Some people refer to this time of year as football season. I think a more appropriate name would be yell-at-the-TV season. I watch Chad pace and fret and jump up and sink down and clap and do a little jig in the living room quite often this time of year. I joke that as a Cowboys fan he spends most Sunday nights crying into his pillow. The truth is that it’s easy for Chad and other die hard fans to sit on their couches and see everything that a football player should have done. It’s easy for them to scoff at the way a player couldn’t hang onto the ball or to hold court in their plaid pajama pants about the way a quarterback just couldn’t deliver on that Hail Mary that might’ve turned everything around. How many football fans have sat around eating pizza and drinking Dr. Pepper, hollering advice to the elite athletes of the world? This time of year, armchair quarterbacking seems to be one of America’s favorite pastimes.
Moses knew a little bit about dealing with people who thought they knew better. You might say that he was called to handle the original armchair quarterbacks. Over and over again, even after God had demonstrated His power in so many undeniable ways, the Israelites would turn to Moses and ask him why in the world he ever brought them out of Egypt. They grumbled and complained and blamed Moses and Aaron every time things got more difficult. They told him that he would be the death of them and that he should have just left well enough alone and let them enjoy their life of slavery in Egypt. Sure, they were horribly abused and mistreated and killed there, but at least they had decent food to eat.
But, Moses, who is described in the Bible as the most humble person on the earth, answered their complaints in an interesting way. Knowing that he and Aaron had no power of their own and that God was firmly in control of the Israelites and their situation, Moses responded, Who are we that you should complain against us? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the Lord. Moses and Aaron were simply servants of God. They were doing His work and operating according to His bidding. The reality was that the Israelites didn’t like what the Lord was doing with them, and Moses made it clear that their complaints were actually about Him and not Moses or his brother.
It reminds me of a story a pastor friend told us years ago. He was fairly new to his congregation, and the Lord was working. The people were growing in Christ, and a new enthusiasm was filling the church, a spirit of unity and excitement. One dear little lady had spent her life serving in the church, but she had grown old and bent and much of life had lost its luster. Unfortunately, while she seemed to like the pastor, she was soon noticeably absent on Sundays. One day he stopped in to visit with this lady, and she revealed that she was not going to come to church any more because since the pastor had arrived, the service length was causing her to be ten minutes late to lunch. She registered her complaint without much grace or care for the young pastor who had come by to check on her, and he left feeling discouraged. God was doing all of these great things in the church, yet all this church member could think about was her lunch. In truth, her complaint wasn’t really about the pastor.
We are all inclined to be just as stiff-necked as a bunch of wandering Israelites. We say we want God to work, but then when He begins working in ways that we don’t expect, we are likely to begin grumbling against our pastors. Even when there is clear evidence among us that God is showing His power, we tend to be annoyed by the way our pastors and leaders do this or that. We get together in little groups and we whisper about what we think they should be doing differently. Could it be that when we think we are complaining about our own leaders, we are actually grumbling against the Lord?
Make no mistake: if a pastor or leader is leading in a way that isn’t biblical, if they are teaching things that are contrary to God’s word, then we must hold each other accountable. As a church, we are called to spur each other on toward holiness, and we are committed to making sure that we are all living and operating according to His word. But first, stop. And think long and hard. And pray for wisdom. Consider whether you have legitimate, biblically-based concerns about your pastor. Pray about it much more than you talk about it. See if God doesn’t reveal to you that your real complaint isn’t about your pastor at all, but about God and how He is working. Wait and find out whether you are trying to be God’s armchair quarterback.
We’ve all done it. And we’ll all do it again. God doesn’t need our help or our suggestions in running the universe. Our pastors need encouragement and a willingness among the church to go wherever the Lord leads. Church leaders need fewer complainers and more workers. They need less grumbling and more praying. Save the armchair quarterbacking for that game that you had to DVR because the pastor’s sermon went a little long. And, by all means, thank the Lord for that late lunch and for pastors and leaders who fear God more than men. They are the means through which God will change the world.