to growing healthy communities of faith. I’ll be honest…empty chairs sometimes make me feel like I’m failing in leading the church. I’ve learned to catch myself when those thoughts or feelings arise, as they force me to alter how I lead and what I believe about growth. Even worse…it often means that I fail in being the shepherd God’s called me to be to those God has brought to us.
My particular pastoral training tells me to do whatever I have to do to fill the seats, yet the message of Scripture tells me to make disciples. Thus, the tension of filling chairs on Sundays and growing a church through the long and sometimes messy journey of disciple-making. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against mega-churches or growth plans that many pastors adhear to…it’s more or less me sharing the truth of Spurgeon’s words, and how they’ve impacted me over time.
Living in a culture where high-achievement, dynamic leadership, and numerical results are often the gauge for success, it can be hard to lead the church in a way that I believe I’m supposed to. I find myself always asking God for the strength to lead with conviction, be odedient to His mission, follow Jesus through a life of faithful serving, and pastor my church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I’m not sure if much of this makes sense, but I think people would be surprised by how many pastors are both discouraged and distracted by the “empty-chairs”.
Pray for your pastors today.
Love and Peace.