Do you want to know why many lost people don’t like coming to church? Because we don’t like them. Think that’s harsh? Then keep reading.
Lost people were drawn to Jesus (Luke 15:1). But I fear that our Christianity often repulses people instead of attracting people. Many who are lost see Christianity as a stiff cult that doesn’t have much to offer except angry preferences and harsh judgments. In reaction to this, a lot of younger Christians (my age) have tried to attract people to the Gospel with a new stand – no beliefs, and no rules. Everything goes! You can come as you are and leave as you are because God loves everyone. However, neither one is effective, and neither one is Christ-like.
We see these two opposite spectrums because I believe in every heart there is the tendency to be either an arrogant rebel or an arrogant rule-keeper. Who is the only person who ever found the balance between these? Jesus. We see it in the following story.
Matthew 9:10-11 – “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”
When it comes to reaching people, Christians and churches have chosen one of two mistaken mindsets in recent years.
Mistaken Mindset #1: “We have to be like sinners to reach sinners!”
Ever heard somebody say something like this? In this article, a church in our area chooses to have Gospel sing-alongs in a bar so they can reach people with the Gospel. I believe the Bible strongly disapproves of this outreach method (II Corinthians 6:17, Romans 12:1-2). Furthermore, Jesus did not participate in this outreach method. Proponents of this belief sometimes use the story in Matthew 9 as license for their method – “Well Jesus ate with publicans and sinners to reach them!” Yes, He ate with them, but He didn’t sin with them. Jesus didn’t go to a non-Kosher restaurant to find sinners, sit down with them, and then say, “Hey, pass the pork.” Jesus reached people without breaking God’s law. In other words, He spent time with them, but He didn’t participate in sin with them. There is a huge difference! Sinners didn’t come to Jesus because He was like them, they came to Him because He had something different to offer. Christians who elevate liberty and grace above all else need to realize there are boundaries.
Mistaken Mindset #2: “Sinners have to be like us for us to reach them!”
Christians these days seem to be in absolute shock and bewilderment over the current events in our nation. But why are we surprised when lost people act lost? And to keep corruption out of the church, we’ve put up such a strong wall that we’ve made it difficult for lost people to get saved. If we’re not careful in independent, conservative circles, we’ll develop a judgmental mindset that (whether we intend to or not) expects everyone to be exactly like we are. And anyone who isn’t is wrong. And anyone who is wrong needs to get right before they can be around us. This attitude tells the world, “We have the box where God lives, and unless you conform to this box, you’re not invited in.” As a result, lost people see a list of rules that they’re judged by instead of a God that they’re loved by. That’s how the Pharisees came across, but that’s not how Jesus came across. Pharisees analyze behavior and condemn people quickly. Jesus accepts people and changes behavior gradually. There is a huge difference! Acceptance is never based on how someone performs. Sanctification is a process, and I’m grateful that God is more patient with me in that process than I am with others. Sinners need our love and our patience, otherwise they’ll never want our Gospel. If everyone you’re close to looks like you, talks like you, and acts like you – you might be a Pharisee!
Like Jesus, we as Christians must have truth and standards. God wants to change all of our lives to look more like Him every day! We must realize Jesus didn’t draw people because HE was exactly like THEM. But He also didn’t reject people because THEY weren’t exactly like HIM. Sinners came because of what He offered, stayed because of how He loved, and changed because of how He helped.
I wonder – are lost people curious to talk to you at work? Do they come into our church because of the love, acceptance, and hope they’ve never received anywhere else but find in us? Do people with purple hair, tattoos, out-of-wedlock children, and persistent addictions feel welcomed and accepted by us while we show them the power of Jesus? Do they feel inspired and motivated to change into who HE wants them to be, or do they feel judged because they’re not who WE want them to be? Do we catch ourselves casting a judgmental gaze because they don’t look just like we do? I know this – if lost people don’t find acceptance in the church, they’ll find it in the world. And once they find it there, they probably won’t come back.
Many churches say, “We love having visitors”…but what they really mean is, “We love having people come who already look like us.” And it should be no wonder then why lost people either don’t come or don’t stay – because they are made to feel awkward and condemned instead of accepted and loved. What about the teenager who’s addicted to rock music, the young couple in an immoral relationship, or the college student dressed in emo clothes…do we get our hands dirty and disciple them through a long process of Biblical change, or do we quickly give up and write them off because they don’t “just get it”?
Jesus had rules – He didn’t compromise to reach people. And Jesus had plans – He didn’t leave people the way He found them. But because He accepted them, He motivated them to change instead of making them conform.
Who do you know that doesn’t look like you, but needs what you have to offer, and might just want it if you accept them unconditionally?