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  • Writer's pictureJan Weihl

Back Row Critic (Matthew 20-21)

Have you ever thought things should be done differently in your church? Maybe the sermons should be more relevant, the songs more current, the decorations more inviting, and what about the color of the carpet! Do you ever think this way?

I know in general, pastors are routinely overwhelmed by unsolicited recommendations and unexpected complaints on everything from sermon topics to the church calendar. Truthfully, it's really easy to slip into critique mode rather than "how can I serve" and "what can I learn" mode.

But this morning as I read Matthew 20 and 21 and see that same attitude looking so much more offensive and inappropriate when the unsolicited recommendations and unexpected complaints are directed to Jesus, Himself!

Matthew 20:20-21 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. [21] And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.'"

So the mother of two of Jesus' disciples tells Jesus what positions her sons should have in His kingdom. Wow! Are you kidding me!!! How could she possibly think her sons were the most qualified for those positions? Did she know everyone under the sun over all time who may be considered? Of course not. She had no idea what she was asking or talking about. She just assumed she had all the information in her head that she needed to make that unsolicited recommendation.

Matthew 21:23 When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?"

This actually makes more sense to me. The chief priests' and elders' roles were to teach the people, shepherd the people, and make sure they were not sitting under false teaching. So it would have been appropriate to ask "by what authority.." The only problem with this is Jesus had more than proven to them that He fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah and the authority of God. So it wasn't about false teaching. They just didn't want to give up their authority to Him.

But then I compare these passages to my own thoughts over the years, sitting in the back row of a church and critiquing the pastor's sermons, the worship leader's songs, and all the other little details along the way. But now I'm sitting here realizing most of those "thoughts" put me in the same bucket with the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

The reality is according to Scripture, God has called elders and deacons to seek Him and follow Him in leading the church. The rest of us who are not in those roles are to pray for our elders and deacons and serve in whatever capacity God calls us to serve.

As long as the teaching is in-line with Scripture, I'm personally not the one who needs to worry about many of the details of the day to day decisions of church operations. In fact, if I can help with that in some way, I will likely get a phone call, email, or text.

However, there have been a few times when I have questioned a pastor's teaching. In those cases, I have gone to the pastor and respectfully said, "I'm struggling with __. Can you help me understand how __ is consistent with Scripture." And in almost every case, my pastor has then helped me understand Scripture better and move forward with greater clarity and application.

In fact, over the years there were just two times in which my husband and I could not see how the explanation given by the pastor was consistent with Scripture. In those cases, we thanked the pastor for his time and helping us understand his view. Then we let him know that our understanding was different and thus meant we were not a good fit for that church. We parted on good terms with mutual respect. But those cases are few and far between and not something I expect to encounter again because we have learned from those experiences. We are well established in our current church and very familiar with the doctrine and how it lines up with Scripture. So while it is important to test all teaching against Scripture, my mindset should be "how can I serve," and "what can I learn and apply" not "what color should the carpet be."

Dear Lord, Thank you for the reminder that when I walk into church on Sunday morning my focus needs to be worshiping You, serving You, loving others, and seeking application from the message You have given to our pastor. Thank you Lord for putting us in a church with a wonderful church family who loves each other, cares for each other, and wants to serve You. Please protect the unity of our church. Please protect our families and our marriages. Thank you for appointing elders and deacons who seek You and humbly desire to follow You. Please protect our elders and deacons and guide them in exactly how they are to lead us, help us grow deeper in understanding Your Word, and guide us in serving You within the church and within our community. In Jesus' name, amen.

Jan Weihl

Living Word Ministries

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