I will say that there are elements of the traditional church ministry that was a part of my childhood and early pastoral years that I liked and miss, thinking we’ve likely moved away from at least a few things that were good and healthy.
But there is one tradition that I am very, very glad to be beyond. That is the obligatory singing of the Doxology at the end of the service which gave walking time for the pastor to make his way to the central door at the rear of the auditorium for the hand-shaking of congregants as they exited.
In my New Jersey church, I had a cranky and eccentric elderly man who EVERY week sat on the center aisle about two rows from the back. As I walked past him to take my position at the door, he would reach into his pocket and pull out a wintergreen lifesaver for me. It often also contained pocket lint.
I attempted to make the event more about asking people passing by about things in their lives, rather than having the focus upon me or the sermon, etc. Yet at the same time I had to keep the line moving and not irritate those who wanted to get out, but who also felt an obligation to LIE say something to the pastor about his wonderful sermon.
Many of you will remember one of my famous professors from Dallas Seminary – Howie Hendricks – who was well-known around the country from Christian radio, Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, etc. He called this weekly ritual at the back door of a church “the ceremony of the worm.” We might recall the phrase from the famous hymn that speaks of the death of Christ “for such a worm as I.”
The fact of the matter is that being rooted in Scriptural truth and the fruit that comes from it is about the message itself and not the deliverer of the message – no matter how gifted he is. The power is in the message, not the worm delivering it. To pedestalize (I just made up that word) preachers is sort of like being sent a million dollars from your grandfather on the other side of the country, but thinking little about thanking or honoring him while throwing a party for the mailman simply because he delivered the check!
But the Corinthians were doing this when they made a big deal about different public, upfront personalities around them. In these final words of chapter 3, Paul basically says, “Stop thinking you are so smart, knock off the fan clubbing, stop having a ceremony for the worm you like, and focus on God as the source.”
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[from Job 5:13]; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”[from Ps. 94:11] 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
It really is all about God and his Word. The power is in the truth, quickened by the work of the Holy Spirit, merely delivered through the mouths of worms who only know anything or have any ability because God first gave it to them. So don’t be rooted in the ministry of people (especially preachers), but be rooted in the Word of God, trusting also that he will use you as an effective worm to help others.
So remember, at the end of the day, I’m a worm; you’re a worm! Let’s make that our greeting to each other this Sunday (though not at the door!) … got it? “Hi Randy, I’m a worm, you’re a worm.”