On Sunday, September 2, I launched our new ministry year with a special messaged called, “Church: What is it? Who is it for?” There were a number of people that commented afterwards, “This was so helpful. I understand so much better now.” The only problem is that I ran out of time and many important things were left unsaid. So, after the encouragement of my staff, this blog allows me to finish my message along with adding some bonus thoughts as well.
(If you haven’t seen the message, stop reading and click HERE before moving forward. It’s important to understand the full context of what I said so you will understand what I am now writing.)
Changing a mindset that church was never designed to be club for church people will be a challenge for many who have attended church for a long time. It’s a mindset that grows subtly but surely over many years. After awhile, you come to the conclusion that “this is how church is supposed to be.” Anything different will make you believe it’s wrong.
I’ve attended too many churches where they say they believe, full heartedly, in the Great Commission that Jesus set forth in Matthew 28. But in reality, they talk, act, and program for the already convinced and converted. All the time. Again, if this was the original design for the church, it would have never made it out of the first century. A good church for church people is not the type of church that would have walked TOWARD the Gates of Hell that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 16. Churches for church people tend run from our culture instead of walking toward it in love, proclaiming the gospel.
I attended a good church for church people while on my Sabbatical last September. While the songs and sermon were theologically correct, everything was completely and solely directed towards believers. Everything. Since I grew up going to church, I knew the Christianese language that was fluently spoken in the service. Afterwards, I leaned over to my wife and said, “If I was a non-believing man, I would have just wasted one hour of my life with no compelling reason to ever come back!”
At GracePoint, we try our best to talk and teach in such a way that everyone in the gathering can understand and feel included. Years ago we had a new pastor on staff who liked saying before praying for the offering, “Now let us go before the throne of grace.” I pulled him aside and said, “Stop saying this. I know what you mean. Others in the room know what you mean. But if I am not a believer, this sounds weird. Just say, ‘Let’s pray.’ They understand what that means. Speaking Christianese will make them feel on the outside looking in.”
Sometimes I will say in a message, “If you are not a follower of Jesus, what I am about to say does not apply to you. If fact, you can relax and look around to see those who might be uncomfortable.” Then I talk directly to those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Other times I will saying something like, “Even if you are not a follower of Jesus, what I am sharing today can be really helpful for you.” It’s not placating your audience. Rather, it’s being respectful of all of your audience.
A Different Approach
Taking a different approach to how we do “church” is a challenge. I believe we are, in fact, doing church the way it was originally designed when we treat each gathering with followers, seekers, skeptics, and have to’s in mind. Here are some answers to some objections to approaching church this way:
Isn’t this watering down the teaching of God’s Word? Absolutely not! Preparing to speak to a mixed audience actually helps you crystalize your communication. At least it should. The goal in teaching, contrary to what some think, is not about being “deep.” The goal is to be clear and understandable. That’s why Nehemiah 8:8 is my teaching target every time I teach God’s word.
GracePoint allows non-followers to serve? Is this right? There is a big difference in serving and leading. We allow anyone to serve in most areas of our church. We make sure that everyone who leads or teaches is a genuine follower of Jesus. So, we’ve allowed those who haven’t yet trusted in Jesus to play an instrument, sing in the choir, smile and pass out programs, hold baby’s in the nursery, etc. Time after time we’ve seen people come to accept Christ as their Savior after they’ve served a while. Serving allowed them to feel that GracePoint was their church.
Aren’t you compromising your standards? All are welcome at GracePoint. However, it doesn’t mean we accept everyone’s choices though. In the last few years we’ve seen several who identify as being homosexual, transgender, and the such. They have actually asked us if it would be okay if they came to church because they are learning about the Bible like never before. Last week I talked with two men who just were released from prison. One of them asked me if he would be allowed to come back. Several times over the last year several people have wondered if they could come back to GracePoint even though they are covered in tattoos. Absolutely on all accounts! Don’t you think Jesus had this in mind when He launched His church? We haven’t changed our beliefs, doctrine, or biblical positions in light of current events. In fact, we’ve been thanked for speaking forthright on these issues. Truth and grace really works. However, we have changed the DNA of our church to invite people God has placed in their lives. Pointing people to Jesus is what we are all about.
Yeah, but are older believers growing in their faith? That’s up to them. I have found the longer I have followed Jesus, the fewer new things I learn. However, I do need to be reminded about lots of things I have forgotten though. Growth is an individual choice. In our internal surveys, all ages and stages of people indicate a strong sense of spiritual growth in their lives.One way to remain fired up in your spiritual life is to have a friend who is not a follower of Jesus sit with you in a church service. One, you will be hoping like crazy that everyone is friendly to your friend. Two, you hope the songs are good ones and that your friend likes the music. And three, you are praying like mad for the speaker to be clear and understandable. Shouldn’t we feel this way every Sunday for all who are there?
3 Challenges for Followers of Jesus
INVITE. Have a heart to invite others to church. Two opportunities to trigger the invite are transition and trouble. Any type of transition causes stress. When you hear of a move, career change, loss of job, etc. Invite them to church. Whenever you hear of any trouble involving their marriage, children, health, or job… invite them to church. Stress and trials are typical avenues that God uses to draw people to Himself.
MODEL. Be friendly, be engaged in all aspects of the service, smile, take notes, get involved in a LifeGroup, etc. You never know who is sitting beside you or behind you in a service. They could of had the worst week in their life and God has strategically placed you in close proximity to be a blessing to them.
CELEBRATE not denigrate. It’s easy to be critical, complaining, or selfish about anything you have opinions about. It’s easy to be a tool of the enemy by complaining about who is coming, a style of singing, or a preference not being addressed. Rather, we should be celebrating who God is bringing and the life-change that is taking place in and all around us.
For the sake of the gospel,
I read from a portion of a book on September 2 that several have asked about. It’s a book that I identify and agree with in many areas. It’s called Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley.