November 28, 2006

Warning: Hard Hat Required

Category: Theology - Ecclesiology :: Permalink

The latest issue of Outreach contains a helpful article about one of the dumb moves you can make as a Christian wanting to see your church grow.  It’s focusing on the church instead of on Jesus.

Now there’s a sense in which it’s right to talk about the church, of course, and I might have a higher view of the church than the author of this article does.  There are certainly things that Jesus does through the church, so that it would be wrong to distinguish Jesus and the church completely.

But that isn’t the point of the article.  Rather, the author warns against trying to attract people to your church by presenting infomercials for your church which emphasize the various programs the church offers and which make it seem as if these are the reasons for being there: “Our church is doing this and this!  I used to hate church, but since coming here, I love it!”  And so forth.

The danger, says the author, is that we present a false view of the church.  When people want to join the church, they need to hear the truth.  In particular, the author says, they need to hear two warnings.

First, “you will encounter some difficult and unpleasant people.”  There are people in church who are going to rub you the wrong way.  We welcome in people who aren’t always loving, who are sometimes abrasive, who are even just plain weird.

Second, “The church you join is not always going to be like it is today.”  You might join because you have a great time with the church’s baseball team.  But in a couple years, that team may be disbanded.  You might love the pastor’s preaching, but he may take a call to another church a year after you join the church and you might think every sermon the new guy preaches is a dud.

If our talk with people who are new to the church focuses on the church and what it’s doing and what it’s done for us and what it can do for them, we will not only open them up to disappointment when they discover the church isn’t what they thought it was; we may inadvertently encourage them to focus on the church without focusing on Christ.  We don’t want them to join because they think we’re the perfect people or because they think that our programs will meet their needs.  We want them to put their trust in Jesus, not just in us.

Again, we mustn’t fall into a false dichotomy here (“Jesus OR the church”), but there’s a lot of good, honest stuff here about the church and the dangers of marketing it.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:50 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Warning: Hard Hat Required”

  1. Charles Chambers Says:

    Hey John: Yeah, good question, how do we market what God’s given us? I was reading an article from World magazine (Dec.2 Issue) by Andree Seu about Russian Emigres finding a home in Philadelphia through various providential means. Towards the end she says, “I got to hear Andrei from Odessa on electric bass. I broke bread with a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn named Lauren at the home of her Kyrgyzstan friends Ulan and Mira, whom she led to the Lord – after her own conversion by a cabby in New York. Our being together reminded me somehow of the wall hanging I had spotted in Ilya’s office: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” Isaiah 11.6

    What I got out of her piece was that evangelism is very often messy and hard work but fun as well, all a once. A bit like a European train going through the countryside and cities at amazing, even uncomfortable speeds at times, but the bottom like is souls in the kingdom and our local churches. God draws folks but what change of paradyme(s) must we risk to be ready to receive them is maybe a question I was asking myself. The evangelism conference you attended sounded like it hit on that theme as well. People being witnessed to in cabs, a little Jewish girl sharing Christ with her new friends from Kyrgyzstan (or Talent, Ashland or Grants Pass). Andree Seu having an open mind to visit and meet all kinds of folks like Andrei from Odessa, or whereever, playing his electric bass (probably in a worship service somewhere in Philly). What am I saying? I think I trying to say that I believe God would have us be more ready (read and open) to give an answer for the hope which lies within us. Instant in season and out, as Paul says. That line of thought brings me to asking God to help with my unbelief since it seems like the reason I keep my mouth shut when I could have said more of who’s ambassador I’m supposed to be is that I think I’m either not good enough or afraid of what the person(s) (I’m contemplating addressing) will think of me. Maybe you could please pray for me that I’ll speak up more for the hope and joy and life saving/changing benefits I’ve not only received but am bathed in daily but take for granted. Blessings, Charles Chambers

  2. wyclif Says:


    Very helpful and timely; we are dealing with these issues since, like you, we’re right at the beginning. We’ve been modifying Dever’s “9 Marks” stuff where appropriate, but people have been getting a lot out of the book.

    I think those two warnings make a good footnotes to the “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”-type teaching.

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