A post I wrote a while back kicked up some dust on Facebook this week. A friend linked to it, and the comments came a flyin’ in.
Much of the discussion, unfortunately, revolved around whether I should have made the post in the first place (some thought it was wrong for me to evaluate and critique a sermon publicly. I stand by my actions), but some of the comments were about the actual content of what I wrote. Lots of people from both sides chimed in, and this was good to see. I hope the post made people think.
As I went to bed that night, my mind was busy with intense thought. This actually kept me up the whole night. I just couldn’t stop turning the comments over and over in my head! One of the things that I kept coming back to was this:
So a church says that it wants to see people “come to know Jesus.” That’s great! But that begs certain questions, doesn’t it? First, what does the church mean, exactly, when it says it wants people to “come to know Jesus”? There are lots of different ways of cashing out that phrase, some of which Jesus wouldn’t affirm.
Another question is: how do they go about bringing people to Christ? Look around: what does the church actually do? What is affirmed? What, if anything, is left out?
Those are all good questions to ask. Sometimes, what you’ll notice is a great commitment to social gospel things, such as the AIDS walk and Katrina relief. No on in their right mind would put these down as unnecessary to the “mission” of the church. But what you might notice is that it’s very easy to leave out something that’s equally necessary: actual evangelism. It’s not so much that it’s explicitly put down, but just conspicuously missing. Do the pastors ever actually say, “you know, guys, sometimes you actually need to just go out and…well…talk to folks about Jesus” (the link represents one time I’ve heard that)? How many, if any, training opportunities are there in evangelism for the members? How many outreaches are there that actually have evangelism proper (talking to people about Jesus–maybe not necessarily open air or cold turkey. There is more than one way to skin that cat) as a central focus? Is there a staff person at the church whose role includes attending to evangelistic concerns?
How much of the church’s finances go towards evangelism?
If evangelism is ever talked about in the sermons, what is said? Does the pastor just mention stereotypes (ie, the guy on the street corner with the bullhorn), only so he can tell you what not to do? Or, are evangelists ever praised for their boldness?
In a church’s rush to be “missional” and “relevant,” it is very easy to leave out that crucial part because it won’t win you any popularity contests. But in the whirlwind of all that passes under the rubric of “outreach,” it’s oh so necessary!
When a church says it’s interested in bringing people to a saving knowledge of Christ, look for the benchmarks above. That’s not the whole of it, but it is part; a part which is far too easy to leave out.