On Good News

I am becoming more and more skeptical of models and movements for church and growing the church. Some say small groups are the answer; some say the church must become outwardly focused; some insist we only need to preach enough love or enough social justice or enough good theology; some are still trying to plan better events.

But I just don’t think there is a magic potion for making disciples, and that, after all, is what I hope we mean by “growing the church”. I think the fact of the matter is, discipleship, following Christ, is just not all that sexy. There is a difference between “what people want” and what they really long for, deep in the cavities of their insides they’re afraid to acknowledge; which is why it’s generally fruitless to attract people with coffee and comfy chairs. And I’m grossly uncomfortable with the idea that a truly “missional” or “seeker-friendly” church will discard all the normal church distinctives in favor of the culture’s norms. There is something sacred about every church’s language and family rituals; you can never eliminate the distinction between “in” and “out”.

In the end, there’s just no getting around the fact that a person’s conversion from non-church-person to growing, praying, loving, committed member of Christ’s body is a sloooooooow process. Double the o’s there if the person is my age. The process will probably be punctuated by moments of clarity or decision, but those may be far between and unpredictable.

I hope though, that I am clear: I’m not trying to be discouraging; I care very much about evangelism and hospitality; I think we can and should invite others into life with God. But as I puzzle over how to do this, in a real live church in one of the nation’s most secular cities, I’m coming to the conclusion that a lot of the plans and strategies and “movements” are
A) unbalanced, and/or
B) trying to circumvent two of the most foundational and difficult steps in the process of making that invitation.

The first is being a disciple yourself. One of the many vexing and beautiful paradoxes of Christianity is that this life, lived abundantly as Jesus lived it, is so often full of deep joy and great sorrow in the same breath. So few are willing to live in either of those realities, shying away from God’s fierce, breathtaking love as well as the pain that obedience to him so often brings. But you cannot ask others to believe something you haven’t bought into yourself; if you are a Christian, be all the way Christian. Dive deep into God.

The second might sound overly simplistic, but I (re-)learned it from a bunch of socialists (community organizers), not from church. It is: talk to your friends about themselves and God. Ask them questions. Be genuinely curious, and be willing to wait out the answers. We’re always afraid we’re making people uncomfortable, but I think most people are receptive to someone asking them the courageous questions in a spirit of love. It’s not threatening to ask a friend for their story, to just say “What do you think about God” or “What have your experiences in church been like”. But it’s a risk to ask and a risk to answer. People should feel safe with you – and that requires you to be bravely vulnerable with them.

No one is looking for another thing to add to their schedule, another place to hone their skills at pretense, or another expectation they can’t measure up to. But they do want to belong, to trust, to find grace, and maybe even something to sacrifice for. Are Christ’s followers showing the way to those things? Or the way to a comfy chair?

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  November 8, 2012

    I have always believed this: people are not threatened by Jesus. People are threatened by the Church. And, after all, the Church killed Jesus.

    Reply

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