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. 

Mentor Monday // A Chat with Marilyn E

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Today we are honored to share an interview with Marilyn Ewart. A mother of five amazing kids while her husband was on the road a lot for work and is soon celebrating 50 years of marriage. She is never a victim or complains! She once was the Lutheran Women's Missionary Society President, and loves to pray and give. She's a peace maker and so careful with her words. Her own daughter-in-law recommended her as a mentor - how awesome is that? 

"Tell us more about yourself, what is a regular day like for you?"

IMG_3172As a “retired” RN, there still is not a regular day. And that’s a blessing. I work occasionally for a home health agency, working when I want to and say “no” when I don’t. Retirement is great! I like to read, sew, and garden.

Our five children and seventeen grandchildren live in South Dakota, Nebraska, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona so we travel a lot! At least we are all in the same country now! A son spent twelve years as a missionary in Siberia and a daughter had a one year call to the Czech Republic.

 

 

"How would you describe your unique role as a woman?"

As a mother, grandmother, and nurse I have been able to use God given gifts of nurturing and encouragement. The last seventeen years that I worked as an RN,

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got to work in an alternative high school with teens who were pregnant or parenting. Some came from wonderful Christian homes; it was a blessing to support and encourage them and their families. Most came from homes where there were few if any boundaries or guidelines. It was amazing to see them respond to unconditional caring, the same unconditional love that our Heavenly Father gives us.

One student came in with a huge attitude and the piercings and tattoos to go along with it. She was also very sick with her pregnancy so I saw her almost daily.Gradually the walls around her came down. Sitting at my desk one day she told me that she knew her parents loved her but didn’t think they cared. When I asked her why, she said that they didn’t care where she went, how late she was out, who she was with, what she did. When I asked if she wanted boundaries, she said “yeah” with emphasis on the second syllable!

I wish all parents could have heard her and know that when toddlers and teens rebel against the boundaries, perhaps they want, not to knock them down, but to make sure those boundaries are there to keep them safe. Once in a quiet voice she called me mom, obviously wanting a mom who set limits with unconditional love. What an amazing picture of God’s unconditional love for us. He still loves us sinners even when we rebel against him.

So many women and girls in our lives need nurturing. In doing that it seems that we get more than we give. We can never out give God. I pray that God would use me to (along with their parents) show my grandchildren the way they should go - with unconditional love.

"What bible passage is your favorite?"

I have not been able to settle on one favorite. It seems to change according to what is going on in my life.

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Ps 121:1

Imagine that! The Creator of all is my help!

Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12: 11, 12

Every phrase is such encouragement in the way I should live to his glory

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Is 12:2

I love it when we sing Psalm 31! What more do I need when he has become my salvation?

I could go on…

"Who is your strongest Christian mentor?"

There can’t be just one! My parents were such a blessing! In 1944 when I was the third of three and not yet two, my dad accepted a call as principal of East Fork Apache Lutheran High School. As a child growing up in that mission I didn’t think about how hard that life was for my parents. In those days it was isolated and there were few (maybe no) amenities. Yet they served the Lord where he called them. Being typical German Lutherans, I don’t remember them, especially my dad, talking with us much or lecturing us on Scripture, but they taught us every day in how they lived their lives with honesty and integrity and quiet faith.

There were many other mentors. I think especially of the people I served with on the LWMS board of directors from 1999 to 2003. It was such an amazing thing to serve with pastors and women who had no egos, who just wanted what was best for the organization and its mission to support missions and missionaries. I learned so much from them. The five Bible studies during the three day meetings were a special blessing that kept us grounded.

"Any advice to encourage a husband in his faith and role in marriage?"

Don’t let the world tell you that you are not important as a husband and father. You are a huge influence and have a great impact on your family. You are a God-given blessing to them.

"Is there anything specific from Titus 2:3-5, our blog’s mission, that you can comment on to encourage women?"

One of my favorite things to do is to lead a women’s Bible study. Perhaps it’s selfish in that I learn so much myself, both in the preparation and from them. It is an amazing blessing to gather around the Word with small groups of women, young and old, married and single. What an encouragement to one another in our walk with Jesus!

"What do you feel is a threat to a woman’s faithfulness in her home?"

The influence of the world is certainly a threat. In a time when husbands and fathers are ridiculed in the media, when it’s OK to complain about and put down husbands, it can be difficult to be the wife who honors and respects her husband.

"How can we be alert against it?"

The answer always is to be in the Word. Also support and encourage your sisters in Christ to show honor and respect for their husbands, even behind their backs!

"What are some of the challenges and rewards of being the president of Lutheran Women's Missionary Society?"

The challenge certainly was the time it took. I was working full time and the four years on the LWMS board also seemed like another (joyful) full time position.

The joys – beyond measure: working with the board, the exhilarating conventions, contact with the world and home mission administrators, contact with the missionaries, the WOW Retreats...

I could go on! It’s a great way that women can serve their Lord using their talents in so many ways.

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"How can we specifically pray for you and LWMS?"

For the organization, pray that the focus always stays on missions, for wisdom for the leadership, and especially that God would use our efforts to reach those who don’t yet know Jesus.

"What event sticks out strongly in your memory from LWMS that you would like to share?"

There were two things I never saw coming.

The WOW retreats showed me so vividly how much Christian women need support and encouragement from one another. That’s true not only here but in other countries. One of the WOW Retreats was in Antigua. Lutheran women from St. Lucia and Granada and a few from the US traveled to Antigua for a time of fellowship, Bible study and a mission presentation. They were as excited and as we were. Some had never been outside their community and were thrilled to meet sisters in Christ. Their enthusiasm and joy were an inspiration! It was such a great blessing from God that I got to do that.

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Secondly, in 2003, my last year as president, Missionary Paul Nitz from Malawi proposed a project for LWMS to provide encouragement to the women of Malawi by way of five one day conferences throughout the country. All my life I harbored this desire to be a nurse in Africa, but accepted the fact that my Lord had other ways for me to serve. And now this project was funded and I was asked to participate!! I could hardly absorb it! How could God do this for me?! What an amazing experience! We reached well over 1,000 women who traveled hours on foot and on flatbeds to attend. I learned so much from them! They had so little and yet had so much joy in the Lord. It was humbling to see how materialistic we are and how much I am influenced by that in our culture.

"Can you share an event in your life that was difficult that God strengthened you through?"

Several things come to mind. What an amazing God we have who always uses difficult circumstances to grow and strengthen us!

I attended East Fork Apache Lutheran High School through ninth grade. For several reasons, my parents felt it was in my best interest to attend the high school in New Ulm, Minnesota which at the time shared the campus with the college. I had aunts and uncles and cousins nearby but I was very timid, shy, and insecure and found it devastating to leave home. Phone calls were not done in those days, and I only got home for Christmas. It was a terribly difficult time for me and yet the Lord used that time to “grow” me to put my trust in him, not just my parents, and find comfort in knowing he was with me.

I’m the third of seven children. The first three of us were born within three years. There were further gaps with the rest of the siblings. In fact, my youngest sister was born the year I graduated from high school. I was always especially close to my older sister. We knew things about each other that no one else knew! My younger siblings have such different memories from those of us who were older. In 1997 at the age of 58 she was killed by a drunk driver. How devastating! I still miss her so very much and thank God that I will see her again.

"Is there a moment that you saw God's hand so clearly guiding or providing for you?"

This is not a moment but through the years. My husband traveled for his sales career beginning before we had children. Sometimes weeks it was one night, sometimes four. My good and gracious God guided me as a not quite single mom. I’m not sure I always handled it well, but my adult kids are doing well in spite of me. God is good!

Also as president of LWMS; what an awesome time that he provided all that I needed. He truly does equip you for whatever he calls you to do. Don’t ever doubt that for one minute! I wasn’t “qualified” to do that. In fact, I decided not to do it twice but then found I was not at peace with that decision. He totally equipped me and gave me the most wonderful and amazing experience. I still can’t believe I got to do that!

When my son and his family were in Russia, they wanted so much for me to go for the birth of their first child. My husband was not able to go, but I couldn’t not go. As it turned out, I went five times, each time they had a baby. The travel was difficult – 30- 36 hours of travel with a 12 hour time change. But it was such a blessing to be part of the birth and in later trips spend time with the children. On one trip home I was held in immigration in Moscow for a couple of hours because of a problem with my passport. I felt vulnerable as I didn’t know the language and didn’t understand what was happening. At the same time I knew my Good Shepherd was with me and he knew the language! And he got me home!

"What’s next for you?"

I continue to serve LWMS in my circuit and congregation.

We recently sold our church property and are temporarily worshipping at a Holiday Inn while we arrange a restart. I pray that I get to do things to serve our God in new ways during this transition. I also ask him to give me opportunities to form relationships with people who do not yet know him.

Perhaps even more, I ask him to help me reach several young adults, who are my god-children with reminders of the promise I made in their behalf at their baptism. Oh how I pray that the Holy Spirit would use the Word they once heard and whatever circumstances to turn them back to him.

We look forward to celebrating our 5oth anniversary in June with all of our children and grandchildren here along with some siblings and some of their children.

Thanks and praise and honor and glory to our God who gave us Jesus and then continues to bless us day after day!

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