By Drew Zuverink
"It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good."
To be zealous means to be passionate, excited, or even jealous about something. Essentially zeal is an emotional response to something that a person cares about. Zeal is mentioned in the Bible as a good thing and as a bad thing. It isn't wrong to be zealous about something, and sometimes it's actually a good thing. What makes zeal good or bad depends on if it's 1) for a good purpose and 2) proportionate to how important the issue actually is.
Being passionate for an evil purpose is clearly misguided but so is being too passionate about something that isn't as important as our zeal communicates. For example, in 1 Timothy 4:8 Paul writes, "Physical training is of some value," meaning it's ok to care about physical fitness. However, it would be inappropriate for someone to care more about their mile time than their marriage. That would give the impression that a person's physical fitness is more important than their marriage, which certainly isn't true. Again, in order for zeal to be considered godly it must be for a good purpose and proportionate. This also means that it's possible to be not passionate enough about something that's very important. An example of this would be when Jesus said that the most important thing in the world is that people love God, but sadly few of us are THAT passionate about it.
Within the church there are many good things to be passionate about. It's good to be passionate about theological ideas like baptism, election, free will, and God's ideal for marriage. Since those things are in the Bible it's good to care about them. It's also good to be passionate about church finances and even how the church building looks. Remember though, in order for zeal to be godly it must also be proportionate to how important something actually is - and this is where church members often go wrong.
Humor me with a fun exercise if you will. Out of the 13 things listed below, quickly rank their importance level from greatest to least.
- The predestination vs free will debate
- How the sanctuary looks
- The spread of the gospel to the community surrounding the church
- Church attendance
- God's command to avoid gossip
- The women in ministry debate
- Serving the church with your gifts
- What style of music is played during the service
- What impression our guests have after visiting
- The great commission
- Time in God's word
- Serving the less fortunate
- Your sanctification
After you've ranked them according to their importance, go through the list again and this time I want you to rank them based on how zealous you are about that particular issue.
What I think many of us will find after completing this exercise is that our passion level does not always match the importance level. This means that many of us have misguided zeal, which can be very dangerous. I've seen this in myself at times and I've seen it in other members of our church. Maybe one person is misguided because they care more about whether women should be pastors than they do about the great commission. Maybe another person is misguided because they get more upset when the church changes its look than they do when they gossip or complain about it. Or maybe some of us are misguided because we care more about what style of music is played during the service than what changes we ought to make in our lives in light of the sermon. (After preaching pastors often receive just as many complaints about things like the lighting in the sanctuary or the length of the sermon as they do comments about the actual content of the sermon).
I am not arguing that some of these issues matter and some do not, they all matter. What I am arguing is that some things matter more - way more. And the things that matter the most are the things that we should put most of our passion and energy into. When the people of the church become too passionate about minor issues and not passionate enough about major issues, the church is distracted from its main objective of living out the great commission, and that is a big deal.
🚨 BREAKING NEWS: Church Leaders are Imperfect
Are our church leaders always going to make perfect decisions? Of course not. Will our church's staff members make changes that we personally dislike? 100% Are our pastors going to preach things that we disagree with? Probably, and it's ok to disagree with them on some of those things. It's even ok to share our concerns and frustrations with our leaders. That being said, before we barge into our pastors office it's important that we consider how we plan to share our concerns. Will we deliver them with respect, humility, and with an openness to his perspective? If so, and if the issue is a big enough deal, then absolutely it is well within our right to ask for a meeting - and I'm sure our leaders would love to chat with us. But if every little change frustrates us and if we're constantly complaining or asking for a meeting, we should remember that not everything is a big enough deal worth focusing on. It's better to channel our zeal towards more important things like the mission of the church. Also, if we plan to deliver our frustrations in a self righteous and demanding way, then it's best for everyone if we just keep them to ourselves so we don't become a distraction.
AM I MORE OF A DISTRACTION OR AN ASSET?
I'm sure that you feel the same way, but there are few things that would hurt me more than if I personally distracted the church from it's main goal of reaching the lost and making disciples - and there are few things that would fill me more than if I personally assisted the church in it's main goal of reaching the lost and making disciples.
It is our individual responsibility to take it upon ourselves to watch out for our own misguided zeal (because we all have it), whether it's too strong towards a smaller issue or not strong enough towards a bigger one, so that our church's focus is where it needs to be.