Words are wonderful things. Words are powerful things. Words express ideas. Words encourage the downtrodden. Words change history.
Depending on which translation you read there are approximately 800,000 words in your English Bible. One of the most powerful words in the Bible is “but.” With it authors change the course of the storyline. With it God alters eternal destinies. Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked …. BUT God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he love loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:1, 4 and 5).
There’s a world of strength in a word like “but.” That’s true of its usage in the Bible. That’s also true of its usage in our everyday discourse. As a pastor, I long to see it in the text and I loathe to hear it conversation. That’s because when I do it usually goes something like this: “Pastor, yours is the friendliest church I’ve ever been to but … .”
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear these kind of things, it never gets any easier. There’s no ready response to whatever their criticism might be. By that point in the conversation there’s no “but” that I can offer to turn the tide of the talk. Their minds are made up. They’re going to look for a church elsewhere.
But, part of the problem is not the particular church. Part of the solution lies elsewhere. Sometimes, just maybe, the one with the complaint is the solution. Notice, I said “IS the solution” not “HAS the solution.” Sometimes the one voicing the concern might be God’s answer to that concern.
Consider some of these “buts” I’ve encountered over the years as a pastor:
“Pastor, I love your preaching (or the worship or the fellowship or whatever) but … there’s nobody in like me in your church (young, old, black, white, whatever).”
“Pastor, we hate to say it but … we’re going to have to find another church for our kids.”
“Pastor, we love you but … unless we can get a choir, either you’re leaving or we are.”
“Pastor, we’ve loved our time here but … we don’t have such and such a ministry and that’s really important to us.”
I’ve probably heard dozens of other such statements over the years. The answer to every one of them is the same and it’s not an answer the speaker wants to hear.
“But, if you’d stay, there’d be more young/old/black/white people.”
“But, your kids will help us draw other kids and start new ministries, if you stay.”
“But, we’d have a choir, if you would join it.”
“But, if it’s so important to you, why don’t you start that ministry?”
Most people who caveat their compliments with “but” don’t want answers. They want out. They want to blame someone else. They want to talk about how things ought to be. They rarely want to talk about how they can help things to be. And, they almost never want to talk about what they have to give up to help things become the way they allegedly want them to be.
You see, “but” is a mighty word and can be used to change eternity but it’s rarely used to change the present. Taking “but” out of the equation takes the onus off of someone else and puts it squarely on your shoulders. Now you have to do something about it. Now you have to change. Now you have to give up something. But, most people don’t want to pay that price.
In the end, we all know there are no perfect churches but we all want to go to one. Worse, we all want to go to one that’s already that way and cost us nothing to get there. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Dig in. Get involved. Make the sacrifice. Or, quit complaining.
“But … .” But, nothing. Jesus sacrificed everything so we could be “made alive together” with Him. Maybe, just maybe, we can sacrifice something so others can join us.