Tag Archives: hospital

Where Should Non-Believers Hear the Gospel?

Mar 15, 17
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Part 3 of 4

Last week, we looked at the first 4 of 7 common reasons why most Christians answer the question “Do Non-Believers Belong in Worship Services? with an emphatic “YES!”   Today, we’ll summarize and respond to the remaining 3 arguments behind their belief that church members should invite their non-Christian friends to church.  The Bible states clearly in 1 Corinthians 14:22-25 that non-believers who show up at church “unannounced” should be warmly welcomed, but that their presence should not impede pastors from preaching “the deep truths of God”.  However, what was in question in our last post “Is Church Really a ‘Hospital for Sinners’?“and again here is the biblical foundation for proactively inviting and advertising to entice non-believers to join worship services…

5.  “What about all those who won’t hear the Gospel if we stop inviting non-believers to church?”

When you read that question out loud, it does make no longer inviting non-believers to church sound heartless and “unChristian”.  At first glance, the question conjures the image of non-believers left out in the cold to fend for themselves.

However, what that argument does not take into account is how many more would likely come to faith if churchgoers would do more than simply invite them to come into a building.  In other words, when we contended last week that church is not a “hospital for sinners”, we were making the point that “church” by definition is not a building but an assembly of the “called out ones” who are “devoted to the Lord”.  Therefore, church is not an Emergency Room where those critically ill and hopelessly lost are supposed to arrive by ambulance for urgent care on Sunday mornings.

ER doctors and nurses only practice medicine inside the confines of a hospital.  However those who do not yet know that they have Stage 4 spiritual cancer are highly unlikely to rush to the pastoral “oncologist” at the “hospital for sinners” for sanctifying chemo and radiation treatments.  Instead, individual Christians were intended to be the “church” personified, nurse practitioners making house calls in their workplaces and neighborhoods delivering the great news that Jesus can bring instantaneous and complete healing.

Imagine the Kingdom impact of reverting to the biblical definition of “church”, equipping and mobilizing the millions of “hands and feet” who sit idly in the pews of America’s churches, hoping their non-believing coworkers and friends will one day accept their invitation to a worship service.  The simple, convicting truth that dispels the myth behind the argument raised in this section is that fewer non-believers would be on the “outside looking in” if churchgoers would adopt their intended roles, commissioned by Jesus Himself, as evangelists and disciple-makers.  Seekers would find what they were looking for without ever having to step foot into a church building.

6.  “Isn’t it a great thing to have lots of non-believers checking out our church?”

At the risk of sounding like a politician, the answer to that question is “it depends…”

…on why they’re checking out your church

  • Is church attendance a prerequisite for social acceptance (as it is in many small towns)?
  • Are they responding to a mailer or invitation promising a fun environment for kids and practical messages, with no expectations?
  • Or was their curiosity sparked by members who continually demonstrate compassion despite hardship, love despite animosity, and forgiveness despite injustice?

…on what they find when they get there

  • A comfortable, warm environment free of challenges or commitments beyond returning next Sunday
  • Answers to their tough questions, confronted with the truth about sin and their need for forgiveness
  • Opportunities to grow through discipleship and live out their faith through missions

…on how the church has changed to accommodate them

  • Compromising and conforming so as not to offend yet consequently defiling what is meant to be holy
  • Reluctant to hold the congregation to the Great Commission standard, failing to equip and empower those called to be the “church” between Sundays
  • Resorting to occasional compassion events, checking the box rather than following Jesus’ model of serving first and then telling people who He is

7.  “Just think of the opportunity that having non-believers here gives our church family to rally around them and put our faith into action.”

That statement carries with it an underlying, flawed premise.  Today’s prevailing church growth models have not only redefined the word “church”, but also the Church’s intended, biblical “customer”.  Members are the embodiment of “church” and are therefore “insiders”, more like employees of a company than its customers.  And like employees, church members should be trained and deployed to pursue “customers” – the lost in the community where that church is planted.

Yet the fact that the investment by the average church in caring for its community has dropped from 40%-50% (when churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for the better part of 1900 years) to around 2% today shows that churches no longer see “outsiders” as “customers”.  Instead, churches devote the vast majority of their time, energy and dollars to attracting and retaining (congregants) rather than equipping and releasing (disciples).  Likewise, words like “outreach” (now redefined as “church marketing”) and “ministry” (now code for “church chores”) have taken on new meanings as well, with emphasis redirected toward institution-building versus disciple-sending.

As a reader recently commented, “God will judge the church NOT by how many people come off the streets and into the pews, but by how many people get out of the pews on onto the streets.”  It’s a sign of our times that inviting people to church has become the primary way that Christians share the gospel, because it’s the primary evangelistic function that churchgoers are asked and prepared by pastors to perform.  Ironically, the fact that the biblical “customers” of churches today feel ignored by the Church makes it all the less likely that those non-believers will accept those invitations to church.

Much like when a company leaves a customer on hold for what seems like an eternity waiting to speak with a human being, Christians who do not live Prayer-Care-Share lifestyles provide poor “customer” service.  Churchgoers are the only personal interface most non-believers will have with “church” during their lifetimes, so if those who are essentially “employees” continually miss opportunities to exceed customer expectations through caring and to “sell” through sharing, they do a disservice to both those non-believers and the body of Christ.

Pastors unwilling to risk challenging their members to endure all the time and effort the Great Commission truly entails for fear of losing them to a church down the road are treating those “insiders” like “customers” – and likewise doing a disservice to the Kingdom.  Understandably, it’s daunting to be one of the few pastors to step out onto that limb when it will make other churches more attractive by comparison.  However, the upside of choosing obedience in spite of the risks surely makes that “gamble” worthwhile.

It’s Your Turn…

If non-believers are not the “church” but should be the target “customer” of the church, then isn’t inviting them to church much like a company inviting its customers to staff meetings and employee training sessions?  Instead, shouldn’t those company functions be reserved for employees (i.e. church members) who in turn leverage that training to pursue “customers” out in the field?

Is Church Really a “Hospital for Sinners”?

Mar 08, 17
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Part 2 of 4

There was little doubt that the question “Do Non-Believers Belong in Worship Services?” would stir controversy.  Frankly, I felt the same way as most until recent topics addressed on this weekly blog (now in its 90th week) led me to see what the scriptures had to say about that question.  Like most readers, I had assumed and never dared ask a question that conventional church growth models, nearly all churchgoers and even seminaries considered a foregone conclusion.  Of course non-believers should be encouraged to attend church – any opinion to the contrary is callous and exclusionary at best.

However, it doesn’t take a great deal of biblical investigation to realize that “church” is by definition the assembly of “called out ones” who are “devoted to the Lord” – not a building, and not designed for non-believers.  Countless verses support the argument that believers are supposed to BE the church between Sundays, responsible for leading people to Jesus – and only then are those new believers to join the body of Christ in collective worship.

Some readers understood how our modern-day redefinition of “church” has shifted responsibilities from members to pastors and staff – and turned attention from equipping and mobilizing to attracting and retaining.  Yet others reacted quite differently, reflexively citing essentially 7 common arguments for why non-believers do belong in worship services.  We’ll address the first 4 of those today…

1. “It’s the ‘sick who need a doctor’ and Church is a ‘hospital for sinners’”

Considering the sources (the first Jesus and the second generally attributed to St. Augustine), these two common quotes are often considered irrefutable evidence that there’s no better place for a non-believer to be than at church.  It would seem that the “lost” are exactly who church was established to accommodate.  In other words, all who don’t know Jesus are terminally ill so we should invite and encourage them to come to the place where they’re most likely to find healing – church.

Yes, the sick do need the Great Physician, but Jesus didn’t wait for or expect non-believers to show up at the temple.  He didn’t set up His medical practice within a building.  He was a traveling Apothecary – healing and preaching as He went from town to town.  He also sent His disciples out to meet the “sick” right where they were – with the power to heal and instructions to evangelize, not to invite to a gathering.  We should follow suit and not simply extend invitations to a “hospital for sinners”.  Pastors can’t forgive sins and offer redemption, only Jesus can – and Jesus can do that anywhere.  Churchgoers should act as medical advisors, telling people where to find healing – which is in Jesus, not in a church or pastor.

Each Christian knows the cure for spiritual “cancer” and yet few tell non-believers what it is.  The “cancer” of sin has consequences far greater than those of the bodily illness (i.e. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul…).  Missing the opportunity to unveil the cure for “cancer”, withholding that potentially life-saving information in hopes the non-believer will make the unlikely decision to darken a church door, borders on spiritual malpractice.  Much of that liability falls on church leaders who haven’t equipped and trained Christians to communicate that cure for sin “cancer” effectively.  Pastors fear the consequences of holding a congregation consisting largely of fence-sitters and non-believers up to the lofty Great Commission standard.  Therefore, most substitute a softer ask, that of inviting non-Christians to church, enabling members to believe that invitation fulfills the Great Commission and alleviating them of personal responsibility if their invitation to church is rejected.  A church calling itself a “hospital for sinners”, failing to build disciples, and asking members to tell non-believers to come next Sunday for spiritual “healing” is effectively saying Jesus (the Great Physician) and forgiveness can only be found inside a church building (the hospital).  Yet each of us is by definition the embodiment of “church”, called to be His hands and feet everywhere we live, work and travel.

2.  “How else are non-believers going to find the Lord?”

Members are the personification of “church” so they are “insiders”, much more like employees to be trained and deployed than customers to be attracted and retained – to use a corporate analogy.  A business would never rely on a 30 minute weekly presentation and 1 hour discussion led by an uncertified volunteer as the full extent of its training program for new hires.  Yet that’s what most churches do today, conducting a weekend worship service and optional Small Groups, concerned that congregations don’t have an appetite for a greater commitment than that.  As a result, few churchgoers are ready to step into their intended roles as evangelists and disciple-makers.

That failure prompts the question asked in this section, realizing that those most qualified to occupy the evangelist and disciple-making roles today are employed by churches.  It’s true – churches have become the best places for non-believers to find the Lord.  But that’s not what Jesus intended – He meant for His Church to be living, breathing believers fully equipped and empowered to take the Gospel to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”.  Instead, “church” is now seen as a place or event we should invite non-believers to come to hear the Gospel preached by the “professionals”.

3. “So we’re supposed to turn non-believers away at the door?”

…phrased another way, “What’s the better side of the door for them to be on?”  First, let’s consider whether there should be a “door” at all.  Given that Christians are the “church” personified, shouldn’t there be a seamless interface between the churched and unchurched, at least physically, before and after Sunday services?  Maybe it’s not about where non-believers should or shouldn’t be (i.e. in worship services), but more about where believers should be (and what they should be doing)?

On a related note, we’ve heard the argument, “Aren’t we as Christians supposed to be hospitable?”  Yes!  As we discussed last week, 1 Corinthians 14:22-25 says that even though preaching is meant for believers, no one should be turned away who wanders in.  However, even though some non-believers may be present, pastors should not divert from teaching “the deep truths of God”, nor from offering deep discipleship.  Any non-believer who comes to church to learn more about the Lord should be eagerly and enthusiastically welcomed.  Yet the Bible clearly spells out that nothing in the message should be adjusted to make it more palatable for non-believers.  Nor should churches proactively invite or market to entice those who don’t worship Jesus to join a worship service.

There are many alternatives for engaging non-believers in church-related activities in lieu of inviting them to Sunday services.  Some churches reach out to their communities through local missions, fairs, workshops, counseling, and other initiatives and events open to any and all.  Others encourage Small Groups to invite those who wouldn’t likely show up on a Sunday morning, some even renaming them Neighborhood Groups to in effect serve as a decentralized “churches” to the communities where the groups meet.

4.  “But I accepted Christ in a church…I wouldn’t even be a believer now if I weren’t invited by someone.”

No doubt, many do come to faith during worship services.  This argument for why non-believers should be invited to church carries powerful and personal emotional weight for those to whom this statement in this section applies.  However, God had a plan to save each and every person who enters the Kingdom of Heaven and nothing, or no one, can thwart His plans.  Also, who’s to say that millions or billions more wouldn’t have come to Christ if each and every churchgoer lived out the Great Commission mandate rather than largely abdicating that responsibility.  Few non-believers are willing to attend or would be comfortable in a worship service, particularly given the prevailing reputation of most churches as more judgmental and hypocritical than caring and compassionate.  Too often non-believers when asked about “church” echo the response the demon gave when confronted by the false disciples, I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”  Society knows Jesus is compassionate and caring but doesn’t recognize the same characteristics in today’s internally-focused Church.

It’s Your Turn…

Which of the above statements summarizes your past or current opinion on this topic, or have you been swayed at all by the arguments these past two weeks that non-believers should not be invited into worship services?

Next week we’ll address the other 3 common reasons many churchgoers give for why non-believers do belong in worship services…