Who's Tickling Whom?

I’m thinking a lot, today, about one of the common criticisms of a church with a pointed focus on reaching the unchurched and nonbeliever with the message of the gospel. This seems, to me, an appropriate goal of any group – the most important, in my mind, as we all seek to glorify God in all that we do.

It’s been labeled “seeker-sensitive” or “seeker-friendly” – and both of these labels I am okay with as long as they are given with proper meaning – meaning exactly what the title implies: We desire to employ active means to reach the lost for Christ…creative, different, non-traditional ways, if necessary (Just as Paul describes in I Cor. 9 ).

So, when operating in this way as a church, the criticisms are abundant…but, simplistic and basic in their origin. When the negativity begins, it is overwhelmingly focused on the superficial – yet, wrapped in lots of spiritual lingo (I’m all about lost people getting saved, but we are to be ‘in the world, not of it'”). Really? So, if you focus on sharing the gospel with lost people, then you are “of the world” if your methods don’t gain the approval of the religious? Well, I can think of one man that this criticism applied to…um…He was the Son of God – but, since He was radical and, at times, even offensive…well, He heard the same junk.

One label, in particular, that’s thrown around is that the church/pastor only “tickles the ears of those who listen”. All Bible-believing, Christian leaders/speakers have a certain amount of fear of this one – no one wants to be labeled a false-prophet (of course, again, Jesus was!). So, I was thinking about these things as I was reading some stories this morning.

One story greatly impacted me – sadly, it didn’t surprise me – but it made my heart grieve.

A couple of years ago, a pastor was tragically killed during his morning service. He was excited because he was baptizing…and, well, the thought of another soul embracing the grace of God just excited him – and desiring for the rest of the congregation to hear the testimony of the one being baptized, he tragically reached for the microphone. He was killed by the electric shock in front of his congregation, leaving a wife and three children.

Byron writes more about this pastor’s story in his blog, but the part that is even more horrifying than his death, for me, is some of the assertions about his death that followed.

Because this pastor was passionate about seeking the lost (hence his excitement over baptism) – and therefore leading his church to be more relevant to the culture – he has been criticized even in his death. One “scholar” went so far as to say that this should be a warning to all the “worldly” churches/pastors out there, and compared his wife to Sapphira (Acts 5)…warning her to watch out because she may be next!

All of these horrid attacks in the name of keeping the church pure from the worldly influences of the seekers! The writer predictably warns other pastors against being speakers who “tickle the ears of the listeners”, in order to avoid the fate of this pastor (who died while baptizing in the name of Jesus!).

So, the thought struck me: Who’s ears are being tickled by this…pharisee? Who scours the Internet looking for juicy tidbits – and scriptural warnings taken out of context – to encourage ungodly and rebellious behavior? Do the dreaded “ear ticklers” only look one way (in their “irreverent” jeans and flip-flops!)?

Maybe the true “ticklers” are the ones who think they know the Bible, yet act like they’ve never known Christ. Maybe they are those who stir dissension and fill their own appetites for power by fear-mongering among the weak-minded.

Maybe they are just like the ticklers of Jesus’ day that stirred the crowd by eloquently turning a phrase…

I guess what an “ear tickler” looks like kind of depends on the listener…

As Christ-followers we must train our ears to hear the voice of Jesus through all of the slander and hypocrisy. We must know the Word well enough to be about the things that He was about. He was clear about His mission – and that, in the end, is all that matters. Methods change…it’s just people who are slow to.

So, I’m sad that people continue to behave so badly, and so few seem to be able to discipline themselves against the distraction of the Evil One in this area. It grieves me, and I know it grieves the heart of God. I’m sad that another pastor’s wife has been attacked…especially after losing her husband so tragically. But, I do suspect that she knows that God is pleased when another soul turns to Him – whatever the method. She knows where these attacks really come from – we all do.

Tonight, I’m praying for all of those in leadership – for strength and courage. When we are persecuted for Christ, we are never closer to His heart. That’s enough for me.

By the way…how are your ears feeling?


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