“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Responsibility

One of the questions I raised is how much responsibility do we have to the surrounding community, or do we have any at all? I find this to be a question which raises knee-jerk reactions and hackles all around. On one side, you have those whose response is "Of course, we have a responsibility, we must take care of all of the people we lay our eyes on". Then on the other side, you have those who emphatically state "No, our ministry is to those who are Christ's alone". And both sides can be quite passionate about their positions.

Now, I am a pastor at a small church, not an expert; but I have been on both sides of this argument, and I will tell you that the truth is somewhere in between. The folks who feel that every person in the community must be taken care of may be a wonderful idealist, but they are not always being a realist. Now, before all of you dogpile with the proverbial; "Trust that the Lord will provide..., our church does that every single week, but there still needs to be a focus to our ministry, or we will simply burn out the church.

I want to be helpful here with suggestions and not simply words that express my feeling, so here is my first suggestion -- no church can bear the responsibility for the poor alone. So, therefore you should not approach the poor with the idea that it is your church's responsibility to single-handedly 'save' the entire town.

Notice that the church in Acts 6 is concerned with their own poor, and not the poor of the entire city of Jerusalem -- they realized that their meager resources had to, first and foremost, take care of their own people within the family of God. So, if you are a small church such as ours, you must focus on your own poor first. Some churches, because of the nonsensical church-growth mindset of individualism, are completely unaware of those within their own church who are in need!

ONLY when you have taken care of those within your own fellowship should you contemplate reaching out into the community. By taking care of those within the fellowship first, you are able to not only provide for their physical needs but, because they are part of your family,. you are also able to provide for their spiritual needs, and their community needs.

So, that is the first part -- now what about those who say our 'outreach' should ONLY be to those within our church? When we look at Christ's ministry, we find that He helped and reached out to thousands, feeding them and teaching them. Yes, there was a specific group He spent most of His time with, but He did not ignore the world around Him. If you read the Sermon on the Mount, you will find some of these ideas -- Matthew 5:42ff -- Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

There are large churches around our town who, I am sure, do some work to the community around them, but these churches should be the ones who lead the way in doing this. I can tell you that they are not as I have been turned away from their churches after asking for help in our community outreach ministries. Many of these churches have their own 'programs' for doing this, but they are often far removed from the folks they are supposed to be helping, and quite often their 'program' involves a CFO sitting at a desk, writing out a check to some organization that they may have little interaction with outside of financial support.

Our responsibility goes beyond 'cutting a check' for a group; I live, literally, within 10 miles of at least four monster churches, and I have visited two of them and inquired about their programs, and found that they do exactly what I said above. While I applaud their financial support, I believe that the church should do much, much more than just send money. Some of these churches could easily support a true outreach center, where single, or battered women could find shelter and spiritual help, or where children could be taught etc.

It is a sad statement that those who are doing the most for the community are people that the Christian community labels as heretics. While some of these people are truly heretical in their view, and some are health and wealth acolytes, at least they are reaching their community. What does it say about the Christian community when the best-known example of community service comes from a church that teaches false doctrine? Why do we think people flock to some of these places?

The church is still a very divided place, and when CGM tells us to 'demographically' target our audience, we end up with racially, and economically divided churches. And no one 'targets' the economically disadvantaged -- trust me, I have been in two churches that actually used a demographic model, ala PDC/L, and not once did I hear -- "Hey, let's reach the needy in our community". What that spawns is a mindset that the 'needs' of the church need to be taken care of before venturing into the community.

"Now, wait a minute Ray, you just said that we should do that!" Read it again, I said the needs of the poor in the church should be taken care of -- not the comfort needs of the rich, many times white, suburban professional. Is putting in a Starbucks facade really taking care of the needs of the church? Is installing a big-screen monitor (or five!) really taking care of the needs of the church?

Does any pastor NEED a seven figure salary? Is a church being faithful with their funds and abilities when they have a staff that sucks up most of the tithing monies, and the rest go to HVAC to heat and cool the monstrosities that pass for churches nowadays?

My friends, we do have a responsibility to our communities -- we are to be the Body of Christ, reaching out into places where few will go, feeding, and nurturing those who are in most need. Many orthodox Christians throw darts at the many heretics, shucksters, and fools that populate the pulpit nowadays, but the sad fact is; many of these selfsame people are doing much more to reach the community.

The ancient Romans were embarrassed by the Christian communities care for even the pagan poor, sadly, today we are known more for what we stand against than our efforts top reach the community!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What is Food?

As I expressed in an earlier post -- the Christian community often has a difficult time, when working with the poor; balancing physical and spiritual needs. This is a difficult balance to maintain if one does not have clear Biblical understanding of the priority.

Many groups start with the best of intentions, but find that many poor and dispossessed have very little interest in hearing the Word, rather they only desire food that is temporal. This is understandable to a degree, but when we allow them to dictate the terms, we will not be doing these folks eternal good, but simply feeding their flesh for another day on this Earth where they will continue to eke out an existence for the here and now.

Instead we must proclaim the Good News FIRST and FOREMOST; this is our mission, as directed by our Lord and Savior. This is difficult, as we in our church know all too well. We are not always successful in our endeavor to share the Gospel with each and every person, but if you are working with a regular group of people, you should be actively sharing the Word with them in a way that is more meaningful that simply slipping them a tract or forcing them to sit through a 5 minute 'sermon' to receive their victuals.

Again, it goes back to investing time in the people. In the case of Messiah, he would spend time helping and healing the people, but He always combined this with teaching. Also, you must determine how many people, as a church, you can feasibly help. Now, if you are simply handing out sandwiches and coffee, then you can do that for a larger audience, but what I believe would be a good model is to find some folks who you can direct your attention to. Once a person has been discipled, often their first impulse is to share the Gospel with others who they can relate to -- i.e. others who are dispossessed. This is a great way to organically build up a ministry for the homeless -- we have had some limited success, but I will state that it is quite time-consuming, and can be draining.

I believe that you cannot simply decide to reach the poor in your community and then go set up a tent with free coffee and sandwiches -- there needs to be some structure around it. Also, handing out pamphlets and/or tracts is one way to reach your area, but I have found that this leads to a lot of wasted effort as most people toss the tracts (and besides that, finding decent tracts is a daunting task at times), so you need a definitive idea as to what you are doing.

We should never start a ministry to the poor with the goal to provide them with Subway sandwiches. As I stated earlier in this post -- the ministry must start out with the idea that we are to proclaim the Good News to these people, and should branch out from that central goal. As Paul did, we should preach Christ and Him crucified to a lost and dying world. Unless one has a solid grasp of Grace, they can get wrapped up in 'fixing' the physical, and neglecting the spiritual. If one truly believes in Hell, and is cognizant that we are all sinners saved by grace, then our impetus WILL be to proclaim the Gospel.

So, what is a good balance -- well, I certainly do not have all of the answers, but let me give you a few of my thoughts:

1. - Before going out and 'doing' something the church should spend time in prayer, asking for wisdom and guidance as they go into the community. This is so basic that I almost did not list it, but without a solid grounding of prayer we will be unprepared.

2. - Ensure that everyone who is involved in this ministry is well-versed in the Gospel, and can provide a clear presentation of it. This is one that is a struggle; far too many people are ill-prepared for a clear presentation of the Gospel.

3. - Identify folks who you can disciple and minister to. Get involved in their lives (wisdom should prevail here -- don't go find the biggest, baddest person just to prove your compassion). Share the Gospel with them, and ask how the church can help them. Be prepared; once people find out that you are trying to do this, you could well be inundated. Stick to your guns and do what you can do, and no more. It is better that a handful are reached, rather than getting swamped with many.

4. - Partner with other churches and para-church organizations.

5. - Get training on this type of ministry, and the do's and don'ts. You should be prepared for many 'out of the box' situations, especially if your church is in a normally comfortable, and affluent area. Work with your local police departments, and (believe it or not) VFW's, and local merchant's to learn of those who are 'truly' needy, and regulars around town.

Proper prayer and preparation will lead to rewarding ministry amongst some of our country's neediest people (both physically and spiritually). It might even change your church! I fear that we are as xenophobic as were the disciples. They did not like Tax Collectors (Matthew), Samaritans (John 4), and a variety of others, yet Jesus Christ reached out to these people. When you actually get to know someone of a different race or culture you may be surprised how much like you they really are!

All need the Grace of God!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Programs or People?

At one point in time in this country, the church was the dispenser of compassion amongst the poor. Church doors used to be installed without locks, and the poor were welcome.

That seemed to change once the US experienced some economic and political power in the mid to late 20th century. The church went through a similar path of success -- yes, church attendance may have gone down by the late 50's, early 60's, however, before that most people went to church, and the church prospered along with the country. It was at this point in time that churches seemed to have dropped the ball, and became more consumed with their internal concerns and less with the concerns of the world around them. Churches began to grow larger and more stultified in their outreach to the dispossessed. Churches were now locked, and community focus narrowed.

As time went on, and mainstream denominations began to fall on hard times, they become more and more insular in their perspective, eventually many abandoned the orthodox faith in order to attract more attendees, and the church became a battleground for political ideals, while social concerns were distanced more and more from the parishoner and given over to 'professional' para-church organizations to handle, as care for the poor became politicized and no longer the realm of the 'common man'.

Now, I am not trying to whitewash some of the issues that the church struggled with -- racism and other concerns definitely affected the way the church handled working with the poor, but by and large, churches were the place where a poor person could find help. (Maybe one day we could cover some of this in another series)

As the church stepped back from their role in society, the government picked up the slack. The problem is that the government is notoriously bad at handling these types of issues; in working with the poor, and the dispossessed, there are many nuances and subtleties, and the government is not structured to handle that -- they are a broad-brush solutions group.

When the church allowed the government to do this, I believe that many felt relieved not to be responsible for their brothers any longer (all the while griping about their tax dollars supporting those they considered 'lazy'), and some of these self-same folks became vocal activist against the 'welfare state', all the while offering no biblically-based solution. And then, once we had a generation of church-attenders who grew up with the idea of the government running a 'safety net' for the poor, there was no longer a compulsion to actually get involved with the poor.

We now find ourselves in an environment where the church, by and large, has very little interaction with the poor -- we have given that responsibility over to the 'urban' or 'street' ministries, or the 'professionals' within the government.

While that may sound great, the truth is that the poor and the needy require more than a hot meal and a place to sleep (but not less). I have found that many 'street' ministries are run by people who do a lot of physical feeding of the hungry, but very little spiritual feeding. Most times they are run by well-meaning and compassionate but understaffed and underqualified people. So, what could we do to alleviate that? First, churches could partner with these street ministries, providing theological training and financial assistance to the staff. Second, encourage our people to get out and work with the needy, getting to know them, and not simply throwing their money at the problem. Oftentimes many of these folks need a friend, or a wise counselor, not simply a new pair of shoes.

We have adopted a few folks into our church, and it has been amazing to see the results. Not only do the former homeless folks benefit from our assistance, but we begin to see more clearly the Scriptures such as James 1:27 -- Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.; or Matthew 25:34-40 -- Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' We have been changed in our interaction with these folks as much as they have. Putting a face to the descriptor 'homeless' changes one's perspective.

What the church needs to do is reach out to those in their local community, providing spiritual and physical sustenance, partnering with other existing ministries, and, if necessary, providing them with training. The congregations need to be heavily encouraged by their pastors to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in the glorious work of proclaiming the gospel to the poor, and coming alongside them to lift them up.

As a final note -- I find that the larger the church, the less involvement they want to have -- that is not an absolute truth, but an observation. They may provide funds, but to get them to bring in some folks and 'adopt' them is difficult. Many in these churches are clean, affluent, and comfortable, and the sight of poor in their midst is upsetting. Also, the pastor needs to set the tone, and if he is too busy, or worse, too important, then the people take their lead from him.

I know that I have not covered this completely, and there will be more posts, but these are the initial observations that I wanted to post.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Observations

I wanted to start this series by making some basic observations. I apologize in advance for the rambling style in this post -- these are just thoughts and ideas that I wanted to put down before I started working to put together this series.

I recently spent a week in Las Vegas, attending a conference, and I was struck by a couple of things; as I traveled, I noticed that the people who are 'service-oriented' are almost invisible to the common traveler. These are the people who empty the trash, sweep the floors, pick up our mess, etc., and I found myself asking this question -- Would these people be invisible to our Lord and Savior? Have we, as Christians, become blind, or worse, callous in our day-to-day interactions with others?

I am not saying that none of these people are Christians, I have no way of knowing that, but I was simply struck by the fact that there is a sub-culture of 'invisible' people within US society. And with that observation, I wondered, "How well do we reach those around us who are 'invisible' in our community?" I am often struck by the fact that churches have outreach programs to the 'distant' inner-city, or maybe to some exotic foreign land, but I have found that is more uncommon to have an outreach within the communities that we find ourselves.

My church is in a community that has more than its share of drug abuse, and poverty, and yet when I have been part of conversations about reaching the community, I have been surprised by many pastors who don't have 'time' to reach the community, instead they are busy sending missionaries to distant lands! Now, with that being said, there are several wonderful pastors who have a heart for this community, but many often have more 'important' items on their plates.

The people within our community who are the nearest to us often become invisible, or only visible when they become a nuisance. I fear that when it comes to working with the poor, the hungry, the homeless, we are more eager to give them a coin and send them on their way, rather than bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to them along with taking care of their physical needs. More often the church sends money to someone else and lets THEM interact with these folks! We should do much more than simply tossing these people a bone: now I will tell you that this is a lot more work than giving them $20 and a pat on the back -- but the church needs to have compassion more than it needs a program for the poor!

I fear that the church dehumanizes the dispossessed, unintentionally at times, but nonetheless it has the same effect. I remember taking a youth group down to a homeless shelter to feed the homeless folks -- these youth were from a predominately affluent part of town. I will never forget one of the youth saying to me, after we had returned to 'Pleasantville':

"This, (Pleasantville), is not real -- there is a world that exists outside of it!" She then followed that up with this one: "Those people looked just like us"; you see, in her Pleasantville experience, she only knew the homeless by the stories on the news, which dehumanized the people, or made them simply pitiful victims, but not flesh and blood people with emotions, and feelings, and desires etc.

Has the church removed itself from the hurt and dirty work of dealing with the less fortunate -- have we gotten to the place where we 'hire' others to help the dispossessed?

As I go through this series, and ponder what our response should be, as Christians, to the question of hunger, and poverty, I want to ask myself some hard questions. Here are a few I want to ponder:

1. Are Christians more apt to 'send money' to needy organizations, as opposed to actually rolling up their sleeves to get involved? Why is that?

2. What should community services look like? What should the division be between feeding the hungry and proclaiming the Good News to them? Can we become TOO social; to the neglect of their spiritual needs, or vice-versa, can we become completely focused on the Gospel to the exclusion of the physical needs?

3. How could we, as Christians, do a better job of helping the body of Christ? Let me give you an example -- when there is a church that makes in excess of 100K per Service/Sunday in offerings, do they have any responsible to the community around them? And what should that responsibility be?

4. What things could the church do to be a force for positive change in society, as opposed to a boat being shoved around by political, and societal forces?

These are just a few things running around in my head -- they may change, or you may find them to be too simplistic, or even superfluous -- I would ask that you interact with me, and help me out -- I am looking in to these things -- I don't have the definitive answers to them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Carl Trueman on Christian Freudom

I really enjoy reading Carl Trueman; he is very bright (much more so than say, yours truly), and he has a wicked sense of humor. I mean wicked in the best sense of the word

Anyway, his latest article over at Reformation21 is just too good to pass up.

Enjoy, and I will soon begin the promised series.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Series

The next series I am contemplating is one on a Christian response to hunger, poverty and the poor. I have been thinking about this for a while, and have even posted several times on this.

I want to say that I do not have the definitive word on this subject -- many have written on this much more capably than I. I will simply approach it from a pastor of a small out-reach church. I believe that this is one area where the Church in the West needs to get their priorities together; I believe that part of the reason that we struggle with this is because of the issues that I just finished posting on.

When one's attention is focused primarily inward, and much of their life is consumed in narcissitic ventures, then the people who are missed are often the very ones we are commanded to take care of. This is not a 'social' gospel mentality; I do not believe that the church's primary role is to feed the homeless -- it is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, first and foremost. However, it is one of the functions of the church.

Some pastors, heady with the success of their foray into the political arena have made 'curing' some disease, or feeding everyone the primary focus of their vast resources, and have left the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the table, forgotten as they lift their own name up, and glorify themselves. That may be addressed in this series, but I think I would like to stay in the realm of 'what should we be doing?'.

I hope to post the first thought soon, I am on the road right now, so it may take a bit.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Christian Life - Part VIII - The Cult of Moralism

This will probably be my final post in this area -- I am sure there are many things I have missed, but I have some other things percolating -- I may revisit this again.

One of my thoughts is that I could address how we combat these things infiltrating our churches. While I have made some basic suggestions, I think there are some that could use an in-depth discussion.

So, what do I consider the Cult of Moralism to be? It is the cult that considers the 'job' of the church to be making 'better' people. Now, at first blush, this seems to be a good thing; I agree that it is a good thing, but it is not the 'best' thing. Christ did not die on the cross to make 'better' people, but to redeem a people! This is a big difference!

This cult is recognizable by their heavily moralistic sermons -- i.e. "How to Be a Better Husband, Father, Sibling, Golfer", or the ubiquitious "How to Get More/All Out of Life, Your Job, Your Marriage, Your Hobby", or finally "How to Lose Weight, Learn to Balance Your Checkbook, Cook Low-Carb", etc. etc. etc.

Now, is there anything wrong with these topics? Not at all -- they just do not happen to have anything to do with the Gospel! And what I find fascinating is that the very churches who make claims that they are 'reaching' so many people are the very ones who are most prone to this cult! Now, if a church is truly reaching the lost, but only providing them with the aforementioned sermons, how is it exactly that they are reaching the lost? Will being a better parent provide salvation? Will being able to cook Atkins-style meals actually provide some value in the hereafter? I think not!

We have come to a place where the church has the mistaken mentality that somehow making people better is making them Christians! This is bad on many fronts, but let me simply address one area -- MAKING PEOPLE BETTER IS NOT THE GOSPEL!.

I would like to say that if making people 'moral' was the key to salvation, then we should remove Matthew 23, where Jesus gives seven woes to the Pharisees; these were very 'moral' people -- why did He have a problem with them? What about the 'rich young ruler' who claims that he did all of the commandements since his youth [Mark 10:17ff]? Is it true that if the young man had simply sold his stuff then he would have been moral enough to inherit heaven?

Now, don't get me wrong -- Christians SHOULD be moral people -- however, this is not the Gospel. If we want to truly impact our society, we need to preach the Gospel, people need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and once they are a new creation they begin a lifelong process of sanctification by the life-changing impact of the Holy Spirit.

Why do I have a beef with the moralistic sermon [preached exculsively, in lieu of the Gospel]? Because this is the type of thing that may convince someone that they are a Christian, simply because they are a good father, or go to church and they have earned how to be 'moral'. These are things that you can learn from ANY religion, or, for that matter, from watching Oprah, or Dr. Phil!

We [the church] are to be in the business of proclaiming the Gospel, teaching people to obey the commands of Jesus Christ and living in fellowship with other believers. While it is entirely appropriate to preach moralistic messages when exegeting a text, it is entirely wrong-headed to make that the exclusive diet of the flock!

Good people do not go to Heaven -- Redeemed people do! And if there is no one preaching the Gospel we are doing a grave injustice to many, many people sitting in our churches week after week.

Let me leave you with this quote from Paul -- Romans 10:13, 14 -- For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

While teaching people how to be moral might bring numbers into your church, and quite frankly is easier, and safer, than preaching the Gospel, it is no substitute for preaching that directs people to call upon the name of the Lord -- As Paul asks -- How else shall they be saved?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Christian Life - Part VII - The Cult of Evangelism

You may be saying: "OK Ray, I have been with you through the other sections of this series, but 'Cult of Evangelism'? That is too much! There cannot be a cult of evangelism!"

I pray that you will bear with me and see if you are suffering from the cult of evangelism. BTW, as I write these posts, I do not want people to think that our church is immune from any and all of these issues -- we struggle with them like any church; my point in posting these is to keep us all vigilant.

So, what is the 'Cult of Evangelism'? Well, it is the cult that promotes the mindset that ANYTHING done to bring people into their church is not only OK, but Biblical! We see this mindset in some of the following ways:

1. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if your idea of evangelism is to give away a car, motorcycle, or big-screen TV to the people that bring the most friends/proselytes/bored relatives/strangers to the church within a given period of time.

2. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if you believe that you must have a famous ex-football player, wrestler, actor, NASCAR driver speak, at your church (regardless of their ability, or even beliefs!) on 'evangelism' Sunday! (And why do we have 'evangelism Sundays'; aren't all days for evangelism?)

3. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if you believe that the number of people who show up on Sunday morning to hear the professional 'Worship Team' and see the Las Vegas-style message indicate your level of success. I have read many, many statistics that show the level of actual discipleship that goes on in many churches is abysmal -- unless you get 'plugged in' to a small group that fits your profile, you will slip through the cracks. While I am not against Small groups per se, see my post on The Cult of Individualism.

4. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if you have a church of 2000 members, of which 78 show up on Sunday morning, or any other time for that matter. You have made people members simply because they were worked into an emotional frenzy by a professional 'pleaer', convinced to sign a membership card, maybe even prayed the little pray that is printed on the 'Evangelism' card, but there was no discipleship, or follow-up -- their one-time emotional decision has left them with buyer's remorse, and you with a bloated membership roll -- of course you may parade around the number of 'decisions' as a mark of honor without even being aware of the true spiritual condition of many of your 'converts'.

Why am I so hard on this? Because the Church, like Esau of old, has sold her birthright for a bowl of pottage. We have a wonderful birthright -- we are the Children of God, and have the unbelievable priviledge to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to all peoples, places and nations. Yet, for the immediate gratification of a bowl of pottage, in the form of membership numbers, or church size, we have sold that birthright. We no longer preach the Good News of the Gospel -- we now 'evangelize' by using marketing techniques, even going so far as to hire professional, secular marketing groups to do our work for us!

We demographically dissect the community around us, determining WHO we want to reach (sad to say, that is often the ones who will be able to best 'fund' our ministry), all the while ignoring or marginalizing anyone who does not fit that profile. In our community we have several poor areas that several groups within the local church body wanted to evangelize for years, but I actually heard a pastor say that these groups were ..."not in the profile for the demographic that we wanted to reach". The wonderful thing is that people ignored him, and went in to these communities to preach the Word!

We use gimmicks, and gadgets to bring people in; I have even heard of a church that had an outreach event disguised as a lingerie show, others have even raffled off dinner with the pastor for the one who brings in the most people. My friends this is not evangelism -- this is growth at any cost, the ultimate in pragmatic outreach!

When we turn to the Scriptures we do not find the disciples engaged in this nonsense -- their preaching was straightforward, their message clear, and the people who responded were changed! Go read Peter's sermon in Acts 2 -- 3000 were added to the church that day! Seems like pretty effective evangelism to me. And yet, he did not revert to giving away a donkey or putting up a special speaker for the morning -- he simply preached the gospel. There are some who would say -- "Well, we get them in using these tactics, but then we preach the Gospel to them" I have two observations regarding that --

First, I disagree -- I have been to several churches who use these worldly gimmicks to bring people in, and I have yet to hear the Word preached at their church at all! Most of these folks don't want to 'scare off' the people they have 'tricked' into coming to church, so they inevitably water down the gospel until it is unrecognizeable. Sadly, many of these people think they are doing a great job of evangelizing, but in reality they are simply creating a big club, where everyone gets together on Sunday morning to share a cup of designer coffee, and buy books from their cult leader -- I mean, Pastor!

Secondly, If you think that using a 'bait and switch' technique is acceptable, then not only do you not understand our commission, you are blatantly lying to people, and were I an unbeliever caught up in that, I would be unhappy once I figured it out. This is one reason why many of the huge churches are a revolving door -- yes many people are coming in, but a good number go right back out the back door. And sadly, what churches have done is given these folks just enough 'church' to make them believe that they are 'saved'.

Well what is our commission? Matthew 28:19, 20 -- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

How many modern Pastors believe that Jesus Christ is with us, even to the end of the age? If they do, they have a funny way of expressing their confidence in that truth -- by reverting to worldly tricks, gimmicks, and methods to bring people to their church! And how many of these people teach the new believers within their church to observe all that Christ commanded? Sadly, it has been my experience that far too few do so.

Let us be churches who have a burning desire to reach the lost WITH the Good News of the Gospel, NOT the perishable junk of worldly methods. These methods are here today and fade tomorrow, leaving pastors stuck looking for the next biggest, best method; all the while many leave the unperishable, life-changing, eternal, Word of God safely up on a shelf somewhere -- to be brought down only for a few good ideas!