I’ve enjoyed our recent preaching series called, “Why I Love The Church”. Each week has served as reminder to me of the beauty of God’s awesome church.
Come as you are
One concept we looked at was creating a “Come as you are” culture in our church. That’s huge! As people who have received grace and mercy from God, our church should be the most loving, accepting and welcoming place in town!
This will have some huge implications for how we do church life together …
Think about our mission as a church. We want people to …
- Believe: We really do. We want them to believe in Jesus: John 3v16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes him might not perish but have eternal life”
- Belong: We want people to belong to our church family: 1 Cor 12v27 – “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”
- Behave: It’s not an ideal word, but it starts with a ‘B’. We want to help people become more like Jesus – we want every believer, as Eph 4v1 puts it, to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received”
But what order do we put these three words in?
This is more important and challenging than its ever been!
UK culture has changed a lot in the last ten years!
The gospel hasn’t changed, Jesus hasn’t changed, people haven’t changed, the Bible hasn’t changed, truth hasn’t changed … but culture has changed.
So we need to consider our approach!
If we went to another nation with a mission agency they would give us cross cultural training … I think we may now need cross cultural training to reach the UK!
Some churches do it this way: Behave … Believe … Belong
So, if you’re the right sort of person: reasonably wealthy, with an outwardly moral lifestyle and a stable family, someone might invite you to church. If you come you might hear the gospel. And down the line, if you commit your life to Christ and get baptised, you might be allowed to belong to the church family.
The trouble is, we won’t see many come to know Jesus that way!
Other churches do it like this: Believe … Behave … Belong
They reach out to anyone, regardless of their background, and recognise that we can’t expect people who are not yet Christians to live a Christian lifestyle.
And once people decide to follow Jesus discipleship begins. Once the big issues are sorted out in their lives they are ‘allowed’ to get baptised and ultimately to join the church.
This is better, but it’s less effective than it used to be, because people with messy lives are still going to struggle to connect.
We also run the danger of teaching people a set of Christian rules, instead of teaching them to follow Jesus!
But more and more churches are finding that to win people for Jesus today we need to order it like this: Belong … believe … behave.
This means helping people to find a place in our church family before they come to faith in Jesus. I’m not redefining church membership here, I’m simply saying is that we need to accept people, just as they are, and allow them to find a place in our church family before they come to faith. In today’s culture this is vital, because people need to know they are accepted, before they’re willing to listen to our message.
When people know they are accepted, they are more willing to listen to our message.
People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care!
Once people have received the gospel and opened their lives to Jesus, once they have believed in him, then their life begins to change. Not because we hot them with a set of rules, but because the Holy Spirit is at work to transform them; they begin to live a life worthy of the calling they have received, albeit with many trips and stumbles along the way … and we need to be okay with the trips and stumbles too.
But is this Biblical? Is it really okay?
I think this is exactly what Jesus modelled for us, for example:
- When he met Zacchaeus (Luke 19v1-10)
- When he met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4v1-42)
Won’t we be misunderstood?
Probably – but until religious people are scandalised by the radical grace we show to those who are far from God … until pharisaical people are questioning the company we keep … until, like Jesus, we are accused of being a ‘friends of sinners’ …
we’re not really representing Jesus very well.