Churches are a study in variety.
Some are grace-filled, gospel-centered. Some are judgment-filled and man-centered. Some are controlling and abrasive. Some are safe and healthy for spiritual growth. Some are Spirit-led, some are Spirit-quenching. Some are formal, some are relaxed. Some are stiflingly stiff, some are refreshingly personable. Some are caustic and critical, some are godly and gracious. Some are hostile and some are happy. Some are issue-oriented, some are gospel-oriented. Some are cold and unfriendly, some are warm and welcoming.
The list goes on.
Funny thing is, no matter the church—ALL the Christians that attend there are just regular, broken people who have been redeemed by a wonderful Saviour. Nothing more.
Over the last 37 years of my journey with Jesus, God has intersected my life with a lot of Christians and churches. Without a doubt, one of the saddest statements I ever hear from a Christian is this:
“I could never bring someone to my church!”
That’s a heart breaking statement. And it’s revealing of a broken church-life.
When someone says this to me, I always ask, “Why?” The responses vary, and are revealing:
—I would be completely afraid of what they would hear! (Code language for, we don’t use discretion and are prone to “loose-cannon” style rhetoric or poorly contextualized dogma.)
—I don’t think anyone would be friendly to them! (Code language for, we are infocused and don’t notice new-comers. We don’t expect visitors, and when they come, we assume they won’t be back.)
—I don’t think they would understand it. (Code language for, we don’t contextualize truth to a lost person. We are a church for the “saved” not the “lost.” We minister primarily to people who already “get it.” We are clean, we don’t like to deal with messy.)
—I think they would be scared off by the politics. (Code language for, we fight over silly things and have lots of business meetings, and my lost visitor wouldn’t clearly see Jesus over all the mayhem.)
—I think the issues would be a distraction to them. (Code language for, we don’t preach the gospel or practical Bible at our church, we focus on issues and “deeper Theology”—as though we can get deeper than the gospel.)
—I think we’re too old-fashioned for my friends. (Code language for, we’re just “Little House on the Prairie” and the 21st century mind won’t connect. By the way, this is not a doctrinal thing, it’s a cultural thing. It’s a style question, not a substance question. Truth is not old fashioned, it’s timless.)
It’s heart-breaking to me, to think we could cultivate an environment the church family tolerates rather than celebrates! ie: “I go to church here, but I would never subject someone else to this…”
It reminds me of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians. Their issue was bigger than the abuse of spiritual gifts. And our problems today are not much different. Outsiders were coming into the church at Corinth, staying for a few moments, looking around, and were completely ostracized by the internal culture. The church was so infocused, tunnel-visioned, and attached to “their box”, that they completely marginalized and stiff-armed the outsiders who needed Jesus. They wanted church “their way” and couldn’t have cared less about unbelievers.
The first-time guests looked around and said, “These people are crazy!”
And they never came back. And the church was okay with that. They probably said, “We’re a peculiar people! We knew they wouldn’t like us!”
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)
According the the Apostle Paul, crazy church is not a good thing. Outsiders looking in shouldn’t see “crazy.” If they do, they run for their lives and never look back. In their minds, Jesus=crazy. Gospel=crazy. The Apostle Paul said, this is NOT GOOD!
Some Christians think “crazy” is a badge of honor. As in “peculiar people.” They relish the outsiders view that they are insane. They call it “contending for the faith.” They are happy that lost people never return! This is tragic! It should break our hearts that our internal culture (not our doctrine) would ostracize a searching soul.
Look it up. Study it out. See the whole context. Peculiar people doesn’t mean bizarre! It simply means we are “unto God!” We are His. We are supposed to shew forth HIS praises and His light, not our own weirdness or odd “churchy” cultures.
Yet so often, our “church-ianity” masks biblical Christianity. Our “Christian-ese” prevents people from really seeing Jesus and His grace and love. Our stiff, formal personalities or our “shoot from the hip” opinion-laden, Bible-shallow, shot-gun messages cause the “unlearned” or “unbelievers” to look around and say:
“These people are crazy.” (As in, nuts, looney, out-to-lunch, cultic, “I would never consider their beliefs as plausibly credible…”)
Here’s the biblical point—Paul indicted and rebuked the church at Corinth for perverting the clarity of the gospel by over-laying it with an ostracizing culture of odd behaviors. Are we guilty of this?
Call me crazy for being intellectually honest with facts about Jesus, fine. Call me crazy for placing intelligent faith in a risen Saviour, fine. Call me crazy for not believing the gospels are cleverly made up fiction from brilliant people who then died for their fiction, fine. Call crazy for my beliefs—I can handle that kind of “crazy.”
Call me crazy for my cold, disconnected, ostracizing church environment? That’s something I need to fix!
If Christians are afraid of what their guests will experience at church—what are we doing? What are we thinking? How in the world do we reach the world if we’re not able to welcome them into our fellowships?!
The overwhelming majority of people we reach for Christ are not going to be saved at their door-step. They’re going to be saved through providentially cultivated relationships with loving Christians and grace-filled Christian bodies that show them real faith and friendship, coupled with clear gospel instruction over and over again.
Scaring people off with “crazy” isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a disgrace. We’re called to magnify Jesus, not mask Him. That means our job is to make Him more clearly seen. But so often our personalities and “how-it’s-always-been” culture just pushes people away from a very attractive Saviour. They rule Him out before they ever see Him!
The New Testament Church was not a club for believers. It was not an insider thing. It was designed by Jesus to be the most powerful resource of evanglism! Authentic worship, fellowship, community, prayer, teaching, preaching—these things are not just for the insiders! These are for the outsiders! These are our greatest “outreach tools.”
A healthy church is designed to be an HD display of the reality of Jesus Christ and His genuine love amongst admittedly broken and messy people. That’s attractive to other broken people! A church is just a bunch of messy people trying to tell their messy friends about a Saviour who can rescue them from their messes.
A healthy local church—a welcoming environment—is the best “soulwinning” ministry we can possibly have! The love, the warmth, the Holy-Spirit presence that flows in a community of humble believers where Jesus is preeminent is absolutely attractive, convicting, and convincing to a lost heart.
Let’s put aside the pretense. Let’s lay aside the crazy. Let the church breathe, fellowship, worship, and enjoy life in Christ. Let the church open her arms to outsiders again! And let the outsiders come in and experience acceptance, love, grace, and Jesus.
Let the gospel take center-stage. Let grace thrive. Let Jesus be seen clearly. From the parking lot to the final prayer—preach a gracious, loving, patient gospel that accurately portrays the Saviour.
A healthy church is a place where people love to bring other people. They expect a solid, heart-confrontation with truth, but they know it will be surrounded with grace and genuine love.
Are people afraid to bring someone to your church? Why?
Doctrine? Okay—don’t change anything. Culture? Well, that’s something we can fix.
The gospel is absolutely alive and powerful. But if we hide it under craziness, then our church family will NEVER want to bring an outsider. And the outsiders that “happen by” will simply drop their jaws and say:
“These people are crazy…” (And not in a good way.)