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. 

Our Cup

I have a favorite cup. I drink out of it almost every day. I like it so much that I’ll sometimes even wash it when there are other clean cups available! I feel like the cup represents me in a way. It’s kind of goofy, a little bright and loud, has a weird sense of humor, and was made in the 80’s! It’s a unique cup, and I love it! Usually, though, if someone comes to my home, it is not the cup I would choose to serve them. This is especially true if we don’t know each other very well. JesCup

What is your cup like? Is the cup that best represents you the same cup you would choose to serve to someone else? What if someone were to pop over to your house unexpected? She sits down on the couch to chat and it feels appropriate to serve her a beverage. If your cup is anything like my cup, it’s perpetually dirty. Let’s say you’re a minimalist or in the middle of a move and this cup, your cup, is literally the only cup in your house! Maybe it’s even got banana chunks stuck to it from your grabby toddler, it may have been dropped and is chipped. Your cup is in pretty rough shape. And, for the sake of the analogy, you’re unable to wash it. So you have a guest and you have to decide whether you should serve her a dirty, maybe chipped cup or just let her sit and have a nice beverage-free conversation.

 

Maybe you would serve it to her. Probably not.

 

Well, what if she looked thirsty? Maybe she mentions that she was on a long run and turned onto your street and decided to just stop in. You know she would benefit from some water, but your cup is almost embarrassing, especially if you can’t even wash it!

 

What if she's showing classic signs of dehydration?? She is complaining of a headache, seems to have a dry mouth, and her eyes look at least a little sunken. You’re probably less inclined to care about the condition of your cup when you see how badly she might need it to drink water!

 

What if she had crawled to your doorstep, and faintly knocked with the little strength she had left because she was literally dying of thirst? You open the door and all she can get out of her mouths is a dry, raspy “Water”!!

 

I don’t think any one of us would deny someone water that could save their life just because we had inhibitions about the cup we had to offer.

 

You are your cup. I am mine. We are dirty, at least a little broken, and less than perfect sinners. Christ is the life giving, thirst quenching, pristine water that everyone needs, but not everyone has.

 

John 4:13-14

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

 

I have been guilty, too many times, of overthinking my cup when it comes to sharing that water. I have worried that someone would know the imperfections in my life, and that they’d see me as a hypocrite, noting only the smudges and cracks of my cup as I held it out to them. I’ve avoided using my cup to offer that life-giving water because I was too concerned what reaction I would get. I worried that I would damage relationships because I was coming off as judgmental, politically incorrect, or self righteous. Sometimes I'm just too scared. I don’t know what to say or if I would have an appropriate response to questions or accusations. I’m more inclined to sit my cup on a coffee table and subtly or casually mention that I am more than willing to share if they’d like a drink. Most people in my life know I’m a Christian, and that has too often been good enough for me. They can come if they have questions. They can approach me when they’re ready. I’m not doing much to help them realize their need for that water, and I’m certainly not doing justice to advocate for the true life saving benefits of Christ.

 

When I think of the reasons that I don’t share Christ more often, it always boils down the same way.

 

“The problem is that because of sin, each and every one of us has doubts and misgivings, fears and misconceptions that inhibit us, that diminish our resolve to act in certain situations. Each one of us may know (the above) things intellectually, but we have trouble putting all these things into practice spiritually.

The apostle Paul wrestled with this problem. He writes about this in his letter to the Romans.

“What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do....For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing!” (Romans 7:15, 18-19)”

Educating the Congregation for Friendship Evangelism
Rev. Howard Festerling

 

 

It is sin in the world and sin in ourselves that stops us from sharing the saving Word of God. Scripture has so much to say to help us overcome this sin and refocus on the Great Commission.

 

I would encourage you to read the following passages to help you refocus on the fact that we are called to share our faith and that scripture continues to both remind and equip us to do so.

 

 

1 Peter 3:14-16 Philippians 4:13
1 Corinthians 2:4-5 Philippians 1:18
2 Timothy 1:7 Romans 10:17
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
Matthew 28:19-20 1 Corinthians 6:19

 

When sharing our faith, it is important to remember the significance of creating relationships, coming from a place of genuine love and concern, and not just following an impersonal script. I hope to follow up soon with a more practical guide to sharing our faith with those we have grown to love, but who live without that life saving water. For now, know that you are a wonderful and beautiful creation of God, called for his purpose, and well equipped to offer that pristine and miraculous water that will make those who drink it never thirst again. Stop worrying about your cup. You are a vessel lovingly created by a powerful God. He wants to use you and your flaws can not detract from the benefits of that water of Life.

JesSignature

A Takeaway from Robin Williams Death

As I'm sure you all know, Robin Williams committed suicide a few days ago. I've noticed that everyone on social media, the news and online are talking about it. Why? Because everyone is saddened by the loss of someone they "know". You see, despite the fact that it is likely that none of us have ever actually met Robin Williams or know much about his life beyond the TV and movie screen, since we've seen him over the years we feel as if we've known him. We can recall scenes from a movie he was in. We can remember the voice of Genie in Aladdin.

He was a real person and he is really gone.

While everyone has been posting about the movies he played in or how they enjoyed his comedy, I wonder if we are focusing on the wrong things. Earthly status and fame are fleeting and temporary, but the eternal status of a person should be of a much bigger concern to us.

We can all be saddened by the passing of someone we have all seen on TV. However, every single day over 155,000 people across the globe die. Each one of these 155,000 people are as real and precious in God's sight as Robin Williams was. They are someone's child, mom, dad, brother, or sister.

And the reality? The reality is that MANY OF THEM are not ready to stand before God and face eternity.

Let's not let the tragic death of Robin Williams leave us sad and without hope like those who don't know God. All the world can cling to is looking back on someone's life and hoping it had some meaning or left some mark on the world. We as Christians need to look forward to the calling God has put on our life. There is a growing desperation in our world for HOPE; to hear the truth that life is more than short term pleasure and fading beauty; that there is something that satisfies more than wealth and fame.

There is real hope and joy that can only be found in Jesus. There is a peace and comfort that only knowing him and his free gift of salvation can bring (Romans 8:38-39). Because, the truth is that death comes to us all and each of us will stand before our creator, at the brink of eternity, and have to give an account for our lives (Romans 14:12).

mountian
mountian

You don't have to look far to find someone in need of the gospel message. It could be a family member, a neighbor, a coworker or a teen at your local high school. Starting today, let's do everything we can, within the sphere of influence God has given us, to share the good news of hope, life and freedom in Jesus Christ.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” - Galatians 5:13-14

KatySignature
KatySignature

Blink : A Lesson in Evangelism from a Car Salesman

A few years ago I began reading a series of books by Malcolm Gladwell, a British-Canadian journalist. My favorite was called Blink, which he describes as "A book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye." Essentially he discusses thought processes and consequent actions based on the first split second of new perceived information.

One chapter especially struck me. In it, Gladwell describes Bob Golomb, a car salesman with sales numbers over twice that of the average car salesperson. He said the following about his success:

"You cannot prejudge people in this business" he said over and over when we met, and each time he used that phrase, his face took on a look of utter conviction. "Prejudging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot. A green salesperson looks at a customer and says, ‘This person looks like he can’t afford a car,’ which is the worst thing you can do, because sometimes the most unlikely person is flush,’ Golomb says. “I have a farmer I deal with, who I’ve sold all kinds of cars over the years. We seal our deal with a handshake, and he hands me a hundred-dollar bill and says, ‘Bring it out to my farm.’ We don’t even have to write the order up. Now, if you saw this man, with his coveralls and his cow dung, you’d figure he was not a worthy customer. But in fact, as we say in the trade, he’s all cashed up. Or sometimes people see a teenager and they blow him off. Well, then later that night, the teenager comes back with Mom and Dad, and they pick up a car, and it’s the other salesperson that writes them up.”

Gladwell applies Golomb’s insight to greater truths in our culture. I believe we can also take this lesson in salesmanship and incorporate it into how we share our faith.

Evangelism is something that comes very easily to some, scares the living daylights out of others, and finds most of us somewhere in between. No matter where you land on that scale, I think one of the biggest challenges we face as we share our faith is the very same as that of those “green” salespeople. To some degree we have all looked at someone, and based primarily on appearances, take our first split-second reaction and decide that our Gospel message probably won’t sink in. We don’t even bother speaking to them.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

Bob Golomb develops great relationships with people and has had a great deal of worldly success by “giving everyone his best shot”. The Great Commission of “go and make disciples of all nations” carries considerably more weight in its urgency and outcome than selling as many cars as you can in a month.

Paul, inspired by God, urges us that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people”. All people. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” All people. “Christ Jesus... gave himself as a ransom for all people.” All people. We need to “give everyone our best shot”. We should never let an opportunity to share Christ slip away because of an assumption based on a first impression. There are a lot of people out there who are very different from you, from me. Christ, however, does NOT say, “Spread the Word of salvation to those who you are comfortable approaching, and who look like the type of people who will listen. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.”

Consider how many people in the bible may have missed out on salvation if a good first impression was a prerequisite for the gospel being shared: Rahab, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, the lepers, the woman who washed his feet, the woman at the well. People who never gave favorable first impressions fill the pages of scripture.

There is obviously quite a bit of difference between us spreading the gospel and Bob Golomb selling cars. Please don’t take the analogy too far. After all, the Holy Spirit is on our side, and will do all the hard work for us! Do understand this simple application: When presented with an opportunity to share the gospel, “You have to give everyone your best shot.”

We need to be so careful not to dismiss people based on physical appearance or assumptions based on first impressions made in the blink of an eye. Consider Christ.

Isaiah 53:2-5

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,

   and like a root out of dry ground.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces

   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain

   and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

   stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

   he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

   and by his wounds we are healed.