Scott is a dutiful husband, a devoted father and a diligent worker – both in his job and in his church. A friend invited him to church in his early 30s. He accepted Christ during an altar call one Sunday and quickly got involved in serving at the church. Scott senses the Lord’s presence – whether it’s the joy of watching his son run the base paths or the good news from the doctors when his wife had that health scare. Although Scott’s not the kind to wear his faith on his sleeve, he tries to live an exemplary life hoping others will notice, opening the door to invite them to church. By setting a good example, caring for his family and serving at the church, Scott feels he’s doing everything he’s supposed to as a Christian. His church doesn’t ask or expect more of him and frankly, Scott has little time for much else anyway.
However, what if God expects more – much more?
It’s hard to argue with Scott or others like him. How can there be anything wrong with working hard all week to provide for his family, spending every Saturday at soccer games and cheerleading practice with his kids, and volunteering at his church every Sunday? Why would anyone see an issue with experiencing God most during church services and in special moments with his children – the two places where Scott spends his spare time?
Churches reinforce Scott’s perspective by continually emphasizing serving at the church and taking care of your family. Entire sermon series are devoted to marriage, child-rearing and relationships – often tying back into opportunities like leading a small group or working in the children’s ministry. Few services go by without requests for volunteers.
But what about the Great Commission? What about evangelism, the poor and the lost in the community? That’s who Jesus, His disciples and the early church spent nearly all of their time pursuing. What if your children follow suit and only take care of their families and church? Then your children’s children do the same when they grow up? Who will ever look out for the hungry, hurting and hopeless? And what about life transformation? That’s what Jesus’ disciples experienced. Where are our broken hearts for those who die without knowing the Lord? How can we restrict our time and attention to our family and church while those in our workplaces and neighborhoods have contracted a fatal illness for which we have the cure?
Yes, churches have bred a generation of Passive, Pensive and Private Christians. But do pastors have the courage to tell people to spend less time serving at the church and caring for their families? How many churches are willing to make that sacrifice, calling members to become less devoted to the church and more committed to making a dramatic impact in their world for Christ (i.e. Powerful Christians)?
Scott’s story resembles far too many churchgoers and churches in America today. Before you stop reading, thinking that what I’ve shared doesn’t apply to you or your church, scan through the following verbal “red flags” to see if any sound familiar…
Red Flags – Is Your Church Selling Christianity “Lite”?
Listen carefully next Sunday for 3 verbal signals that your church is likely reluctant to challenge the congregation to live up to the Lord’s expectations of them. If you hear these 3 phrases tossed around, your church is probably calling members to something short of the Great Commission and Jesus’ model of relentlessly pursing the lost, in both word and deed.
1. Initiation to Faith – “Repeat after me…”
Pastors give the invitation, some every Sunday. They ask new believers to repeat the sinner’s prayer or raise their hands if they prayed the prayer silently. We celebrate salvations, as we should. Then pastors encourage them to get involved in the church – small groups, volunteering, giving, and becoming a member. Expectations are high for church engagement but low for life transformation. Rather than the radical conversion the disciples experienced, willing to give it all up for Christ, most churches hand-hold new believers hoping to plug them in and bring them along slowly.
Soft pedaling the Great Commission and emphasizing involvement in church activities turns the sinner’s prayer into an initiation pledge. Repeating the words look like rights of passage into a “club”, where the commitment is to the church family and not to set the world on fire for Christ. Rather than encouraging new converts to share their excitement with non-believers, leaders indoctrinate and assimilate them into the church body. Rather than quickly discipling them and sending them out into the mission field, we tell them to Invite their friends, get them Involved in internal ministries and Invest their income in the church. After reciting the pledge, the new believer’s degree of life change, evangelism and discipleship are not monitored by church leaders, yet attendance, giving and volunteering are tracked meticulously.
2. Invitations to Church – “Tell your friends…”
…”to come to church next Sunday”. The sinner’s prayer is initiation into personal ministry. It’s a calling to bold evangelism – not passive invitations to a church service. It’s a responsibility to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t simply invite people to church – He demonstrated compassion and then revealed who He is. He served and preached everywhere He went. He backed up words with actions. So why are so few churches engaged integrally in their communities? Why do so many church members leave it to the “professionals” to bring people to Christ? How can Christians miss countless opportunities to witness to those around them through loving acts of service? Why are so many bashful about sharing their faith with those almost certainly bound for hell?
I wonder how sincere our professions of faith are if our lives are consumed by work, family and church. I wonder whether the Lord is pleased with Christians who only talk about Him with their immediate family and church friends. Did we ever fully recognize the true value of God’s grace and the consequences of sin without forgiveness if we stand idly by, not doing all we can to bring people to Jesus? I even wonder whether many in congregations who’ve said the “pledge” and never miss a Sunday (yet don’t respond to the dire plight of the destitute and those destined for eternal damnation) are the goats Jesus says never fed, clothed, or gave him a drink. How can we invite strangers in if we rarely leave the confines of our homes, churches and workplaces? Encountering strangers requires stepping out of our comfort zones and into the world around us, hoping to rescue some through our loving actions and bold words – not our invitations to church next Sunday. We’re saved by what Jesus did for us, not in any way by what we do; however, what we do (or don’t do) is evidence of our salvation. (James 2:14-18)
3. Introductions to Christ – “Tell your story…”
If church members do take the next step, most churches advise them to share their personal testimonies. No one can argue with “my story”. Pastors understand the few congregants are prepared to defend their faith against tough questions. However, instead of providing intensive apologetics training and deep discipleship, churches encourage them to present what cannot be refuted and then default to extending the invitation to church. Asking members to present the gospel themselves and answer all objections requires a greater level of Biblical understanding than most Christians are willing to acquire. In that respect again, pastors treat members as “customers”, afraid to challenge and adequately prepare them to BE the church to those outside the “4 walls”. As a result, few feel qualified to do much more than tell their story. Yet conversational, personal and inquisitive evangelism by a trained army of evangelists (who understand that compassion opens that door) would be far more effective.
Keys to Removing the Red Flags
If you’ve heard those 3 verbal cues at your church, then chances are it’s not producing a sanctuary full of Powerful Christians. Truly challenging members to be the hands and feet of Christ to those around them will risk losing some who don’t believe they signed up for that degree of disruption. However, the path to reversing the decline in a church’s growth, impact, influence and perception hinges on providing:
- Perspective – Convincing members they are “insiders” and the lost in the community is the “customer”
- A Burning Platform – A sense of urgency about those perishing in their sins
- A Wall to Climb – A challenge to step up and step out. We talk about what we love – our kids, sports, etc. We love the Lord most of all – why wouldn’t we talk about Him with everyone too?
- Education / Discipleship – Graduate members to progressively deeper levels of Biblical knowledge and relationship with the Lord
- A Call to Life Change – Isn’t it interesting that Jesus nearly always put an enormous stipulation around the offer to “follow me”? He prefaced “follow me” with either “come” or “take up your cross”. In other words, the call means leaving where you are, not just following from where you are.
- Strategy – Teach Jesus’ model for preceding words with actions
- On-the-Job Training – Toss members “into the pool” to learn how to swim by doing, both in serving and in sharing their faith
- Ongoing Opportunities – Show internal and external ministry needs year-round through Meet The Need
- Advice and Cautions – Train members to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” in how they help individuals and families. There are genuine risks to practicing kindness toward strangers these days – and best practices to help keep them from taking advantage of you.
It’s Your Turn
The “sheep and goats” parable is a scary one for many churchgoers. Do you believe some who made professions of faith, are model parents, and are active in their church, yet do little to bring people to Christ personally through caring and sharing, could be “goats”?