Blessed are the dividers. Blessed are you if you don’t associate with sinners. Blessed are the churches with great bands and ministries that steal believers away from other churches. Blessed are the Pharisees (2 Crappalonians 3:16).
A few years back, while driving up a church driveway, I couldn’t help but laugh at what I saw. The first thing that stared me in the face as I entered the parking lot was a DO NOT ENTER sign. I know why it was there. It was a church with a lot of people and a tight parking lot. So obviously they needed to have some kind of flow of traffic. Having said that, a DO NOT ENTER sign is not a great first impression. That sign is symbolic of how so many modern day Pharisees are separating themselves from and offending the very people that Jesus wants them to reach.
In short, what I have discovered is that our modern church buildings are designed to welcome everyone except those that really need to be there. Moreover, when those that need to be there actually show up (even if by accident), we don’t know what to do! On Facebook, I’ve been witnessing the Pokémon Go phenomenon! At the time of writing this post, it’s been out for like 3 weeks or so. And I’ve noticed some Christians (with good intentions) recommending what they can do as people show up in their church parking lots.
Some have suggested handing out church brochures, tracts, and the like (with some kind of treat like water, granola bars, etc.). Other suggestions involve talking to the people, playing the game with them, and sparking conversation. Yet our overall goal and thought as Christians is to somehow get them to “church” on Sunday morning. I used to think this way without even realizing the fallacy. However, what I have come to learn in many painful ways is that inviting people to Sunday morning is not a good evangelism strategy. A Sunday show will not convert non-believers. Moreover, people that are unchurched will most likely not even enjoy it.
So the first way to ensure that people do not come to Jesus is to invite them to your Sunday church service. The sad reality is that most demons are asleep on the doorsteps of many of our church buildings in America. We give them no reason to wake up or try to deter people from coming because all the people that come are already believers. The demons do their work in other spaces to ensure that people stay far from Jesus. In fact, the reason they can sleep is because we do such a great job of destroying ourselves. While we are arguing about the color of the carpet, forming committees, and holding pointless meetings, the demons sleep soundly knowing that we are ineffective at best and downright disobedient, religious, Pharisee snobs at worst. We do such a great job at persecuting our own that the demons might actually feel bored.
Sadly, we have so many smart Christians with thousands of expository sermons under their belts, yet they have no idea how to apply them. They have no idea that they are not actually living how Jesus told us to live. They’re too busy studying to realizing they’re not doing. But Jesus didn’t gather people at the temple for entertainment value. He overturned the tables. Jesus didn’t give non-believers a hard time, He offended the religious people. Jesus went out to and ate with those that needed Him. It’s the exact opposite of our churches and Christians today. So I would call modern Christianity (that hides in a building and won’t lift a finger to actually help someone Jesus would have helped) shallow. I would call those that put themselves on the line out with people that still need Jesus (and try to build relationships with them) the deep ones.
The second way to ensure that people do not come to Jesus is to cut yourself off from people who are not squeaky clean like you. Please remember (as always) that I also am a recovering Pharisee. I take jabs at Pharisees not to hurt them but to knock some sense into them like God did with me. I still need a good kick in the head sometimes. So I’m not just offending you, I’m also offending myself. But this second way is the Achilles Heel of the modern church. I was taught from a very young age not to associate with people who were of questionable background and character. If someone was sharing a dirty joke at school or utilizing bad language, I was taught to act holier than thou and make it clear that Christians don’t do that! Unfortunately, it has even leaked into my parenting. At this point I’m trying to repent of this. Why? Because when we separate ourselves like that we are throwing up a wall between us and the people that need to hear the Good News of Jesus.
Just because I associate myself with a sinner does not mean that I will inherit their spiritual cooties! How else are we supposed to reach people if we don’t interact with them? Furthermore, many people who do accept Jesus (with a questionable background) are immediately shunned in many churches because they bring so much baggage with them. Yet how can we expect people to change their life-long behavior overnight? We can’t. It takes time. It takes the Holy Spirit. We can’t expect perfection overnight. I’m not perfect. I’m still repenting. I’m still a recovering Pharisee who was trained at a Pharisee Training Camp for my entire childhood, teenage years, and beyond! So how can I expect someone, who just came to Jesus, to be squeaky clean overnight? I can’t. In fact, they might never be as prim and proper as YOU!
The truth is that many modern churches have absolutely no concept of what to expect or how to reach people who are far from Jesus. Sadly, if those that pray the prayer are not immediately squeaky clean, modern day Pharisees refuse to baptize them and are trigger happy for Church Discipline to be enacted! What a joke! What they’re really saying is that they have no intention of reaching non-believers. They just want to reach other church people that have no problems or major sins to repent of because it might actually take some effort on our part! But getting squeaky clean people that are already Christians into your building on a Sunday morning should not be our goal! Yet that’s the evangelism strategy of many churches.
So what’s the answer? The short answer is to start building relationships with people that are far from Jesus. But please don’t invite them to church on Sunday morning. Invite them into your home for dinner first! Get to know them. Find out what makes them tick. Find common ground with them. Paul says, “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Cor.9:22 NLT). Hopefully, over time, you will earn the right to have a good, spiritual conversation that leads to Jesus. But we earn that right over time as we treat people with love and respect, not as projects or prizes to be won.
Over time, they might be interested in mingling with your missional community as you hang out together, party together, eat together, and discuss spiritual things together. And then maybe, down the road, they might be ready for the Sunday show. But Sunday is for those who already believe and are interested in further training on how to live this missional life. Those who didn’t grow up with it might never come on a Sunday morning. That’s ok. Wouldn’t it be better for them to come to the faith, be in community with other believers in a home setting, and start to learn to reach out in that setting? Coming to a Sunday show does not equal salvation. Becoming squeaky clean also does not equal salvation. Just ask the Pharisees! They were very religious and very lost. Jesus made that clear. Over time we can all make progress as we grow spiritually, but we can’t expect it to happen overnight.
“One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here-but you refuse to repent” (Matt.12:38-41 NLT).
The truth is that the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much like Jonah in many ways! They were refusing to go to Nineveh. Today, our church buildings have become the ship with all the storms! Perhaps if we jump off that ship, the lightbulb might go off in our heads while we’re inside the big fish. Furthermore, once we go to Nineveh and preach, we might find the evangelistic success that we so desire. We must stop complaining about and separating ourselves from the people of Nineveh guys! That’s who God is sending us to! God loves the people from Nineveh! He doesn’t necessarily always approve of what they do, but that’s who we’re called to love! We can’t keep running like Jonah. He wanted a wall of separation from them. Perhaps we should try the Jesus way rather than the Jonah way.
Questions to wrestle with…
- Is it realistic to expect someone with no church background to be converted in a 45-minute sermon on a Sunday morning? How can we be sure if someone really understands the Good News and what they are committing to? How can we answer their questions if Sunday morning is the only tool in our belt?
- How good of a job will we do at leading people to Jesus if we cut ourselves off from those that need to hear the Good News (Read 1 Cor.5:9-13)? What might be a better way to reach people other than handing out tracts or inviting them to a Sunday morning service? How did Jesus and the early church do it?