I appreciate a good provocative title. My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them. She’s right. But I really am serious about the title of this blog post. At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.” But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention. I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above. “When” rather than “Why.” “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here. I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church. But when? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Let me set the stage for that discussion first. I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process. It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived. You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”. To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus. Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.
One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.
Did you hear what Jesus said? Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer? Nope. Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front? Nope. Go to church? No. Worship? No. He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith! There should be an outflow. We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught. We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.
This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS. We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need. Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients. This aspect of outreach is vital. Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need. We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.
Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples. I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.
So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words. Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”
People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different. They have something I don’t have. I want what they have. Peace. Joy. Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.” And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different. I want what you have. Why are you different?” “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.” And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.
Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny. She was like that. Always joyful. It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?” And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.
Can I be honest though?
How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life? I don’t know that I ever have. If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different? Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?
Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!” That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier. We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.
Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us. Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news? Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?
Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty. We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace. We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives. A longing to be in relationship with God. An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.
And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.
What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest? In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do? My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks. Avoid the events. Invitations to church? They might help, but I think there is a much better way. A much more down to earth approach.
- Pray for people.
- Be available.
- Love. Genuine friendship.
- Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.
Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church. The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church. In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people. They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open. They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach. We’re used to it. We like it. But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out. Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people. Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture? And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know? Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services. You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday. That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.
It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services. But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.
So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus. So pray for them. Love them in genuine friendship.
One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people. He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”
And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say? Don’t stop praying at this point. Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say. Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.
The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts. The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”