Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
– Matthew 22:37-40
Let me know if this scenario seems familiar…
You are sitting in alone in church, crossing and un-crossing your legs, trying to find a way to be comfortable in the awkwardly small fabric chair. It’s the introductory period before the service begins. The time reserved for the meet-and-greet, when you are supposed to get to know the fellow patrons and form those community ties the pastor always seems to be talking about.
As you’re looking around lazily, at nothing in particular, you happen to make eye contact with a fellow straggler standing nearby.
They smile, so you politely return the gesture.
They begin to walk towards you. You stand up and make your introduction.
Things seem to be going well, casual small talk. “Is this your first time?” has been asked yet again.
And then it happens. The inevitable.
It begins innocently enough. The conversation turns to weekend activities or hobbies. A question about families is asked or a political remark is thrown out.
And suddenly, you see their expression change. All at once their face turns from “I’m so happy to be getting to know you” to “Oh gosh, you’re one of THOSE”.
The broken. The less-than. The outsider.
Whether it was the comment about having visited a bar in the past month, a casually slipped in expletive or the implication that you may have – wait for it – purposefully voted for a Democrat, the jig is up.
Now they know. They know that you are unworthy to be in church. Unworthy of their friendship.
Unworthy of the title “Christian”
Walking away from church
I’ve mentioned before how I fell away from the church for a number of years.
There was a period of time when I would attend on the occasional Sunday, but would walk in with my head down, listen to the message and walk out.
I was sure to interact with as few church-goers as possible.
This scenario is the reason why.
I had become accustomed to receiving this reaction from those I was speaking with. The complete shock and embarrassment apparent on their face when they heard the first indication that I was less than perfect. That I was a real human with real flaws and real problems.
That maybe I was in need of grace.
I was turned off church entirely
When I walked into the building, I was searching for a home. A place where I could be myself and be welcomed as I was – brokenness and all.
Instead I kept finding myself at Barbi’s Dream House. Full of fake smiles, plastic handshakes and cookie-cutter students reciting rehearsed welcome speeches.
I was sick of it. I needed something real.
Over the past week, I have had this exact same conversation with three different people, which has led me to believe there are more of us out there.
Those who want to know the Lord, but feel too ashamed to step foot inside a church.
Those who want to know what this whole “Christianity” thing is about, but feel that they’re turned away at the first sign of humanity.
Those who are seeking a hospital, but keep ending up at a museum.
So what do we do?
How to we, as Christians, reach out to those most in need?
Well, after a lot of talking and a lot of praying, here’s what I’ve come up with.
The 6 biggest mistakes Christians need to stop making.
1. Only being friends with other Christians
This is a hard skill to learn. It is apparent that this skill is one few churches actually teach. I’ll admit I was guilty of it myself at one point, but Christians tend to turn church into a bubble. We are friends with only fellow Christians.
Our first conversation upon meeting anyone new is “what church do you attend?” followed by “what’s your favorite bible verse?” We’ve all but lost the ability to get to know non-Christians. Church is safe. Fellow Christians are easy to make strong connections with. We are called to have a fellowship of good, strong believers to encourage us in our walk.
But more than that, we’re called to eat with the sinners (Mark 2:17). We’re called to reach out to the prostitutes and the tax collectors. We’re called to go out into the world (Matt. 28:19). We cannot go into the world if we never dare venture outside the high walls of the church (Matt. 5:15).
2. Putting a limit on forgiveness
I’m sure I’m guilty of this one as well. We’re all smiles until someone mentions they’ve committed one of the “big” sins. You know which ones I mean. Sex, alcohol, drugs (in that order). Find out someone is a recovering addict, and you’ll happily introduce them to your small group – so long as they can prove they are still going to meetings.
Do they enjoy going out to the bars on Saturday night? Well, they’re welcome to go out to lunch with you after service, but only if they promise never to be seen drinking in public again. No longer a virgin? Alright, God’s grace does apply to everyone…to an extent.
They’re allowed forgiveness, but CANNOT make that mistake again. They’re damaged goods now, but maybe one day (if they’re lucky) they’ll find someone willing to forgive their past and love them as Jesus does. Oh no, slipped and fallen back into sin? Sorry. The church can’t tolerate moral failings. Wouldn’t want anyone to believe we’ve got a congregation full of sinners. Better luck at the non-denominational church down the road. I’ve heard they’re more “open minded”.
Humans sin. They make mistakes.
Sometimes, they make the same mistake over and over again (Hosea 3:1). Jesus’ love, forgiveness and grace are unconditional (Rom.5:8). It’s time to make that message the focus rather than writing each other off because we’ve back-tracked one too many times (Matt. 18:22).
3. Refusing to be honest
We all struggle. We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). To sin is to be human. So why is the façade necessary? Why perpetuate the hypocrisy? We are broken. We are ALL tempted (Heb. 4:13-16). So why is it so hard for us to admit this?
Maybe if we were willing to be a bit more honest, it wouldn’t be such a scandal when one of our leaders comes out as having commit one of the “big” sins. Maybe if we were all more honest about our temptation, we could be what Jesus originally intended for the church – a place of accountability and encouragement (Heb. 3:13). Maybe then we would be able to stand a little stronger against sin.
It’s much easier to resist temptation when you know you’re not struggling alone (Ecc. 3:12). It’s much easier to find grace and healing after sin when you aren’t made to feel you’re the only person in the church body who has ever sinned in that particular way. It’s much easier to be honest when you aren’t afraid of being ex-communicated just for admitting humanity.
4. Promoting the idea that “ministry” requires working in/for a church
I’m not sure when this idea began, but I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the problem of only being friends with fellow Christians. Somewhere along the line, churches have stopped building disciples and have started building church workers. I can understand the underlying motivation here – churches take work. Especially growing churches are in desperate need of volunteers. When people have a limited amount of time to give, it is hard to encourage members to go out into the world to share their gifts rather than give back to the church first. However, the danger comes when individuals feel that “ministering” is impossible outside of church walls.
When I first began looking for a “real person” job, I had felt the Lord calling me into ministry for about a year. In my mind, since I clearly wasn’t called to be a foreign missionary, working in ministry meant I had to be working in a church. I applied at every like-minded church in the area, had several promising interviews, and ended up with no job offers. So, I applied to seminary. Rejected again. I just could not understand. How I could be so certain the Lord was calling me into ministry only to watch the door close in my face again and again. It wasn’t until I was about two months into my corporate job that I heard a sermon over the idea of “blooming where you’re planted”. The idea that ministry can happen anywhere – and often, we’re called to be ministers OUTSIDE of the church. I had never heard this before in my life.
Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13).
Well, if salt spends its entire existence inside a salt shaker, it’s safe to assume it will indeed “lose its saltiness”. Or at least miss the point of saltiness entirely.
That’s not to speak against giving back to the church or working in or for a church if that is truly where the Lord has called you. But, given the number of Christians in the world and the fact that we are ALL called to share the good news (Rom. 15:14), I believe the church is falling far short of encouraging its members to use their careers and activities – whatever they may be – as opportunities for ministry.
5. Promoting the “fence” mindset for avoiding sin
Until college, I had never heard the church’s rules so eloquently articulated. There are certain moral standards promoted by the bible. I will use “do not commit sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 10:8) and “do not get drunk on wine” (Eph. 5:18) as examples. Rather than risk a member accidentally committing one of these sins, the church has taken the “do not be sexually immoral/do not get drunk” rule and extended a fence around all possible pathways to the sin.
“Do not be sexually immoral” has become “do not show any sort of behavior that could be possibly construed as sexual before you are married”. This includes, but is not limited to: having sex, seeing each other naked, extended make-out sessions, kissing in general and, in some cases, prolonged hugs.
“Do not get drunk” has become “do not let anyone, under any circumstances, ever see you drink alcohol”. This includes, but is not limited to: having a drink at a restaurant, having a drink at home, cooking with any sort of alcohol, using wine for communion and, in some cases, walking too close to an establishment that markets itself as a “bar”.
I understand the mindset on this one, but God didn’t tell Adam and Eve not to look at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He didn’t say not to stand within 50 feet of it or not to touch it. He said do not eat the fruit of it (Gen. 2:17).
Yes, putting up a fence could potentially keep people from committing the sin.
However, in my experience, I’ve found more people turn away from Christianity because they don’t want to navigate so many fences.
6. Focusing on the rules over the grace
This is a problem Jesus was rather outspoken on. There is an epidemic of churches spending so much energy focusing on the ‘do not’s that they have completely overshadowed the grace. The Lord didn’t give us rules and guidelines with the expectation that we would follow each perfectly. The plan was never to follow every law to the letter and gain entrance to heaven because of our ability to avoid any and all sin.
As Paul explains, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom. 3:20).” When Jesus was asked what the most important law was, there is a reason he told us first to love God and then to love each other (Luke 10:27).
The point of all of this is His love and His grace.If we are so incredibly focused on avoiding all wrong-doing and publically shaming and condemning anyone who has ever admitted sin, we completely miss the point (Rom. 15:7).
Jesus told us he cares more about the heart of the believer than their ability to follow the rules (Matt. 22:36-40).
If this was Jesus’ standard, shouldn’t it be ours?
Returning to The Church
Since returning to church, my eyes have been open to a lot.
Obviously, not every point on the list can be universally applied to all Christians or all churches. There is a cry from our generation to fix the broken church, and I know it will take a lot more than one blog post to do that.
Isn’t it worth seeing what we’re doing as a body to push people away from His grace?
It is my prayer that the church is about to face a giant reformation.
That barriers will be broken down and new connections will be made.
I pray that one day Christians and non-Christians can come together to say “I’m human. I make mistakes. I fail. I am far from perfect. But I’m doing the best I can and every day I hope to do better”.
It is my prayer that Christians begin to focus more on being disciples than on hiding inside the salt shaker where life is safe and easy.
We were not called to a safe or easy life. This life was created to be hard (Luke 9:57-62). We were called to be persecuted (Rom. 5:3). But in doing so, we were called to experience eternal glory and to share that glory with as many people as possible during our short time here on earth.
So this is my personal mission: To have more non-Christian friends than Christian friends.
To welcome those who have commit the “big” sins and to be honest about the fact that I’ve been there myself – and still struggle every day with the temptation to fall into that lifestyle again.
My mission is to give back to my church while ministering in every area of my life – even those outside the walls of a church.
To kiss men that aren’t my husband and drink a glass of wine with dinner.
And finally, when I do meet someone whose heart is broken – who has commit more than their share of sins and who is in desperate need of forgiveness – I will share the Lord’s grace.
No more, no less.
I will share His love in place of condemnation. I will extend mercy rather than judgment. And I will pray that, in doing so, I am showing some small reflection of Christ.
I want to be the salt. I want to be the light. I want to show the love and mercy that He has so graciously shown me.
Because, had it not been for one girl willing to let down her wall and be a real human being rather than a perfect Christian, I would still be one of those 25% of people. Calling myself a Christian while avoiding church at all costs.
Or, at best, sitting in the back in order to avoid the inevitable look of disappointment when my true, sinful self showed thorough.
Let me know in the comments where you stand on the current state of the church. How do you plan to help bring the lost back to Christ?
Photo Credit: Geir Halvorsen
And if you don’t want to miss a post, make sure to join my email list!