Part 1 of 3
Over the past two weeks we’ve wondered out loud why so few pastors are willing to challenge churchgoers to live out the Great Commission. We’ve discussed the many internal and external factors behind the near extinction of intensive, personalized discipleship in churches today. We’ve taken a stab at who would be the first to walk out the door if they were asked to endure the level of life change and disruption involved in becoming a disciple maker, as Jesus commanded. We’ve pointed out the direct, inherent conflict between the driving force in American culture today (obsession with personal identity) and the driving force behind discipleship (dying to self, “crucified with Christ”). If, as some would argue, the words “Christian” and “Disciple” should be synonymous, we’re left to consider whether churchgoers unwilling to invest in discipleship warrant the label “Christian”. If the pews would empty if a pastor tried to hold a congregation to the Great Commission standard, how many of them truly are “believers”? Add to that number any non-believers only there because a friend invited them, plus any fence-sitters or seekers who responded to an ad or pangs of guilt.
If the presence of so many unbelieving and uncommitted to becoming disciples is causing pastors any hesitation to lay out the full costs of discipleship and launch discipleship programs, it begs the question – “should those folks even be in a worship service?” That potential connection is concerning enough to make us take a step back and recognize an oxymoron concealed by the near universal acceptance of modern church growth models: “why are those who don’t worship God even in a worship service?”
To answer those questions, we have to go to the source – God’s word.
Church – The Biblical Definition
The Greek word ekklesia is translated as “church” in the New Testament and means “called-out ones.” It’s comprised of the Greek words kaleo (to call) with the prefix ek (out). However, the English word “church” does not come from ekklesia but from the word kuriakon, which means “dedicated (or belonging) to the Lord.”
Therefore, the root meaning of “church” does not refer to a building, but to people. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul speaks to those “called out” and “dedicated to the Lord” who make up the Church, saying “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”. Again in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul addresses the church in Corinth specifically as “…those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours;”
At its core, Church is an assembly of those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They are all believers who have received salvation, filled with the Holy Spirit. Universally it is the body of Christ, scattered abroad. Locally, it can meet anywhere, even in homes, because church was never about a building, only believers. Romans 16:5 says “… greet also the church that meets at their house.” Paul calls the “church” those meeting in a house, not the house itself.
Jesus intended for His followers to BE the church, not passive participants in something called church. 1 Peter 2:4-5 says “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood,…” Jesus is the Cornerstone and believers are His “living stones”, His followers are His hands and feet that He uses to build His Church.
In several instances such as Colossians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:29-30 and Ephesians 1:22-23, the Church is defined as the body of Christ…“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” His body, the Church, should be made up of those united with Christ as His physical manifestation on earth. As His body, Jesus expects His Church to be holy and undefiled. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Consistent with the numerous verses referring to “church” as a gathering of believers, those not already made righteous in God’s eyes through the blood of Jesus (i.e. those who don’t worship the Lord) were not intended to be openly invited into a holy worship service.
Further evidence that churches were initially made up of only believers was the first century church in the Book of Acts. It was growing rapidly not because non-believers were showing up but because the converted were joining the assembly of believers. Indeed, being part of that congregation could cost them their lives and was not worth the risk for non-believers.
What That Definition of Church Means…
22 “So you see that being able to “speak in tongues” is not a sign to God’s children concerning his power, but is a sign to the unsaved. However, prophecy (preaching the deep truths of God) is what the Christians need, and unbelievers aren’t yet ready for it. 23 Even so, if an unsaved person, or someone who doesn’t have these gifts, comes to church and hears you all talking in other languages, he is likely to think you are crazy. 24 But if you prophesy, preaching God’s Word, even though such preaching is mostly for believers, and an unsaved person or a new Christian comes in who does not understand about these things, all these sermons will convince him of the fact that he is a sinner, and his conscience will be pricked by everything he hears. 25 As he listens, his secret thoughts will be laid bare, and he will fall down on his knees and worship God, declaring that God is really there among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:22-25)
Churches Shouldn’t be Inviting and Advertising to Non-Believers…
Pastors understand those verses. They know non-believers aren’t ready to hear “insider” messages intended for those “called out” and “devoted to the Lord”. That’s why churches who ask members to invite their non-believing friends and advertise to anyone and everyone are more reluctant to preach as boldly about the costs of discipleship and Great Commission as they would if only believers were present. That would be less troubling if churches at least offered separate tracks of one-on-one or triad discipleship for believers looking to go deeper. However, most pastors cite Small Groups first when asked about their discipleship efforts (but Small Groups aren’t making many disciples) and few churches offer “collegiate or graduate level” alternatives.
What’s most concerning is that churches today have altered how they conduct weekend services and how they market to attract people to an event they weren’t biblically meant to attend in the first place. They’re not ready to experience what Churches are supposed to offer. They’re not ready for worship. They’re not ready for discipleship. They’re not ready to be fed “solid food”. Their mere presence and attempts to accommodate them influences numerous aspects of church, both on Sundays and throughout the week. Meanwhile, all of those ready to go deeper are held back a “grade” as time and resources are poured into engaging and retaining those who aren’t actually part of the body of Christ.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll discuss the affects that inviting and advertising to non-believers have had on the today’s Church:
- Changed our modern day definition of “Church” away from its biblical roots, and redefined other words such as “outreach” and “ministry”, redirecting their emphasis toward institution-building versus disciple-sending
- Increased the temptations and tendencies of today’s churches toward Compromise, Comfort, Complacency, Conformity and Confinement
However, Churches Should Welcome Non-Believers if They Wander in…
According to 1 Corinthians 14:22-25, even though preaching the deep truths of God is meant for believers, no one should be turned away. However, churches should not divert from teaching those “deep truths”, nor from deep discipleship, just because non-believers are present.
Is It Too Late to Turn Back?
Maybe we’ve already made our bed. Churches haven’t done of good job of discipling members for at least the past couple decades. Christ intended for His followers to BE the church, but most feel unqualified and are under-committed to live out the Great Commission between Sundays. Therefore, in this day and age, most of those best equipped to lead people toward Christ are on staff at churches.
As a result, many Christians would argue that if we stop attracting non-believers into churches (through invitations and advertising), many may never hear the gospel and turn to Christ. In other words, ironically the argument many Christians make is that non-believers may never come to faith if we don’t continue with the current (unbiblical) model. Even if they understand the biblical definition of Church, they aren’t in favor of reverting to that definition. Their intentions for parting with scripture in this instance likely originate from a heart of compassion and concern for the “lost” but if that compassion and concern were stronger among more churchgoers, there would be plenty of well equipped workers going into the fields that Jesus said are “ripe for harvest”. In that case, “seekers” wouldn’t have to step into a church to find what they’re looking for.
It’s Your Turn…
How do you suggest pastors deal with the challenge of staying true to scripture’s definition of “Church” yet still reaching those who don’t know Christ with the Gospel?
Wow… Just wow… as a pastor of a small/medium sized growing church, this is constantly on my heart and mind. We always attempt to reach others for Christ, while maintaining the belief that the church is for believers. We must go outside of the church to reach those who have not yet been converted. We must not treat our church services as if they were a supplement for out reach. With all of that in mind, it is still very difficult in this culture to find a balance that has biblical integrity and cultural effectiveness. This is a challenge that I for one am always trying to take on and overcome. May the Lord’s grace be with us all! Excellent article. Thank you
Well said – “the balance of biblical integrity and cultural effectiveness”. It’s daunting to be one of the few pastors to step out onto the limb of challenging and equipping believers to bring “church” out into the streets. The “risks” of living out the biblical definition of “church” could be high when other churches down the road aren’t following suit, but the upside of choosing obedience in spite of those risks surely makes it all worthwhile. Sounds like you’re moving down that path – praying for your journey, Pastor.
I want to post a quick hello and thank you for your print reisoutoln images. I will be using several photos for a book cover I am working on. Keep on the fabulous work!
Thanks, Jim. Once again you hit the nail on the head.
When a pastor tells the church to invite their friends to church so they will get saved, the pastor is in effect telling the church not to evangelize, but to bring their friends so they can hear the pastor do evangelism.
When a pastor tells the church to invite their newly-converted friends to church so they will grow spiritually, then the pastor is in effect telling the church not to disciple, but to bring their friends so they can hear the pastor do discipleship.
The church growth models used by many churches today are doing exactly what pastors do not want to do. The model tells the church to let the pastors do all the work.
I dare say that most pastors today would be thrilled if they had a church where 80% of the people attended nearly every service, were leading a Bible study, served faithfully, invited others to church, and gave their tithe. While those may be good, they fall short of what our Lord Jesus commanded us to do. I fear there will be many tears on Judgement Day when people face the Lord Jesus and have not a single disciple to present to the Master.
Powerful message, Jim. Thanks for sharing!
Excellent work Brother!! Love it!! Keep on preaching and teaching. Thank you-
What a great read! Thanks for sharing it!
I like the subject & content of the article. In my opinion, it goes a little bit in a circle. I’m not sure there is one definition of anything, let alone a church. This article even gives two definitions (I think) called-out & belonging or dedicated to God. What is Gods purpose if not to call people to himself. That’s what Jesus did. He reconciled us with our creator. He lived a life as an example and showed us the path & pattern to follow. I heard someone say recently about church “we’re not supposed to go to church so we can all look like other”. This is true but don’t we go so we can look more like God. We were made in His image and does He not extend His hand to those in need.
You have hit the nail on the head — we need to get back to the earliest “liturgy.” The early church divided their time together into two parts: The service of the Word (to which all were welcome) which included prayers, reading of the Scripture and the Homily; and The service of the Table (which was only open to baptized believers) which included the Eucharist (“Lord’s Supper”). The deacons even ushered those who were learning out at the change. Not saying that we have to usher them out but we need to see that there Is a natural difference.
Buna, Oana. Am 30 de ani si de 4 ani incerc sa am copii si nu reusesc. Dupa anumite inigstveatii facute in 2011, mediciul ginecolog mi-a spus ca trompele sunt permeabile, insa am un fibrom uterin cu un diametru de aprox. 3 cm, care insa nu m-ar putea impiedica sa raman insarcinata. Anul acesta, dupa alte incercari esuate de a ramane insarcinata, am mers din nou la ginecolog, care mi-a spus ca fibromul s-a marit, avand un diametru de 6 cm si ca trebuie operat . Oare ar trebui sa mai consult si alt medic, pt o alta parere? Dupa operatie, as putea ramane insarcinata?
Hmmm…When you say “Small Groups aren’t making many disciples,” maybe they just need to alter how they’re done.
I’m a missionary in the Philippines. In our meetings, I typically preach a 30 minute message. Then we break up into small groups led by my disciples. (I have prepared them for this during the week.) They go over my message for 45 minutes to make sure everyone understands how to apply it to their lives. This way, they are developing as teachers, preparing for the day when, God willing, we will send them out to start new churches.
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
(2 Timothy 2:2)
Great post Clayton. In any replhionstia, when one person sees that the other has gone the extra mile to do something, it makes an impression. It is noteworthy and memorable. In sales, whether it’s a card, a meal, a newpaper clipping, or whatever, any extra effort made on someone else’s behalf will make an impression. Sometimes, just using their name, remembering a birthday, or asking about something specific with their kids means that you have been paying attention to them. Everybody likes to be thought of as special. It all comes back to the Golden Rule, doesn’t it?.
Excellent!!! When non-believers are invited into the church, the church begins to water down the messages and compromise in order to make the non-believers feel comfortable. Then we see abominations entering the church (condoning abortion, accommodating gays, etc., etc.). And we are not equipped to share the Gospel nor prepared to face the end times.
What ever happened to shouting the TRUTH and going deep into God’s Word? In so many churches, the only messaged heard is that which a child already knows. The church needs to teach, teach, teach and not stay in the shallow waters with the unbelievers.
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I once heard a pastor of an AOG church say that his church doesn’t speak in tongues although he believes in it because he doesn’t want to scare the newcomers away.
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While “the church” is the Body of Believers, a church building is a great place to invite non-believers. I’ve been a part of churches that the sermon was on par with going to a seminary class. We moved to a new area and I like the balance of having a service that is exhortative in nature, in that I am challenged weekly on living the Christian life in a world of sin, while at the same time every service has a unique way in which the Pastor closes with a salvation message. We have had over 150 Baptisms this year, which are followed by discipleship. We have Life Groups to go deeper in the scripture that are on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights or whenever anyone wants to lead them. What is refreshing is that our pastor does not water-down anything from scripture in having this balance. He will call out homosexuality as a sin, along with abortion, and anything else the world tries to say is just a personal choice that is okay if you believe its okay.
Hello, and thank you for this article. I am a deacon and I am consistently trying to find new ways to plant the seeds of the gospel in the unsaved. Currently, I’m working on putting together a gospel poetry event I’m trying to decide on whether or not to invite those who are unsaved to lend a poem about how good God has been to them. If you have any insight on if that’s a good idea or not I’d appreciate it. I believe in bringing in the fish and praying to the Lord to do the cleaning but I’m concerned that this concept may get shut down due to some of the poets not being saved. Thank you.