Tag Archives: cvccs

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI 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.”

When Christians Aren’t Gracious – 1st Corinthians 16:5-24, Part 1

29 Oct

Paul closes the letter where he began it. Grace.

Back in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 he said “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

And now in 16:23 he says “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” This is a fairly typical closing for Paul, but it is well worth out attention.  Even our close attention.  Here’s why:

Do you feel the grace of the Lord Jesus is with you? In you. Flowing through you?  Many don’t.

vanishing gracePhilip Yancey just came out with a new book, Vanishing Grace. I’m looking forward to reading it. I thought about it this week at our Ministerium Bible study when the pastor leading discussion was talking about the salt of the earth passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

So you and I are the salt of the earth. In our day and age, salt is primarily a flavoring. That is a good comparison to how Christians could be the flavor of Jesus in this world. But in Jesus’ day salt was also used for healing and preserving. It was very, very valuable. Soldiers in the Roman army were often paid in salt, and in Latin this practice was called salarium, which is where we get our English word salary. Salt could help heal wounds. It could preserve meat. So there we have some more parallel to how Christians in the name of Jesus can heal and preserve our world.

But how do we do this? One pastor at the Ministerium admitted that in his bi-vocation in the business world, his conversations about church, about sin, about Jesus, were not viewed as good salt. They were repulsive.

I wonder if that is because grace is missing. Is grace missing from your life? From your attitude? From your words?

Our world needs grace. We need grace. The message of Good News in Jesus is a wonderful message of grace. One way we are the Salt of the Earth is by being gracious!

Think about it: We live in a cutthroat world. A world where grace is oftentimes missing.

Our family has been watching old episodes of the reality TV Show Survivor. It is a game with lying, strategies of double-crossing, staying true to alliances only as long as they are self-serving. There is little grace.

About his book, Philip Yancey says something that might be hard for us to hear. I urge you now to prayerfully ask the Lord if you need to hear this. He says “One reason the broader world does not look to Christianity for guidance is that we Christians have not spoken with a credible voice. Churches in my childhood focused on lifestyle issues such as hair- and skirt-lengths, movies, dancing, smoking, and drinking. Meanwhile, conservative churches said little about poverty, racism, war, consumerism, immigration, the treatment of women, and the environment. With some significant exceptions, the church sat on the sidelines of movements that addressed these important causes.

He goes on: “Some further muddle the message of grace by piously casting judgment on society. I heard an all-too-typical example as I was writing this chapter. In the aftermath of historic floods in Colorado that damaged eighteen thousand houses, a Christian radio personality blamed the floods – and also our wildfires the same summer – on legislators who “encourage decadent homosexual activities, vote to kill as many babies as possible, and pass laws approving abominable idolatries such as marijuana.” Listening to those words as I watched water creep within inches of flooding my downstairs office, I easily understood how Christians alienate people. I could list scores of such moral pronouncements that foster an “us against the world” mentality rather than “us bringing grace to the world.”… How differently would the world view Christians if we focused on our own failings rather than on society’s?

Yancey asks the question: “Why does the church stir up such negative feelings?” As the promo material for the book says, “He has been asking this all his life as a journalist. His perennial question is more relevant now than ever: in a twenty-year span starting in the mid-nineties, research shows that favorable opinions of Christianity have plummeted drastically—and opinions of Evangelicals have taken even deeper dives.

“But people inside and outside the church are still thirsty for grace. What the church lacked in its heyday is now exactly what it needs to recover to thrive. Grace can bring together Christianity and our post-Christian culture, inviting outsiders as well as insiders to take a deep second look at why our faith matters and about what could reignite its appeal to future generations.

“How can Christians offer grace in a way that is compelling to a jaded society? And how can they make a difference in a world that cries out in need?”

When you’re appalled at the news coming out of Washington, out of the Supreme Court, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When the results of the election next week come in, whether you are cheering or moaning, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When your neighbor’s leaves blow onto your yard because he didn’t cover them, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When that kid at school is acting like a jerk yet again, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

What does grace look like in a world without it?

Reach out to the person who is being bullied. Sit with them at lunch. Talk to the office gossip who everyone can’t stand.

As a church we show grace to our community especially by reaching out to those in need, even if they have made poor decisions, and it would be easy to say “Well they got themselves in this mess.”

We show grace by active and sustained involvement in Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, where needy community people can come for food and clothing. Our CVCCS stand in the lobby can start to fade into the background and become part of the décor unless we actively seek to show grace.

We show grace by preaching the Gospel of grace in both word and deed.

  • If you know you are not filled with God’s grace, I encourage you to start doing gracious things: Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it, remembering God forgave you.
  • Treat someone with kindness when they have treated you poorly, remembering that God treated you with amazing kindness though you have sinned against him.
  • Serve at CVCCS, a place oozing with grace for those who haven’t had a whole lot in their lives. Have you looked at all the opportunities to serve at CVCCS in the bulletin?
  • Help pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child on November 5th. Show grace to kids around that world that may have never experienced the grace of Christmas.
  • Fill Christmas stockings for the kids Joe Toy works with in Philly, and then join the group going to Philly on December 13 to interact with the kids.

Let us be a people that love God, love one another, filled with grace.

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.

How to turn Christmas upside-down

29 Nov

2013-12 Advent ConspiracyThis Advent we are going to turn Christmas upside-down!  Will you join us?

By now we hope you’ve heard a bit about The Advent Conspiracy, but have you picked up your copy of the book yet?  Advent begins on December 1st, so there is still time. The Advent Conspiracy is a very easy-to-read practical book that will help you think about Christmas in a whole new way.  An upside-down way.

I was driving by Rockvale Square outlets in the beginning of November, and I noticed all their Christmas decorations were out already.  Then I passed The American Music Theater, and they were advertising showings of their Christmas Show that were happening later that day.  After I got over my surprise that these businesses were in full-Christmas mode before Thanksgiving, I realized I shouldn’t be surprised.  It has been a trend for years now.  Christmas is a wonderful thing, and we can be supportive when people and businesses make a big deal about it.

And yet we all know that businesses are advertising Christmas earlier and earlier each year, not because they are committed to the Good News of peace on earth through Christ, but for an entirely different reason altogether.  They want to make money!  And they want you and me to spend our money at their businesses.  They would be just thrilled if we actually spend more money than we have to spend.

So goes the story of how Christmas got turned upside-down.

Now, by us taking Christmas, as we see it today, and turning it upside-down again, we are actually making it right-side-up.  But when we do that, when we return Christmas to that state it is supposed to be in, it will look upside-down to the rest of society.  That is, however, as it should be, with Jesus’ birth and the Kingdom of God as the focus.

Are you ready to turn Christmas upside-down?  Get the book.  Visit the website.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to show up in a mighty in your life and in your family’s life.  We are going to have great opportunities for you to participate in: Now that the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are on their way, will you begin filling Christmas stockings for Joe Toy in Philly?  Then how about joining us for this year’s Christmas Stocking Drop on December 7th?  We’ll drive to Philly and work alongside Joe, sharing the Gospel as we hand out our stockings to kids he works with in inner-city Philly.  Maybe you’ll consider helping a CV family celebrate Christmas through CVCCS Adopt-a-Family program?  See the Community Happenings bulletin board for more details.  Will you join us on December 15th as we sing carols to homebound members of Faith Church?  Or perhaps you help CVCCS with their Christmas food box giveaway on the 21st?  There are so many ways you and your family can participate in the Advent Conspiracy, turning Christmas upside-down!