Part 4 of 4
In writing the last of these four blog posts asking the question “Do Non-Believers Belong in Worship Services?“, I realize I need to make a confession. As I’ve studied the scriptures on this topic and shared the repercussions of the “seeker” movement on the hundreds of churches I’ve worked with over the past 15 years, it’s become clear I’m guilty of many of my own assertions. Although I’ve tried to be a voice for discipleship, compassion and evangelism within churches I’ve attended, I haven’t done enough in my own life to combat the powerful temptations and tendencies that attempts to attract non-believers have created toward Comfort, Complacency, Confinement, Compromise and Conformity.
I CONFESS my propensity to overindulge in…
For too many years, I’ve treated church as a place I go on Sunday mornings. Failing to grasp that the Bible defines “church” as me (and all other believers), I haven’t fully lived out the enormous responsibilities that definition entails. I’ve enjoyed eloquent sermons telling me how to be a better husband and father, yet didn’t share the gospel of Jesus Christ a single time that week. I’ve worshipped the Lord, hoping the band will play one of my favorite songs, yet didn’t tell any of my neighbors how much I love the Lord before the following Sunday. I’ve let the children’s ministry entertain and tell Bible stories to my son, yet didn’t unveil just how much more it may cost him to be a disciple. I’ve served as a greeter and usher, yet didn’t serve anyone in Jesus’ name once I stepped out of the building. I’ve fellowshipped with my Christian friends before and after church services, yet didn’t intentionally connect with any non-believers all week long to be the “church” for them. Even though seeker churches have tried to make church as comfortable as possible for non-believers, studies show that I’m likely the closest skeptics will ever get to “church”.
In all of this, I allowed church to become far too comfortable for me as well. However, Jesus never sought to make anyone comfortable. He made them squirm, coming right out of the gates preaching repentance and sending disciples out into the mission field with no money or accommodations.
I often forget that unsaved people are going to Hell. Or maybe I just find it difficult sometimes to come to grips with the full extent of the dire consequences facing those destined for eternal damnation. Am I more happy that I’m not going to be there than I am concerned for those who will?
Not to shift blame, but I believe the presence of non-believers in worship services has contributed to me (and other churchgoers) thinking that pastors bear primary responsibility for rescuing the lost from the brink of Hell. First, we naturally assume that pastors are on the hook for leading any non-believers who show up at church that day to Jesus. Then, as pastors have stepped up requests for congregations to invite their unchurched friends, that perception has gradually widened to grant pastors responsibility for all conversions. By asking to us invite more and discipling us less, the job of Christians has been reduced to convincing non-believers to attend a church service so their pastors can preach the Gospel to them.
However, if only believers were in church then churchgoers couldn’t possibly abdicate their evangelistic role to pastors. Without the option to invite those who don’t worship the Lord to a worship service, the task of sharing the Gospel would necessarily fall to church members. The assembly of “called-out ones”, the biblical definition of church, would have to fulfill their intended disciple-making roles – and be prepared by pastors to do so effectively.
I wish I (and all Christians) had a sense of urgency around the Great Commission mandate commensurate with the fate awaiting those we love who don’t know Jesus.
I confess I tend to huddle up with my Christian friends, inside and outside of church, because they think like me. A form of groupthink pervades our conversations, affirming each other despite our essentially dormant personal ministries when compared to what Jesus actually expects of us. Although the biblical meaning of the word “church” implies that relatively few non-believers should find salvation inside of a church building, we count last weekend’s professions of faith and congratulate ourselves, taking partial credit for a duty we’ve wrongly entrusted to the “professionals”.
Modern day church growth models have centralized and convened Christians into “skyscrapers”, prominent buildings that only occupy a small footprint. We gather under one roof one morning with our like-minded brethren speaking openly about our faith, then scatter into our workplaces and neighborhoods where we rarely broach those subjects. Some of us reassemble one evening during the week into Small Groups with fellow believers into a house where we once again boldly proclaim the Gospel to each other while non-Christians on that same street go to bed hurting and hopeless, with no one to encourage them to take their problems to the Lord in prayer.
The “seeker movement” taught us that church is for everyone. Come one and all and do life together. Since all are invited IN to a church, fewer are well equipped to go OUT and be the church personified. Rather than build disciples, we build institutions. We worry more about those who are INSIDE the church and less about those who are on the OUTSIDE looking in.
I don’t rock the boat often enough. Sometimes I don’t live out the Prayer-Care-Share lifestyle I urge others to adopt. Like the church leaders I criticize for offering slow indoctrination into the Gospel and limited discipleship for fear of alienating non-believers they deem unprepared for either, many times I’ve hesitated to speak a truth that John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples knew all needed to hear even though few would accept. I blog about the dangers of “stealing sheep” from other flocks and attracting people to an event they weren’t meant to attend in the first place even though I’m not alleviating the pressure on pastors to advance the Kingdom and keep the lights on, instead forcing them to pick up my slack whenever I fail to lead people to Jesus, disciple them and (only) then invite those newly “called-out ones” to a worship service.
Another area where I’ve compromised that we’ll discuss more next week is tolerance of sin – in my own life, within my church and in the lives of Christian friends. Paul (in 1 Corinthians) and John (in the Book of Revelation) spoke in no uncertain terms about the importance of keeping the church body holy. However, in our efforts to attract and retain non-believers, we’ve become more cautious about confronting sin within our churches. I tiptoe around issues of sin in Small Groups and personal conversations for fear of offending non-believers, new believers or friends I want to continue to like me. In raising our sin threshold, we’ve lowered God’s bar. As a result, churches and church members look a lot like the world in how they operate and behave. We’ve adopted the world’s “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude about sin – you don’t bring up mine and I won’t bring up yours. Although our sensitivity to sin within our churches has decreased, God’s hasn’t.
It’s Your Turn…
Which of those tendencies do you recognize within yourself and/or your church?
Wow Jim, That is a fantastic, heart-provoking blog! Love it – made me think of my confession and I would say that mine is that I am sometimes “chamed” with Jesus – like a Prince Charming who has ridden in on a while horse to save me vs. the proper awe I should have of Him as the Son of God. My Christology get soggy and my prayer-care-share gets sappy instead of strengthened by the understanding of who Jesus IS. Not just the stories of who He was in the first century Bible stories, not in who He will be when He returns but the I AM – the supreme Creator who rules and reigns and redeems. I have to remember and remind others that “sharing” the love and message of Jesus is not to get them to join my club called Christianity – it is to know and build a relationship with the One True God – to have abundant life in Him and for Him and to be pulled from the fires of hell. Thanks for sharing!
Serving Him with gladness,
Jim, thank you for your transparency. It encourages all of us to consider our own failures as you described yours. I am guilty of everyone of the confessions you made about yourself. I must take personal responsibility for my actions, but I am caught up in the culture you described, and I find it too comfortable and easy to stay there.
Lord, change me!
Hello Jim, I read your article and agree with all that you said except I believe that the fault isn’t yours necessarily. The churches that I have attended don’t teach a message that leads the Church to believe that Christ wants the Church to evangelise society. The preachers let those listening to their sermons think that all is ok and a discipleship journey is ones own private journey. The result is that the western church has brought up generations of “church goers” but not disciples. We are blessed to have the Holy Spirit who convicts persons like yourselves to return to the message of Christ is all about others after ones conversion. Thank you for your article.