Monday, September 17, 2012

Churches Can’t Afford to Think It Is 1600’s England

I had an experience awhile back that was really uncomfortable.  This, I presume good-hearted, chap decided that I needed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  At this point I had been a believer in Christ for a good 5-6 years and was at this point a youth pastor.  That did not phase him.  He was convinced, through no words or actions of my own, that I must simply be one of those that professed Christ but did not really know him.

Have you ever tried to convince an “evangelist” that you really do know Jesus? 

It was tough.  And in fact a little frustrating.  I appreciate hearing the gospel and I wasn’t offended by him proclaiming it to me.  But what was disconcerting was when he remained undeterred and spent his evangelistic zeal on somebody (me) that really does know Jesus. 

This passionate man comes from an era much different than mine.  In the 50’s and 60’s in the Midwest and Southern US it was almost assumed that everybody went to church.  If you didn’t attend church you must massacre innocent kitties (if they exists) and sacrifice them at your Thursday evening bloodlettings and witch parties.  What kind of person must you be if you don’t attend church?  You must be the most vile, wicked, scum of the earth.  Good decent folk attend church even if they sleep through it. 

The same could be said of England throughout the Puritan era and for years after.  During one stretch of her history you could be fined and even imprisoned for not attending a Church of England service.  Though the laws were more lax by then, in 1782 John Newton would say of his parishioners:

I could wish to be useful to the people who by law are obliged to contribute to my support.  And I have still hopes that some of them will one day know what pertains to their peace.  But if they absent themselves from the church, their places are filled up by others.

Churches in this era were filled with lost people and people that were “mere professors”, just as in our day there are nominal Christians filling the rolls of many churches.  In such a context such sermons as An Alarm to the Unconverted would be expected.  In fact you wouldn’t be a faithful minister to have a host of unbelievers hearing your sermon and you never get around to passionately, faithfully, and evangelistically sharing the gospel with them.

When Church Isn’t Mandatory

Yet what does a church do whenever attendance is not mandatory?  Do you keep preaching evangelistically? 

One strategy is to continue preaching evangelistic messages while you encourage those within your church to bring their lost friends to hear the message.  Such a strategy, often called the attractional model, would require the church to be attractive to the lost world to draw them in to hear the gospel message.

That certainly is a strategy.  And in as much as these churches are faithful to the gospel message and sinners are saved I rejoice.  I’m thankfully that God uses humble servants to invite friends to church where faithful preachers explain the gospel clearly, the Spirit moves and works, and people are converted. 

Personally, I think there is a better option.  Use Sunday mornings to disciple members to “go get ‘em”.  Encourage, edify, and exhort those that are attending by choice to go and tell.  Then have them bring back more believers that can be equipped to live out the gospel and reach the lost. 

I am not in any way saying that a faithful pastor will not consider lost people on a Sunday morning.  You had better preach the gospel every Sunday.  One, because believers need to hear it every day.  Secondly, because God through his grace does bring people into a church building to hear a word from Him.  If they don’t know Christ that word from them is repent and believe in Christ.  The gospel had better be presented every time the church gathers.

Living like it’s 1642

Yet it seems that some ministers might be trying to preach sermons for a Christianized 1612 rather than a postmodern and unChristian 2012.  If you live in such a context a large portion of the people in your church are probably there because they are believers.  Yet, if you continue to pretend that it’s 1612 and the people are there because it is mandatory and they are just mere professors you will be starving sheep and not equipping them to reach the lost. 

In other words, we had better be discipling our people and not have a ministry of telling our choir they need to get saved every Sunday.  Tell them how the gospel rocks their life and empowers them to proclaim the gospel to those that need to come to Christ.  And I would just about bet that if the gospel truly informed our communities and people were faithfully discipled some of those mere professors would be so weirded-out by authentic Christianity that they’d either leave altogether or be jolted into knowing a real relationship with Jesus.

Preach to your congregation.

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