Spectator Adventists

The reports swirl in from all points of the compass. “They say...” … “She did...” … “He what!?” Where they settle, the air is dank and heavy. You can cut it with a knife. Gossip, rumor, innuendo.

If the latest stories involve the church or a member, it’s an excuse for some to avoid church altogether. At first blink this seems an amazing reaction to such an innocuous source, for the book of James refers to the human tongue as a “little member.” But these tongues of ours are duplicitous characters. They strike swiftly and often without much forethought.

James saw that the tongue, run amuck, could do great damage in the church. He observed hypocritical actions within himself and other church members. “Therewith we praise God…and therewith we curse men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so” (James 3:9, 10).

When problems occur within our church family, rumor often spreads faster than fact. As Mark Twain wryly observed, “Falsehood can travel halfway around the world before the truth has time to put on its trousers.” The unchecked tongue, free of any immediate accountability, is often guilty of misdiagnoses.

Trouble tends to show many of us as we really are—spectators sitting in the bleachers with time on our hands, critiquing the umpires and the players, when we ourselves have rarely hit the ball. The perspective from the left or right field stands is the same—looking down at those on the field.

Our church needs fewer spectators and more players out on the field at the grassroots level. We need fewer armchair missionaries and more people full of passion at how God is working through them in their own neighborhoods.

Recently I sweated through bumper-to-bumper traffic. At long last I caught sight of the problem up ahead. A tow truck on the other side of the freeway was pulling a car out of the ditch—on the other side! But each of us succumbed to the urge to slow down, take a long look and then speed on our way. The chain reaction backed us up for miles.

That’s the problem with spectator-focus. We slow to look or talk and, for the time being, lose sight of our destination. We create a literal traffic jam of Adventists, gawking at the side of the road, the ultimate goal far from our minds.

When it comes to our church, my spectator side watches and analyzes and waits for someone else to get it right, to evict the hypocrites, to deal with the “politics,” to meet my needs. And then it hits me: I’m the hypocrite. I’m the bottleneck. I’m the reason for the traffic jam. It's then that I realize I have a choice in how I focus my time. We all do.

In the midst of that choice comes a clarion call, prophetically echoing over the ages about "fields white unto harvest" (John 4:35). Jesus calls us to pray that laborers will be sent to reap that harvest. The answer lies in our choice to leave the waiting, watching, loitering crowd in the bleachers and join the action on the field. There we’ll feel the wind of the Spirit, a gently powerful nuance seldom experienced by spectator Adventists.

Then these tongues of ours might become so busy with blessing there’ll be little time for cursing.

Instead, finally, we’ll have time to be about our Father’s business.

“The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17, 18).

Steven Vistaunet is the North Pacific Union Conference assistant to the president for communication.

September 01, 2003 / Editorial
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Steven Vistaunet