In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number eight:
TIP 8. Be a church FOR people – all people.
Who is your church for?
Not theological. But practically, who is your church for?
I know what all us church leaders would say, but what if you asked people in your community? What if you asked the unchurched in your neighborhood or workplace? What if you asked the golfers teeing off on Sunday mornings?
When we get outside of our church bubble, we quickly discover the rest of the world sees the church differently. They see judgmental, homophobic, and hypocritical. They associate, for good reason, the gathering of Christians with their bad Christian experiences and an angry God.
Unfortunately, people are more familiar with what the church is AGAINST than what we are FOR. For good reason, too. Think of all the things Christians have boycotted: Disney, JC Penney, Lowes, Home Depot, UPS, PBS, Oreos, Muppets, Cheerios, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts. Cabbage Patch Dolls. Barbie. World Vision… The list goes on and on.
Now some of these boycotts might be warranted. Some might be even necessary. But from the outside looking in, the brand of Christianity is marked by the word “against.” That’s regrettable, because when we open the pages of Scripture, we see a God FOR people. A loving God who has been pursuing people their entire life. A God that is so for people that he allowed his Son to die for them. It makes me believe if God is for people, His church should be known in the same way.
Being a church FOR everyone is not an easy task. It’s fraught with tension. It’s full of confusion. It’s never fair. People are messy. People are sinful. People like you and me. But when you think about it, that’s the line Jesus seemed to balance in fullness.
I can’t tell you exactly how to be FOR everyone, but here are a few things every church leader should consider:
1. Be “full of grace, seasoned with salt.”
Paul teaches us in Colossians that “being wise” in our actions towards outsiders means leading with grace, and only seasoning with truth as opportunities present themselves. Christians have a tendency to be full salt and sprinkle in some occasional grace. But that’s not the instructions we have from Paul. And I trust Paul’s here!
2. Listen more than you talk.
Or maybe we should say, “Just don’t freak out.” When you engage with the unchurched, listen to them. Listen to their stories. Listen to their questions. Engage their unbelief. I’ve never seen anyone argued into the faith. But I have seen time and again people finding life through conversations.
3. Seek relationships over repentance.
Christians love pointing out other’s sin and their need for repentance. We’ve even rationalized it under the umbrella of love; “If you love people, you should tell them they’re wrong!” The problem is this approach doesn’t work. And it certainly doesn’t feel “loving.” What does work, however, is relationship.
Relationships are so powerful, because grace can only be understood through experience. If we want a non-believer to understand the grace of God, they need to first experience the grace of Christians. People learn grace through experience. So what does judgment teach them?
4. Don’t pretend to know God’s heart.
I know we have studied the scriptures and settled on our interpretation, but we might be wrong. That’s hard to embrace, but we might not be totally correct. So being “for” everyone might mean allowing for disagreement and lack of resolution.
I think that’s okay. In fact, I think that’s inviting. It feels weird to be dogmatic about everything. The older I get, and the more relationships I develop, the less dogmatic I become. Some will call that liberalism. I think it’s sort of Christ-like.
5. Don’t pretend to have it all together.
There are few things more off-putting to outsiders than a false sense of perfection. Christians would seem far less hypocritical if we owned our junk and stopped pointing out other’s mess. Christians as a group should be the most honest and transparent people, because we know our identity is not wrapped up in our performance AND we are forgiven! So we should be more transparent. We should own our mess.
6. Consider what’s best addressed in private.
Public condemnation is only helpful to the people begging for the public condemnation, and those people rarely struggle with the sin they so want addressed. Within the confines of a personal relationship, sin can be addressed. But publicly, I’m not sure it’s wise or helpful. By the way: the pulpit is a public platform.
7. Recognize you represent God to the godless.
We don’t often consider the ramifications of this truth. For those far from God, Christians represent God. It’s unfair, but it’s true. Therefore, I’ve decided to just be gracious to everyone. Maybe even to a fault. If I get to heaven and Jesus chastises me for being too gracious, I’ll just ask for forgiveness. But I’m not expecting that to happen. I hope I represent God well.
If you are willing to process these ideas, it will cause tension in your heart and your church. I think that is a good thing. I have settled on this one goal: To lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Here’s why. It may be naive, but I believe a growing relationship with Jesus has the power to address and rectify sin. Jesus is the only one capable of changing a person’s heart, so it seems best for me to do all I can to lead people to Jesus and then allow Him to do what he does best.
If you are not reaching lost people as a church, this could be the issue. If outsiders peek their head inside, only to turn around and walk away, this could be why. If outsiders walk in the front door and right out the back door, this could be the reason. Paul said it best to the Colossians: 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV).
Imagine what it would look like for your church to be known by the word “FOR.” Can you imagine the influence you would gain? Can you picture the lives that could be engaged? There’s too much at stake to get this wrong.
We should be FOR everyone, because God is FOR everyone.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments?
Joe, thanks for your comment. I’d love to write an entire BOOK on the FOR vs. AGAINST paradigm.
Thanks for this challenge. It is always easier to point out others faults than to appreciate the grace given to our own faults and express that grace towards others. I still am wrestling with your post and teaching during the Everyone FOR Everyone series (in a good way) and how to apply that to my own life. Would love to see you expand on this more to better understand your thoughts on FOR vs AGAINST. Thanks again for all you do.