Addition by Subtraction

As a pastor I was always concerned when people left the church. It could have been any one of a thousand things, including the family moving to another state or city, getting upset with someone or something like the temperature in the worship center, the kind of music that was being sung or not sung, the length of the sermon, a decision made in a business meeting, the removal of some shrubs or trees around the church, or the fact that a child did not get a part in the pageant that was going to be presented. However formidable or frivolous it might have been, it always concerned me.

It actually did not matter if the person or the family was supportive or contributed little or nothing. It could have been the most obstinate person that God ever created, but I hated to see them go. I always wondered what I could have done differently or not done, or how I could have solved the situation or appeased their feelings. But more often than not I was left without any answers, though I may have had questions. Some way or other the pastor and the people have to come to an understanding that at times the only way real addition can take place is by subtraction.

Some years ago one of our churches here in the state had gone through a difficult time, and a major controversy had erupted. Although there were thoughtful people on every side of the issue trying to bring peace and harmony, one person seemed to be the embodiment of hurt and bitterness. He was determined that at all costs he would see that everyone in the church hurt like he hurt. The folks in the church did everything that they could to try to reach out to him, but they were unsuccessful. Friends, foes, and people who agreed and disagreed with his position went to him. Finally, the man left the church. Eventually he joined a church in another town that was miles away from where he lived.

A friend of the man who left who was hurt by his leaving told me sometime later that it was a sad, sad thing to come to the realization that sometimes there are people who in order to help the church the best thing that they can do is leave. I am often reminded of the story of the great victories that came to Gideon and the people of God because hundreds and, in fact, thousands who were not making any contribution to the battle were sent home. It was not Gideon’s plan, but it was the Lord’s. I have often wondered how Gideon felt when God told him to start sending those folks back home.

First, God told Gideon to tell them if you do not want to be here, just go to the house. Then he put them to the test to see if they were going to be ready and willing to fight the enemy. Over 9,000 more were sent home. Gideon must have been wondering what in the world God was doing to him. God had decimated his army, and now what could he possibly do? With 300 willing, courageous souls God told Gideon that He was ready to go to battle. I suppose great leaders always think that they can encourage, inspire and eventually everyone will get on board and be a part of the great work of God.

Yet the problem with Gideon was not that Gideon was not a great leader, inspirational and courageous. It was the people whose hearts did not want to follow the plan of God. That too is a tough call to make. You know that God is in something and no one else is able to grasp it except a handful. But even then God may be leading, and the followers need to continue to follow. Recently, I heard a brief discussion on a sports program talking about athletic teams that did so much better after one person was released. Invariably that person was talented but was a troublemaker and always demanded that the spotlight be on him. He was always criticizing the other folks on the team, the coach, and maybe the owner. Though the player may have felt he/she was indispensable, the team made vast improvements when the person left.

God’s people are described as an army, a family, and a body. But never is the believer described in an isolated fashion to be a lone ranger or super saint. In Gideon’s small army the miracle and the mystery was two-fold when they faced overwhelming opposition and maybe feared defeat. One great piece of the victory is described in Judges this way: “And every man stood in his place.” Are you filling your spot? Are you contributing to the ministry? Are you being a part of the great body of Christ to encourage all of the other parts of the body?

The other marvelous piece is the Lord Himself. God Almighty filling 300 with His power and grace is far more significant than 30,000 prima donnas who wanted to sit in the gallery and watch the battle take place. This is not a call for people to leave their church. It is a call for every one of us to get up, be harnessed up, and face-up to the reality of what God wants to do in and through us. We need to get with the program and with the people of God.

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer