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12 September 2009

bring them in?

I wrote this post a couple of months ago, and I finally decided that it was time to share it. It is long. I ask in advance that you don't put words in my mouth. Stick with what I do say; not what I'm not saying. Above all, don't take my word for all of this. Instead, see if what I'm saying matches what the Bible says.

It’s been said before, by many people, that we regard "church" as a social club. For that reason, it may sound odd when I say that the Church is to be a group of believers and should not (and in fact, cannot) be made up of non-believers or half-hearted followers of Christ.

Do I want to ban non-believers from meeting with the Church? No. But I can’t find in the Word where we have the mandate to encourage non-believers to attend meetings of prayer and worship. Quite the opposite, in fact!

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
- Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT) (emphases mine)

Can a teacher equip a non-believer to fulfill God's purpose? Can we reach unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son if we're attempting to equip people who don't have faith or don't care much about God's Son?

The fact that most churches play host to so many people who don't actually follow Christ is at the root of so many problems that can be found in nearly every church fellowship: bickering and complaining, a lack of volunteers (though many church fellowships get themselves into this problem by generating busy-work with no Scriptural purpose), people who fill a seat on Sunday morning and aren't seen again until the following week (or less frequently), church-wide goals that aren't Biblical, and more.

Are we acting in accordance with Scripture when we set up our places of worship to draw in non-believers? The natural reaction is to say, "Of course we need to be bringing non-believers to 'church'!" but that instruction is not in my Bible (and probably can't be found in yours, either).

Do we expect that our churches will be able to worship, daily engaging their circle of friends and acquaintances for the sake of the Gospel, and be filled with the Holy Spirit if...
  • many of our people have never put their hand to the plow and begun following Christ
  • we never tell them that God expects everything of a believer
  • we have no system of accountability in discipleship because we don't want to offend people
  • we staff our teams, committees, and programs with people who don't know Christ
  • we consider "growth" to be a strictly numeric thing
 As I’ve written before, we have quite literally changed the definition of "church" in order to meet our desires and personal goals, and this isn't just alarming -- it's unscriptural and we should expect the judgment of God rather than His blessing.

The passages below are just a scratch on the surface of the Biblical picture of the Church:

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place...

And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
- Acts 2:1, 4-6 (NLT) (emphases mine)

Is anything about the character of the Church that’s apparent in these verses? If so, what? How about the meeting they were having? What made it unique? Here's more...

As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God...

"And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.
- Acts 4:23-24, 29-31 (NLT) (emphases mine)

A few interesting points:
  • the believers were meeting together
  • all of the believers in this meeting lifted their voices to God
  • the request for boldness to preach was for God's servants -- plural
  • they were filled with the Holy Spirit -- an impossibility for someone who doesn't know Christ
  • the resulting preaching after they were filled with the Holy Spirit was not left to one person. They all preached the Word of God with boldness.
 It seems very intuitive to say that we need to be bringing non-believers into a place where the Gospel is preached. Paul even takes it for granted that non-believers will occasionally be in our meetings: "Even so, if unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy." - 1 Corinthians 14:23 (NLT) (you guessed it -- emphasis mine)

Non-believers may indeed come to our meetings, but the instruction to preach to the non-converted at a meeting of the Church is conspicuously absent from the New Testament.

I’m not suggesting, nor do I believe, that we should discourage non-believers from being present while we worship God. If you got that message from what I’ve written, you’ve read between the lines and found something that wasn’t there.

Invite non-believers to "church"? How should we interact with them the rest of the week?

20 comments:

dubdynomite said...

You made some very good points here.

I could see where a church being "seeker sensitive" and/or trying to cater to non-believers with their services could get in the way of being able to provide what the believers need to grow spiritually.

Without adequate spiritual growth (which is real church growth in my opinion) then the church can't do the work of the ministry that the church leadership (pastors, teachers....) is supposed to be equipping them to do.

That is key in this discussion, because that actually puts responsibilities on believers as members of the church to do the work of the ministry as their leaders have equipped them.

I think there is a prevailing attitude in the church that all of the work of the ministry is to be done by the leadership/staff, which is really not the biblical guidance that we have.

And, the majority of that ministry work should take place outside of the walls of a church building.

Dean Lusk said...

Thanks, dub.

I'm right there with you on everything you said.

I think there is a prevailing attitude in the church that all of the work of the ministry is to be done by the leadership/staff, which is really not the biblical guidance that we have.

Being on staff, I've seen that this is reality. I don't blame non-people so much as I blame many of us who are on staff. We've reinforced the idea that this is the normal way to do things.

When this perpetuates itself (as it has for well over 1,500 years), we ensure that we have a non-functioning body, or at the least, a body whose muscles are atrophied.

Not only are believers being led to think that this is correct, but we're leading the non-believers who may be among our people to see this as a correct model, too.

Again, thanks for the good word, and welcome to the blog! (Don't think I've seen you comment before.) Reading your post on transitions now...

dubdynomite said...

Thanks for the response and your thoughtful comment on my blog. I'm adding you to my feed reader so I can keep up with you.

Looking forward to more conversation.

sarah chia said...

I think you're pretty right on.

This is why a lot of churches are using the trendy word "missional." The whole body needs to be reaching out to the world OUTSIDE the walls of the church building.

I think it's good for non-believers to come to church and all, but I think the worship service should be a time for (duh!) worship... which non-believers can't do. It also is a time to spur one another on to good deeds... encouragement for the Christians to go out and live the lives Christ has for them to live.

A church service shouldn't cater to non-believers, but of course we should welcome them and be willing to talk with them about questions they have because they didn't understand everything.

First and foremost the church needs to be about the Holy Spirit living in and through us. It's not a social club, and we need to be very careful about how and why we're making decisions. We need to make decisions because of the Spirit's leading, not because of what the seekers think they want out of a church.

(This seems a little rambly... sorry... I obviously haven't taken the time to organize my thoughts on this, even though Billy and I actually talk about this often... or we did when he was in full-time ministry)

Dean Lusk said...

This rocks. Sounds like Sarah totally agrees with me!! :-)

Hey, how come I didn't know you had a blog??

Tony M said...

Tried to comment earlier, but my phone wouldn't let me.

I wholeheartedly agree (think I've said that before)... I had a lot more in my comment before, but now I'll just say "I agree" (and maybe I'll expand more later... but everyone else seems to have already voiced most of my opinions anyway, I think).

(But: you don't blame "non-people" - does that mean you only blame the ones that are actually people? Heh-heh, just kidding - I think you meant to say "non-staff people" in your first comment response.)

Preston N said...

I would agree with both the points Dub and Dean have made here. I think staff and management perpetuate this problem - not the laymen so much. I also think some of this stems from a spirit of pride that tends to creep into church leadership. It's as if they get into an attitude of "how can they (the parishoner's) ever get along with out me?" sorta of frame of mind.

I am by no means saying this is the case with every person who serves on a church staff. What I do find puzzling is why is only the "pastor" or "ministers" are allowed to speak, preach or lead - what about plurality of leadership? I think what most church leadership tend to promote is that in order to be qualified to be a leader one must have a degree rather than be spiritually mature and a good knowledge of the Word. Instead, I think the church (modern day church that is) has missed countless opportunities to allow folks who are clearly mature and able to teach and lead, but instead were dismissed as not being "educated" or a seminarian.

sarah chia said...

Hmmm... I don't know why you didn't know I had a blog. Billy used to link to me all the time :) But you're not missing much... I don't think I've updated it since May! lol

Robby Newton said...

So how does evangelism fit within the framework of your thoughts? Could you describe what a church service (maybe even a "typical week's worth) might look like within the context of your post?

Dean Lusk said...

I'm surprised that no one asked the evangelism question before you did, Robby.

I believe that the only way we typically think about "evangelism" is within the context of a structured program or pertaining to an ordained minister who travels around. This is, of course, NOT true of every believer. It is, I'd argue, the way that the huge majority of church members think of evangelism.

I was about to rant about how we use the word "witness," but I'll hang onto that until I address your question in a post, Robby.

I don't know if I have a full blueprint of what a "church service" should look like, but I'm convinced that it's not going to look identical every week. And we do have some great Biblical precedent to go on! I hope I can address that issue in a post, as well.

Preston N said...

Robby - I am no longer a member of the "church" (as in the building on the corner), I am however a member of a group of believers who gather weekly at a home to share in a meal and to join collectively to worship, fellowship and to lift up Christ.

Our view on Evangelism is that it is the personal responsibility and calling of every believer to share the gospel. We do this in our homes (children), our neighborhoods, and our places of work. I personally do not believe it is the responsibility of one man (ie a pastor/leadership) to share the gospel, but that we are all to be equipped and ready to share the gospel. Most of our meetings are to teach and equip one another in developing their faith (and theology) so that we all are able to more than adequately share the gospel message and to be prepared to have an answer for our faith (apologetics).

What I find wrong with most churches today is most have a view of "Hey I'll drag my friend/co-worker/family member to church so that my pastor can save them", instead of being able and equipped to do the job themselves. The reason for this problem is rooted in too many issues to discuss here.

Fred McKinnon said...

Hey,
First - what is "egbdf" - did I miss the symbolism?

Second - great post, Dean. I've always leaned more in this direction. The church were I serve is seeker-friendly, which is a notch in the other direction from seeker-sensitive. Basically, that means that we'll provide authentic worship and sound, Biblical teaching for the Believer, but we'll do so (via communication, environments, presentation, etc) in such a way where a "seeker" can feel welcome - and that if that "seeker" is offended, it would be the WORD OF GOD that offends, and nothing we've done out of religious, judgmental nonsense.

That being said - I've seldom had a fish jump in my boat (I say seldom because I've had a fish jump in my boat before!) .... we have to go and fish for them. Go OUT.

I do believe that there can be an element of evangelism within the context of Local Church as well, though ... though I understand that we don't see specific Scripture telling us to do that ... I think the heart of Christ is ALWAYS bleeding for the lost (as well as His Church) ...

There is still this root issue of Christians leaving it up to the "clergy" to do the stuff ... that's just plain wrong. Each Believer should be equipped and empowered.

Why aren't we? Well, I think your initial Scripture touched on it. Most churches are NOT actively, intentionally employing (I don't necessarily mean "on staff" by the word "employing") the gifts of the 5-fold ministry ... we don't get the full buffet, if you will - we get a single-serving of "pastor", or "Teacher" or "Evangelist" or "Prophet", etc ... from the "Senior Pastor" whose job it is to preach every Sunday, and somehow, we think that that one man is all 5 gifts. So we have an unbalanced diet.

I think we should be intentional and strategic in identifying those "offices" and "gifts", and making sure are congregations get a healthy dose from all 5 of them ... THEN, and only THEN will we become mature.

OK, sorry for the long comment!
Fred

Robby Newton said...

Dean,

This posting highlights a basic and urgent need in the American church...a willingness to honestly and critically examine everything we are doing in light of scripture, and to adjust accordingly. It's a shame that most pastors lack the spiritual backbone to do this even if they wanted to, and that most laymen are so indifferent to the situation as to not care one way or the other.

Christy said...

This thought just dawned on me while reading through the comments here. I just completed reading Acts 6 a few minutes ago, and I wondered if the idea of "staff" doing the work started with this passage:

"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." Acts 6:1-4

I don't like to admit it, but I've always thought it sounded arrogant for the apostles to say they shouldn't be waiting on tables for the people. In a way I understand what their meaning was, but then again it just sounds harsh to me. Also, did this give the people the idea that waiting tables is all they were good for?

Please, gently correct me if need be.

Dean Lusk said...

Fred, fantastic to have you comment!

"EGBDF" is the name I gave the blog back when I started it. I thought it might be self-aggrandizing, or worse, completely boring, to call it "Dean Lusk's Blog". Though I've seen that's a common practice, I've kept the original name because of familiarity. I originally just wanted the name to communicate that it was the blog of a musician. That's about it.

I agree with the premise of what you've said. However, I believe that our ways of drawing and keeping people have become the very focus of why we do things the way we do them, rather than tools to direct people to Christ. Again, this is NOT a blanket statement, but from what I perceive it fits the mold quite well.

On the comments about staff. I agree.

Christy, that same thing has always been a nagging statement in the back of my mind, too. It sounds as if the apostles think that they're above that kind of work. If you take the phrase "wait on tables" to be a generic (and almost sarcastic) catch-all term, it sounds that way. But what if they're specifically talking about literally waiting on tables?

What I see here is a team of men -- men who'd been given the great privilege of walking with God in the flesh (no New Testament existed at that point) -- leading, and the body of Christ had grown to the point at which the team had to grow larger by necessity and becoming more specialized.

I see how this might justify the creation of a profession of people who study the Word. If that's the case, though, it would logically follow that the seven new men were supposed to make waiting on tables their profession, yet we've never moved forward with that idea.

Dean Lusk said...

By the way, I didn't directly say thanks to Preston and Robby for the comments. Crass. Thank you, guys. :-)

If this post seemed to go against the grain, I'm working on one that addresses one of Robby's questions and continues in anti-grain direction.

Preston N said...

Something to consider in regards to the Acts 6 passage. Take for example the words of Proverbs 11:30


The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; And he that is wise winneth souls

I truly beleive that the apostles realized this in so much that only those who had been thoroughly trained and were yeilding mature spiritual fruit in their lives were worthy of evangelizing in the early church.

Now consider this. What person at that time did the apostles consider NOT yet worthy to lead and was placed on KP duty???

STEPHEN! (See Acts 6:5)

When I look at Stephen and look at the wonderous monologue he gave to the Pharisee's and the fact that he was relagated to being a "Bus-boy" for God - it really makes me question myself as to if I am "wise" as Stephen to even clear off tables for God. Just a thought....

Leroy said...

How/where does spiritual maturity as an individual and as the Church (overall and locally) play into all of this? Not everybody can (or will) get "it" and certainly not at the same time. And by "it" I mean several things such as DOING (not just hearing), SELF-EVALUATION (too much other people-evaluation going on), TRADITION does not make it right, etc.

Diabolical Genius said...

Verrry interesting.

It's funny that a return to the way things were intended would now be viewed as thinking outside the box.

Just shows you how far sheep can stray and not even know it.

Dean Lusk said...

Diabolical! I mean... Friend whose identity I cannot reveal, great to have your comment!

I love this sentence: "It's funny that a return to the way things were intended would now be viewed as thinking outside the box."

Very ironic.

About to make a follow-up post on this subject (finally).

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