For the Love of the Unchurched

I love my church. The pastors’ messages. The music. The people. And that the true Word of God is taught there. But while I love to worship at my church and look forward to Sunday mornings, it’s not about what I like. It’s not about what style, traditions, amenities, or programs I enjoy. It’s not about my comfort and sense of community. It’s not about my fun singing in the band.

I already know I am a child of God. While church should be edifying to its members, if it really claims to be an evangelical or mission-minded church, the services should also appeal to the unchurched.

This is not about making church entertainment with a little “Jesus loves you” thrown in there. We want all to come to church to experience God in a welcoming, comfortable, understandable place, and that may mean re-evaluating how we design our services.

If someone has very little background in the faith, or hasn’t gone to church regularly since they were a kid, it can be intimidating to step into a new place.


In the book of Romans, Paul explains the grace of God to the church in Rome, who were mostly Gentiles, or new believers. These people likely did not have much background in the Scriptures or traditional Jewish laws. So, Paul explains faith, righteousness, and Christian living in a way that was understandable to them.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
— Romans 3:22-24

Paul knew his audience and adapted the way he shared the message with them. He did not compromise or change God’s Word, he changed the method. As the 21st century church we should follow his lead.

Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
— Romans 14:13


What can we do to make our churches inviting to guests, and meaningful that they want to come back?

 

  1. Language

The words we use in our services are the most important thing. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to change hearts, but we don’t want a wall to be put up in front of that Word by using big Christian words and assuming everyone understands. Those that grew up in the church and went to confirmation classes may not have a problem with the language the pastor uses, but to the unbeliever or searcher, it might just go over their heads.

“Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” Acts 8:30-31

I would much rather have the pastor take a moment to explain a Bible reading as he goes, or pause at a confusing word, than to just read it through and move on to the next one simply because the order of service says “first lesson” and then “second lesson.” Talk to me person to person, and teach us, not just talk at us. Even if I have to listen to something explained that I’ve known for years, I can sacrifice those few seconds for someone who may really need to hear a concept or word broken down to today’s English.

Sometimes it’s easy to just go through the motions. We may know what’s coming next in a service, but a guest may be confused with all the sitting and standing and responses that seem to come out of nowhere. How can we make everything we do clear, or maybe even simpler? Can the pastor explain why we confess our sins, what is the importance of reading this long creed, what makes Communion so special anyway?

When apostle Paul was on a missionary journey in Athens, he knew the people had very little knowledge of Jesus and Christianity, so he started with what they knew.

“He was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So, he reasoned with them in the synagogue.” Acts 17:16-17.

He saw that they were very religious, but unfortunately had false gods, including an altar “to an unknown god.”  

“Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 17:23

He took what they knew, and what they perhaps questioned, and brought them to the truth.

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.” Acts 17:32

 

2. Music

It’s the hot button issue: traditional vs. contemporary music. But it doesn’t have to be such a dividing factor! Either style of music can be good and worshipful.

Some people love the reverent, special feel of singing hymns with an organ, with lyrics that they grew up with, have memorized, and can sing in four-part harmony. Others may be bored and unmoved by this “old” sound with too many verses of poetic lyrics that make no sense unless you stop to really think about them and take apart what you just sang - which is hard to do in the middle of a service.

Some people feel so connected to God and their fellow worshipers when belting out songs with a contemporary worship band. The instruments are ones they hear daily when listening to popular music, and some of the songs can be heard on Christian radio during the week. It’s a more familiar feel to guests, even if the songs are unknown. I also argue that the melodies are easier to pick up and join in when you’re comfortable, perhaps after hearing the chorus once or twice. Because of the often used “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus” layout of popular songs, it almost always recycles back to a main point with a catchy tune.  To me, it’s more memorable than a hymn with four verses of beautiful, though often heavy language. I love going home humming the songs we sang in church and remembering the message that went with it.

Now, contemporary musicians must be careful to choose songs that proclaim the truth of God’s Word and have some meat to them lyrically. Some people enjoy repeated phrases that seem to grow more profound every time you sing them. Others are just waiting for some new material or for the song to end. It’s all about balance.

What music is best to grow the kingdom of God? My pastor once said, “If polka music was the way people best connected and worshiped God, we’d do that.” Once again, it depends on the congregation because any instrument or style can give glory to God when done with the right heart.

I’m obviously biased towards contemporary music because I feel guests and newer Christians can relate and understand it more easily. However, maybe you’ve had guests that are looking for the sacred, liturgical feel, that makes them feel something different than in their regular life. There will always be different opinions from members and non-members alike, but I believe we should be open to evaluating our own preferences for the good of the unchurched, that they may be encouraged, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, to become part of the greater Church.

And lastly, though I can be hard to stomach in some cases, if someone leaves your church for another that still preaches the truth, but just has a style that person prefers, we should rejoice because that person is still hearing the Word of the Lord. It’s not a competition. It’s a family.

 

3. People

Do guests feel welcome at your church? Do they feel judged? Confused? Does anyone sincerely say hello or introduce themselves?

The Body of Christ is so important, but often we put growing the church all on the pastors’ shoulders (and on the musicians to some extent, too). Do well. Feed me. Then people will come. But the average person sitting in the hard pew or modern, squishy chair is just as important.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord...there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-5, 25-27

 

How can we put aside our own comfort and preferences and make a difference in the kingdom of God?


This is our mission. 

3 Missions for a Tired Mother

I’m not typically one to set a New Year’s resolution but for 2017 I decided to give it a shot. I made it easy on myself, or so I thought, when I decided that I was going to set the simple goal of loving God and others more. You see, ever since having children I’ve felt a little clouded about what my mission is.

Sure, I’m a mother and a wife but one thing I’ve learned about motherhood is that it’s really easy to neglect your relationships with anyone other your children. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of daily tasks that I snap at my husband, forget to call a friend back and say no to social invitations (if I'm lucky enough to still get them!) because I'm just plain tired by the end of each day.

While I was making and cleaning up from three meals a day, folding laundry and trying to get the grocery shopping done (with a toddler who no longer likes to be constrained to a cart), I was beginning to wonder how I could possibly serve God and others better. Motherhood can feel all-consuming and more often than not I feel as though I’m barely surviving each day; it’s hard to see how these daily chores can be opportunities to glorify Christ and show his love through my actions toward others.

God has placed it on my heart this year to find ways to love more, and while I’m still (very) far off from where I’d like to be, I recognize that this isn’t a year-long resolution but more like a lifelong opportunity to grow. Here are three things I’m working toward during this mission of motherhood, and I hope you’ll be able to apply them to whatever mission you’ve been called to:

  1. Stop complaining. I probably need to work on this one the most as it’s easy to get frustrated with never-ending chores and clingy toddlers who won’t let you get done what you set out to do at the beginning of each day.

    “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3: 23-24

    Whatever you do - not just the fun things I do, but the mundane as well. This season of life has brought me from the workforce back to my home, serving the ones I love; rather than complaining through my day I’m trying to have an attitude of worship. I don’t have to do these things I get to do these things in service to God and others. That small change in attitude can have a significant impact. (I’m definitely a work in progress – just ask my husband!)


     
  2. Look to the Word. In order to love more I need to spend more time with the one who showed us what true love is. My time with the Lord varies; some days it’s spent reading a child’s bible story or one of the many index cards or post-it notes stuck around my house with simple prayers and bible verses. Some mornings I take a longer time and really dive into 3 or 4 chapters of the bible; other days I read a devotion that was sent to my email while I’m nursing my toddler back to sleep.

    “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9

    It’s easy to feel like I’m not giving enough of myself to God, but this season is hard enough; God knows that and meets me where I am. He doesn’t want me to come to Him out of guilt or feel badly if I don’t read x-amount of chapters in the bible (only to fall asleep or not remember a word I read). If right now my time with Him means a back-to- the-basics bible story or a passage I can recite a few times in my head, the Holy Spirit finds ways to work with those simple messages. The more I’m able to blend my daily life with small but intimate moments with God, the more He allows kindness and compassion to spill over into my interactions with others.


     
  3. Recognize opportunities to love more. Serving the Lord overseas in a foreign country is a big calling and staying home, wiping messy hands every day, can seem like a small calling. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that we don’t all get called to the same missions; sometimes God brings the mission to us. Being a stay-at-home mom presents many unique opportunities for me to share the love of Christ with others.

    “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25

    Whether it be at the grocery store, an indoor playground or through this blog, the Lord has proven that I don’t need to be serving him halfway around the world for him to have a profound impact on my life and the way I interact with others. I can be calm, kind and generous in all situations. Giving glory to God through the every day allows others to see what He is capable of.

     

Thankfully for me there is still quite a bit of 2017 left – because I’m just getting started! My attitude toward the people I know and love, or the stranger God places in my path that day says a lot about who I am. And I am a child of God. My sweet friend (whose name happens to be Love) said it best, and I think we can all fill in the blank no matter the mission: “may (motherhood) be my mission field with my LIFE, not just my LIPS.”