Pastor's Blog

Many evangelicals believe preaching the gospel means pleading with people to believe in Jesus so they can escape an eternal destiny in hell.

But this isn’t quite the message the apostles preached.  You won’t find hell even mentioned in the book of Acts, much less mentioned as the chief motivation for coming to faith in Christ.

Instead, the apostles call for allegiance to Jesus, the King promised in the Law and the Prophets, an identity confirmed by His resurrection.  Jesus’ resurrection also confirms that God’s plan for creating a world that worships, honors, and loves God and obeys His ways, though resisted in the world, will certainly come to pass. That plan is on track and moving toward its completion in the followers of the risen King.  The gospel message invites (or “commands” in Acts 17.30) every person to quit “the resistance” and pledge allegiance (faith and faithfulness, continuing loyalty) to King Jesus. Switch sides, exchange loyalties.  Change the course of your entire life in the choice of one moment.  Decide to follow Jesus.

The plea of the apostles isn’t “Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” (who isn’t?), but “Are you interested in becoming part of God’s new creation or not?”.  That is a slightly different question and is the challenge of the message of the apostles.

If you want to be a part of that new creation and pledge allegiance to Jesus, that decision throws you into a mighty river that has been flowing through history since at least the day that God confronted our first parents in the garden of Eden.  You don’t control it or determine its course.  It controls you and determines many things about life for you. 

When you believe in Jesus, your Christianity isn’t an isolated fact about your eternal destiny, though it includes that.  When you believe in Jesus, you become part of something bigger than yourself – the body of Christ, the hands and mouth that God uses to touch the world and speak to it. 

When you believe in Jesus, you are immediately connected to everyone else that believes in Jesus, to everyone that has ever believed in Jesus, and to everyone that will believe in Jesus in days to come. 

“Faith, Family, and Friendships” isn’t merely a marketing slogan.  It is a summary of what our church ought to be and do.  The church as a body exists first for itself.  If the church isn’t functioning to some degree, it will struggle to reach unbelievers, because coming to Jesus isn’t merely about you and your eternal destiny.  It’s about a larger thing that you are becoming a part of – and it was made to have skin on it.

When you follow Jesus, you become part of a body that builds the faith of its members (love God!) and that builds relationships of family and friendships to each other (love your neighbor!).

Faith, Family, and Friendships…

 

The “marketing” slogan we’ve chosen for our church is “Faith, Families, and Friendships”.  Let’s talk a bit about how my philosophy of ministry works its way out in that slogan.

The initial basic (but crucial) concept is that “Faith, Families, and Friendships” refers in the first place to connections among Christian believers. 

I was surprised to discover when I came to evangelicalism that many in the evangelical church seem to believe that the chief purpose of a meeting of believers is to persuade unbelievers to become believers.

In many churches the sermon every week is a “salvation message” – evangelical jargon for “persuade unbelievers to become believers”.

In some churches, the pastor closes every message with an “invitation” – evangelical jargon for “ask unbelievers to become believers” – even if the sermon had nothing to do with that topic.

More recently evangelical churches trying to reach unbelievers have adopted the philosophy of “the seeker service”, in which anything that might be offensive to unbelievers – e.g. references to sin, repentance, judgment, hell – are removed and the “service” is oriented toward the comfort and enjoyment of unbelievers. 

These approaches are at different ends of the spectrum, but they are, in my opinion, on the same spectrum – orienting the church meeting for unbelievers instead of for believers.

I umpire high school baseball.  One of the requirements of umpiring is attendance at umpiring meetings during the season.  We discuss technical rules of baseball, positioning on the field, handling difficult plays, and managing unruly coaches.

Suppose every meeting was not about improving umpiring skills but was instead a plea for those in attendance to choose to become umpires.  What a pointless waste of time that would be! 

I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t evangelize – we obviously must – and we will talk about how that fits “faith, families, and friendships” in upcoming blogs.  But the church is made up of believers, so we start with believers and what we’re trying to do with them.   

And we start with building the faith of the believers that choose to be here; with strengthening, guiding, and defending the families and family values of believers who want to raise their children in the faith; and with growing meaningful bonds of friendship between believing families that can support each other as they endeavor to maintain their faith and the faith of their children.

 

 

 

One Sunday morning I was entering our church at the same time as a family that was visiting for their first time.  I held the door for them, smiled, and said “good morning”, as they entered.  However, I was unable to chat with them once inside because my morning coffee was “coming through” and I had to make a beeline for the rest room.

Later I received word came that these visitors claimed that the pastor snubbed them, refused to greet them, and they felt unwelcome at the church.  The family didn’t know I was the pastor when I held the door for them.  They learned who I was when I went to the pulpit, and my failure to engage them once inside was deemed “uncaring” on my part.

I thought of that episode when I recently saw a church that had its marketing slogan on its exterior wall:  “The Caring Church”. 

Not “A Caring Church”.  “THE Caring Church”.

I hope the pastor there doesn’t drink coffee on a Sunday morning.

This is one reason I am somewhat hesitant about marketing and “branding”.  The minute you create a “brand”, you’d better live up to it and never fall short.

Some time ago it was suggested that the slogan “Faith, Family, and Friendships” effectively captures what Mountain View is about and we should use it as a slogan on our website and in our literature.  I’m not a fan of marketing, but in the spirit of “Bunny Ears” (last week’s blog), I said to go for it.  You’ll see that slogan popping up in different places around our church.

But – and I am writing DIRECTLY to attendees of Mountain View Chapel -- if we use a slogan like that, we’d better be about that, and those that come among us better sense it and taste it. 

Our pastors can encourage and try to facilitate an emphasis on “faith, families, and friendships”, but only the people and families of the church can create it. 

If we don’t -- if we fail to live out our slogans -- they become a target on our backs.

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