Pastor's Blog

I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but in our country, I don’t believe you’re going to see people want to become Christians merely based on the gospel message itself.  People are going to have to have a positive connection with the messengers first.

That’s you and me – and our church.

The old mentality narrowed everything to the presentation of “the magic words” – giving people Bible verses and theology.  But that was in a day when the Christian message (and religion in general) was respected by the culture as a positive thing.

That is no longer the case.  So, we’re trying to win people to ourselves, the messengers, first.

Because Jesus is Lord of all and because faith is not merely what we do in church but how we live life, every avenue of life becomes an avenue of connection with those that don’t believe.

That’s why I’m perfectly fine with our church sponsoring events that have no theological import at all – events that may do little more than create an opportunity to connect with people.

That’s why we had an Easter egg hunt. 
It’s why we did a Trunk or Treat.
It’s why we have volleyball on Friday nights. 
It’s why a home school co-op meets in our building.
It’s why we are a voting precinct.
It’s why we have local sports organizations for kids use our gym and ballfield.
It’s why we sponsor blood drives.
We do good because doing good is good.  But doing good is also a way of establishing trust with the general public.  If people don’t have a good opinion of the messenger, they’ll have a hard time accepting the messenger’s message.

One of the criticisms I’ve gotten from older folks is that this is “the social gospel”.  I understand the criticism but it’s not on-target.  The social gospel was the movement in the early 20th century that said the problem in the world is not individual sinners, but a corrupt society – and the solution to the problem is not the salvation of individual souls, but the fixing of our societal institutions.

I completely agree that the social gospel misses the mark.
Our efforts to do good things in the world are not designed to save the world, but to draw people to the message of Jesus that changes hearts one at a time.  That's not the social gospel.  That's a first step toward the saving message of Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise.
Proverbs 11.30 (KJV)

I had to memorize this verse as a teenager.  We were taught it was about “soul-winning” – evangelical code for “evangelizing” (cold-calling for Jesus door-to-door, handing out gospel tracts to passers-by at the mall, trying to convert people).
Which everyone found an obnoxious and unwelcome intrusion into their day, and which is the opposite of the instruction in this verse!

Annoying public behavior doesn’t “win” anyone.

The Hebrew word for “winneth” is the common word for “take”.  The ESV (which I use these days) translates it “whoever captures souls.”  (And “soul” doesn’t mean “the invisible part of you that survives death.”  It means “person”, as in the American idiom “that poor soul”). 

It is wise to capture (or win) PEOPLE. 

How do you win people?  How do you capture their interest? 
You behave in such a way that they are not repulsed by you and are drawn to you. 

It’s the way you live, behave, and interact with them that matters.  That’s the point of the first half of the verse.  The righteous man – his way of life, his character, his behavior – is the fruit he produces, and that becomes “a tree of life” – a tree that brings life (blessing and goodness) to others. 

The way a righteous man lives life becomes a delight to the eyes, food for the soul, and maybe even makes others wise – gives them examples and food for thought.

I think this is indeed related to evangelism, but not in the way that I was taught. 

We live in a society skeptical, not just of Christianity, but of religion in general.  Religion is equated with “cults”, and those serious about religion are deemed brainwashed.

If you want people to buy into Christ, first they must buy into you.  And maybe your circle of friends.  They must see that you’re not brainwashed, that you are rational and the things you believe are rational – and right and good.  That isn’t so much a matter of teaching data as it is living life with them and in front of them.

That means everything we DO becomes an avenue that can lead to Jesus, who is at the center of our lives.  Everything in our lives touched by the Rock becomes a ripple that can touch the lives of others.

Your interests in playing baseball or the trumpet or learning martial arts or being an emergency responder or fishing and hunting or cross-stitching or having a pet or bird-watching or hiking or your gardening – all of these “human” things can become avenues to connect in life with others, opportunities to give them a taste of your life and your soul.

And if Christ is in you, that fruit should taste good to them.  They don’t have to know exactly what it is that they’re tasting.  If it tastes good, chances are they’ll come back for seconds.

For where we are now, I find the analogy of a small town the most helpful for how to see the development and governance of our church. 

When you are part of a SMALL church, it’s more like a family.  Everyone pretty much knows everyone else and things can be governed in a casual manner.

When you’re a MID-SIZED church – under 500 people as we are now – you’re more like a small town and things must be run just a little differently, and there must be a change in the way we think about some things.

First, as much as we might desire it as an ideal, it is simply not possible to know everybody in the congregation equally well.  Just as in a small town, you may know the names of the people who live on the far side of town, you probably know your neighbors (or the few people with whom you have close connections for whatever reason) better. 

If you sit on the left side of the church with the people that you know, you might not know the people that sit on the right side.  And you know what?  That’s perfectly normal and just fine.

It may mean that we have awkward moments – like running into a “new face” and finding out that they’re not new at all but have been attending for a year and a half, but you’ve never encountered one another.

Some people get their noses bent out of shape about that – as though it’s a symptom of dysfunction – when, in fact, we should have a good laugh about it, recognizing that we just sit in different “neighborhoods” and our paths simply haven’t crossed before.  We should consider it a pleasure to have made a new acquaintance, and the relationship develops (or doesn’t develop) depending on whether our paths cross (or need to cross) again.

Not everyone in the church needs to be my intimate friend.

Some people – especially people from smaller churches -- struggle to adjust to this idea because they are accustomed to knowing everyone.  When they come into a mid-sized church and are trying to find a neighborhood where they fit, there is work that must be done, both on their part and on the part of the neighborhoods. 

I believe VERY STRONGLY that the neighborhoods have a greater responsibility to be attentive and recognize when someone new “moves in”.  Love reaches out to them.  It doesn’t put the onus on the new stranger; it opens its arms to try to welcome them to the neighborhood.

Sometimes we try to delegate this welcoming role to official greeters, trained and assigned by ‘corporate’.  Greeters can welcome people to the service and answer practical questions – where bathrooms are, where do my children go, when is the service over, and so forth.  But I believe thinking a greeter can make a person feel welcome in the neighborhood misses the target.

Someone from the neighborhood who, without having been assigned the task, reaches out to smile and say hello, demonstrates that tiny inkling of personal care and interest that makes a person feel welcome in the neighborhood.

Be that person.

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