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How Do You Treat Spectators?

How do you treat spectators? I’m talking about Christians (or non-Christians) who sit on the side-lines of ministry and watch the activity around them. They are in every church. They have their reasons for not participating. They don’t get very involved, but they love to hear and see what’s happening.

Honestly, there isn’t a pastor or Christian leader alive who wouldn’t like to see the spectators get into the action. We’ve all probably taught, “Christianity isn’t a spectator sport.” And that’s true, Jesus wants everybody to be growing, serving, and participating in the body life of local church ministry. So how do we respond when some ignore the teaching or preaching and decide to stay on the bench anyway?

There are some wrong reactions for sure:

A judgmental spirit is the first—this is a spirit of presumptive arrogance that automatically assumes the worst in someone else, and assumes that “I’m a better Christian.” Here’s a quick litmus test to assess your “level of judgmentalism”: If someone is sleepy during your morning message what do you assume? There are several possibilities:

You could assume they stayed up too late watching TV because they don’t value preaching. You could assume they are under burdens and pressures of which you are unaware. You could assume they or their children are sick and were up all night dealing with illness. Or best yet, you could assume that your message is so directionless and droning that some are having a hard time faking interest. (Ouch!) So, which way do you lean? Love believes all things. It hopes for the best. It doesn’t automatically assume the worst.

No doubt, some of the spectators in your ministry are spectating because of circumstances beyond their control—physical hindrances, burdens, work schedules, inner fear, past hurt, and the list goes on. It is wrong to jump to judgement.

A second wrong response would be public shame. To stand in a leadership position—like a pulpit—and berate or humiliate some for not participating on the level “you believe they should” is not spiritual leadership—it’s brutish leadership. Jesus led sheep, He didn’t beat them. This type of pastoral leadership is most unbecoming of the gospel of Jesus. It’s nasty, ugly pastoring at it’s worst.

Guilting someone into doing something—even if it’s the right thing to do—is never a winning or honorable approach. God is as interested in our motives as He is in our behavior. Peer-pressured obedience is not honoring to the Lord. He’s interested in obedience from willing hearts that are constrained by Christ’s love. As a pastor, if I have to pressure or shame you into doing something, it’s merely an admission that I don’t know how to lead you biblically or motivate you with the love of Christ.

If the love of Jesus doesn’t motivate you, guilting you into a behavior is merely a precursor to your eventual resentment of me!

A third wrong response would be private rejection. This is more subtle than the first two. A judgmental spirit and public shame are easy to spot. This one is more of a personal distance where we leaders choose to personally withdraw from those who don’t fully embrace our weekly schedule of activity and ministry. It’s a leadership choice to express more acceptance toward those who fit into the pre-cast mold of expectations and involvement. Sometimes even subconsciously—we (spiritual leaders) can unwittingly be colder toward those who don’t “do” as we wish they would. We make it personal, and we shouldn’t.

Every Christian in a church family should be loved, accepted, and edified equally—regardless of their level of involvement or commitment. What a tragedy that the local church—intended by Jesus to be the bastion of grace—should become a breeding ground for “performance-based acceptance.”

There are many reasons a spectator may be a spectator. Perhaps he is not a Christian and is cautiously investigating the truth. Perhaps he doesn’t trust you yet. Perhaps he is overburdened in some area of life. Perhaps he is dealing with a health struggle. Perhaps external factors are weighing him down. Perhaps he is growing more slowly than you wish. Perhaps he is afraid to get too involved. Perhaps he is testing the waters gradually. Perhaps he is just simple and unaware of the joy found in serving Jesus with full abandon and surrender.

And most importantly—perhaps he is inches away from greater commitment! 

You never know. We really  have no clue how close any given soul may be to accepting Christ, or any given Christian may  be to more fully committing to Jesus. To try to assess this externally is not only impossible—it is presumptuous and arrogant. We never know what the Holy Spirit is doing in another person’s heart. Therefore, it is becoming of the gospel—it is wise and best—to LOVE, to assume the BEST, to believe and hope for the best. It’s “like Jesus” to have compassion.

Ah—there it is. Exactly how did Jesus treat spectators? Did he reject them? Did he publicly scorn and shame them? Did he privately reject them? No.

He had compassion on them. He loved them. He saw them as needing salvation, needing leadership, needing a shepherd. And He taught them—many things. He instructed, nurtured, and edified them. He ministered to them. From his most committed disciples to the most distant spectator at the edge of the crowd—HE LOVED THEM ALL EQUALLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY.

There’s no doubt that Jesus wants everybody committed and involved, and that spiritual leaders should lead toward that end. But there’s also no doubt that Jesus loved and ministered to spectators with grace and compassion.

Jesus loved spectators. I hope we will too!

(Mark 6:34) And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

(Matthew 9:36) But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

(Matthew 14:14) And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.


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  • Loved this blog Cary – no doubt I’ve felt this way before, and no doubt sometimes here, in Guatemala, wonder why people in the States aren’t jumping on board with what God is doing here. Gives me a fresh perspective on the conclusions I tend to jump to! Appreciate you bro~

  • Very insightful. I never thought about that third “wrong response” before, but I suppose that is the category that I often fallen into without even realizing it. I have often, perhaps subconsciously, just labeled people in my mind as people that “don’t get it”, and then went on to focus on those that “do”. You are absolutely right – there is no way to know for sure why it is that people are not getting as involved as others; but whatever their reasons are, they still need a pastor and church family that loves them and encourages them.

  • I was just thinking about this very issue today, and , as always, you addressed it with the right heart and brought clarity to a previously clouded issue. Thank you


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