Of course. Church is where the action is. That is the place where God promises to meet us! It is the place of God’s Word: read, sung, preached. It is the place where we receive His promises and blessings and grace in baptism and holy communion. It is the place where we celebrate the resurrection with others who likewise have this gift of faith!
Yet if we look at it from the perspective of those outside the church it often looks very different. Fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly, true or not the church is seen as too judgmental, too hypocritical, too political and always wanting your money. That perspective may have been informed by negative media about a church and broadly applied to all churches. It may have been informed by someone’s personal experience or one of their loved ones. It may be a misperception of what has been experienced or shared. Nevertheless, many view the church in a neutral to even a negative light. Furthermore, they don’t see themselves that way, so why would they want to hang out with those who are like that (their perception)?
At the same time we probably need to admit that at times (too often?) we have been a bit too “church” centric. Everything we have done has been at church. Not just the worship but the class, the social gathering, the group, etc. It may have appeared to be a club house rather than a place where God meets us in Christ. In some corners it may have even crossed the line into being more about the institution rather than the Savior and the people including those whom Jesus loves who are not yet believers. In that way we may be guilty of being too “church-centric” rather than “Jesus-centric” or “kingdom centric.”
We can slip into that error pretty easily. We may love our church. Most if not all of our friends may be at church. We accept its quirks and foibles that others find odd. We may even have some mixed motives for bringing in “members” (notice I didn’t say “disciples” or “converts”). We may be interested in them but perhaps in an unhealthy way we are also interested in their offerings to help with the expenses. Or we may not even want them because they are not “like us.” So to the outsider it may indeed look to be all about the institution or the club. It may even be a turn off because they don’t see Jesus very clearly in it all. For “insiders” or “members” this kind of thing makes its appearance when we talk about loving our community and the response is, “how does that make people into contributing members/attenders at church?” or “They are not like us!”
The point is that attention to “church” is just fine. But there is a line not to cross. And the correction or the antidote is to rather emphasize the kingdom. Being kingdom centric is to talk about Jesus. It is to do things and to emphasize how what we do and how we do it brings people closer to Jesus. That may mean shifting to doing things for the benefit of others, getting out of the building and off the property. Being selfless in serving Jesus is the gold standard. That is the metric. That is the goal.
So back to the state we are in and the perspective of those who may be far away from Jesus or “outside” the church: Since they are neutral or even negative about the church then our starting line for bringing them to Jesus probably isn’t the front door to the narthex of our church. The starting line is probably meeting, greeting and then authentically and genuinely caring for them. The starting line is probably a relationship with them where they get to know a Christian in person as opposed to what they hear third hand or through the media. Then they have to wrestle with that negative thing they have heard with what they are positively experiencing through you!
Their head will spin! You are different! You are not all about the club house (the church)! You are all about Jesus! You live it, talk it, walk it, love them, are there for them. You listen to them and pray for them. Then when they ask, you answer. You do not lecture, you mostly listen and then share what Jesus means to you.
At the right time perhaps you engage them in a regular dialogue around God’s Word. “May I share what I have been reading?” “What have you been reading?” Perhaps they attend a church event *not on the church grounds* like at the homeless shelter or the community garden or the food pantry that your church supports and you are involved in. Perhaps they ask about your church. Perhaps they start to attend their mother in law’s church. Then great! They appear to be growing closer to Jesus.
That’s the point. We know what the church really is. But sometimes we act like we don’t and it rubs off on those we are around. But let’s overcome that by emphasizing what Jesus emphasized. It’s about Him. It’s about the kingdom. As we do that, God will take care of His church. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Over the next few blogs we will continue look at four more shifts in our assumptions and thinking that will affect our actions. I invite you to reflect with me and share your thoughts.
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Check out his YouTube channel for more leadership and coaching information. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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