Last week in something I read I came across the phrase "drowning in the shallows." The writer used these words to describe people who spend much of their time concerned about smaller issues while ignoring the larger ones. As a denominational minister I occasionally receive calls from such people. They are upset over something trivial and oblivious to the bigger picture.
A few years ago a group of people in one church confronted me about money that had been recently spent on a youth outing. The amount was a very small fraction of their total budget, but this group was out for blood. They had tried to get petitions signed, had met with church leaders, but they had received no support for their position. While I was at a meeting in their church they came to me with their grievances.
I listened to them until they asked my opinion. I responded that I received their church newsletter every week and in almost every edition there was mention of someone who had been saved in that church during the preceding week. These were often young people or members of their family. I then asked the group, "What do you think is the value of a soul? Do you think a soul is worth the amount of money you seem to be so upset about?" I went on to tell them that if this expense bothered them so much they might be happier in another church that wouldn't spend that amount on their youth during an entire year. At that, they walked away. This group was drowning in the shallows and couldn't see the greater good their church was doing.
I know churches that spend enormous sums of money painting everything there is to paint and remodeling everything that hasn't been remodeled in the last five years. At the same time these churches are not reaching anyone with the Gospel and wondering why they grow smaller every year. They are doing the only thing they know to do, but they are drowning in the shallows.
Other churches are so focused on keeping every jot and tittle of their pet doctrines while ignoring the community around them. Some of our churches have so many Bible studies going on every week it's no wonder that they are not involved in community ministry. All their time is spent in their holy huddle. As I heard John Maxwell say one time, the average church member is educated far beyond his level of obedience.
Am I against remodeling the church and making it a nice place in which to worship? Absolutely not. I love a beautiful church facility. Am I against Bible study and being faithful to the Scriptures? Of course not. But if all we're doing is giving everything a fresh coat of paint and trying to understand who the antichrist will be because it's all we know, we are drowning in the shallows. God has called us to do much more.
As one auctioneer friend of mine puts it, we chase nickles while letting dollars slip away. By that he is saying that he's not going to spend a lot of time trying to sell inexpensive items while he's got valuable items sitting on the side. That's a good way to lose an audience. It's another way of drowning in the shallows.
The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are the marching orders for the church. Faithfully doing these things are the deeper things of God. We must not ignore them or refuse to do them while we focus on lesser things or we will drown in the shallows.