You go to the interview because you’re desperate, buried in debt. The Personnel Director seems very upbeat. He takes a moment to affirm your debt, then shares some very good news: The owner of the company hates debt. He started the company by asking his rich son to personally bankrupt himself, filling the company’s vaults with unlimited cash. All you have to do is accept the gift, and walk away debt free.
“What’s the catch?” you ask.
“There is no catch.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Just believe what I’m telling you.”
“Okay, but after that. What’s the job?”
“There is no job, per se. But if you want to help out, you can tell others about the company, get some people in the door.”
You hesitate. Something feels wrong. “Why would the owner do that?”
“He loves you.”
You get a smug smile, as if you should have known better. “He just does.”
You hesitate again, which seems to concern the Personnel Director. “Let me tell you about the insurance program,” he says, pressing. “You’re gonna love retirement!”
When you finally agree, the Director puts a mark on his white board, then hands you a white board and a marker. “Just in case you want to talk to your friends about the company,” he says. “The owner loves a good recruiter.”
Before you leave, he mentions that the office is open on Wednesdays, which is optional, and on Sundays, which is strongly encouraged.
“What do we do?” you ask.
“We send thank you cards to the owner, get any new debt taken care of, talk about retirement, things like that. We have a new cappuccino machine. That’s fun. The company down the street doesn’t have one.”
You sort of nod, still trying to wrap your brain around being debt free, then head for the parking lot with your empty white board.
Okay, back to reality. I admit that I am being a little facetious, though I have experienced much of this kind of thing in my 30+ years as a Christian. As you probably know, I’m not a fan of preaching a cropped Gospel.
In this post, however, I want to talk about the role of the local church. How can we do a better job of presenting the Gospel and encouraging our congregants to fully engage with it in their private lives?
Here are some trends that I believe can be counterproductive:
Come to SonShine Community Church! We have programs for everybody, with awesome snacks, upbeat music and a wholesome, inspiring message. This is a place for families. It’s a place to meet people, make friends, maybe even find a date. And, hey, we even talk about Jesus. He loves you. He wants to bless you. He wants to make all your dreams come true. If you seem to have trouble, any trouble at all, we’ll pray for you. We also have fun community groups to get you plugged in.
If you want the truth, join our church. We take the Gospel seriously. Our pastor teaches the Word without compromise. We baptize the right way. We do communion every Sunday. We stand by the orthodox teachings of some of God’s most anointed preachers. We’re not like that church down the street that muddies the obvious truth with their bizarre doctrines. We’re not like the world, entertaining ourselves to death. We’re set apart.
Need a teacher? Come listen to our pastor, he makes the Bible make sense. You can also join a small group Bible study to dig a little deeper with one of our staff members. Need counseling? Want direction for your life? Sign up for a consultation with one of our on-campus counselors. Look online to see their qualifications. Need comfort? Talk to someone. Get on the prayer chain. Feel lonely? Join a community group.
Obviously these things are not all negative. What’s wrong with having a solid orthodoxy, strong leadership or inspiring programs? Can’t Christians have a little fun? Most local churches are helpful, well-meaning communities that preach the Gospel and work alongside the suffering people around them.
However, we can’t deny that, in general, many believers have a fairly shallow understanding of Scripture and spiritual things, struggle with private weaknesses, and make very little positive impact in their communities.
I think there are some things we can do to make the local church more effective without trying to start a whole new movement.
For most major leaguers, winning a ring is the motivation behind every workout session, every diet plan, every minute in the batting cages, every moment on the field. For most Christians, however, Jesus already won the World Series on the cross, and people just need to realize that.
Sure, grab a bat, take a swing, but it doesn’t matter if you make contact. The game is already over. The devil lost. There is nothing more to gain. We just need to wait until the season is over and collect our rings, which, of course, we’ll hand over to Jesus right away.
My next post will be about vision. I believe that an expanded vision of the Gospel is critical if we want to do something about our lack of personal and corporate education, our general lack of motivation, lack of accountability and lack of unity.
Sure, large churches connect with more people. More people means more money, which means better programs, more staffing and more opportunities for growth and outreach. Sadly, it also distorts God’s vision for his people.
As I mentioned in a previous post, every believer receives the Spirit of God at the moment of conversion, and that Spirit is expected to bring light to our own self-oriented souls, then to our families and friends, and ultimately to our own communities. This process requires a sense of responsibility that urges us toward daily study, social disciplines and personal accountability.
How can we be supported by our pastors and teachers if we are just one of a few thousand people? We can talk about small groups, but how many leaders does the church need to train, and how good can that training be in such a short time? Trying to force spiritual wisdom and maturity into teams of community group leaders is like trying to force a tree to grow to maturity in just a few months. And God’s people need trees, not saplings.
Despite the presentation of spiritual gifts in Corinthians, expressing balance and variety, churches tend to burn out their clergy, and neglect their congregations. Why? The clergy are paid to devote their full attention to the church, the rest of the people have jobs and families to attend to. Ultimately, the church becomes a grueling job for some, and an uplifting life-enhancer for others, right alongside piano lessons and trips to the gym.
Can we bring more balance to our churches? Can we encourage people to seek harder after God rather than depending on their pastors and programs? How can we educate our congregants without feeling like we have to entertain them as well, anything to keep their tithing bodies in the pews? What can we do to help people feel more connected to a more global mission and purpose?