I love to play golf. I’m not that good at it, I just love the game. On the golf course, I have one rule; don’t talk to me about church. Golf is where I let down, unwind, and get my mind off my job as a pastor.
I’ve never been great at the game. I’m not a student of it. I’m not constantly working on a swing technique. The lowest handicap I’ve had in my adult life (outside of my swing) is a 10. My goal is to one day, at least for one day, get it to single digits. When that happens, it will be one more confirmation, “There is a God.”
There’s a saying in golf – “Drive for show, putt for dough,” meaning, a long drive (tee shot) impresses the gallery, but the guys who usually win the money are those who putt well that week. Anyone who has ever played golf with me recognizes that I am not a “long hitter.” The only lessons I’ve ever taken were in high school. The pro spent some time with me working on my short game. He put this “strategy thought” in my head. From 150 yards out, I need to be able to get “up and down” in three. In other words, it doesn’t matter how long you hit the ball; if you can’t chip and putt you will never be a good golfer.
I own a “little chipper,” a club I purchased from the MacGregor Golf Outlet nearly ten years ago. When my game is “on” that chipper can be deadly. It’s saved me from many a bogey or double bogey in my life. While I’ve changed putters a few times, I’ve never thought about getting a new chipper. It’s basic issue equipment for me.
The American church, and particularly our worship services, have a lot in common with “drive for show, putt for dough.” While a growing number of congregations boast thousands on Sunday morning, Sunday evening attendance in evangelical America is all but ancient history.
Sunday morning worship is “drive for show.” It’s the big event – the “pull out all the stops” service for most churches. There is often more emphasis on production and performance than on worship. Most television ministries broadcast nothing short of a Broadway production. Lights, action, camera – we’re on a roll today.
In the latter part of the 20th century, while Sunday Schools are dying and discipleship groups struggle to find their niche, Sunday morning rolls on, full speed ahead. It seems even the preachers are putting all their effort into Sunday morning.
Morning services are now hip. It’s cool to come to church. There’s upbeat music, the latest in sound technology, great “effect” lighting, powerful dramas that will tug at your heart and a brief “felt-need” message.
I’m not being critical of the success of Sunday morning. I do think we have to weigh it in light of what might be happening, or not happening, on Sunday night. In the overwhelming majority of churches, Sunday nights are either (a) an endangered species, or (b) an extinct life form. Jack Hayford has classified the problem as “they come for show, but refuse to grow.” In other words, the church in America seems to be content with “driving for show.” While Sunday Morning attendance may be growing, a church committed to worship, discipleship, and prayer would have to ask the question, “What is the real impact of this ministry?”
One minister got it right when he said, “Our people are converted in every way except in their mind-set, life-style, and values.” Apparently, Jesus is worth only one hour a week. That’s not worship, nor is it a good indication of conversion.
Keith Drury calls them “the unconverted converted” or “the secular Christian.” These folks claim to be saved, but don’t let religion cramp their style. They are consumers breezing through churches as they would a salad bar, picking and choosing what appeals to them, leaving the rest alone. They generally select the positive, helpful, pleasant benefits of the gospel and leave behind any painful, sacrificial, cross-carrying judgment aspects.
We have a problem with worship in America. New praise choruses have given us the ability to express ourselves to God, but the issue is, is this worship more than lip service? Is the truth down deep in our hearts? Are we willing to come for “the show” yet at the same time, make excuses about Sunday night or intercessory prayer, because that doesn’t push our “hot button?”
The “morning glories”, as Vance Havner called them, may enjoy church like a golfer enjoys hitting the ball 250 yards down a fairway. But when it comes to lining up a breaking, downhill 2 foot putt for par, they ask for a “gimme” (meaning you don’t have to putt it; just pick up and move on). When the church asks the “show” crowd to serve, give, and commit, they start looking for someone to tell them it’s okay to “pick it up” and move on somewhere else where it’s not as tough to be a member.
Worship is all of life. If you are a true worshiper, you learn that at every level God is calling us to a deeper obedience. He’s calling you to worship Him in the rough, when you feel like you don’t have a shot. He’s calling you to worship Him when you are “plugged” in the lip of a sand trap – so deep, you need a shovel, not a wedge.
There are no “gimmes” in real worship. Real worship means I run the race, finish the course, fight the fight…and learn to make the short putts. For starters, it might help you to show up for more than the morning tee time.
Golfers are notorious for making excuses when they hit a bad shot. They blame something or someone for distracting them. It’s never their fault they played poorly. The casual worshiper is like that, always blaming the kids, the job, the length of the service — something or someone for their lack of commitment to assemble for worship, growth, and fellowship. When you show your score card to the Lord one day, will He disqualify you for a rules violation? “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things I say?
(copyright, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.