Evangelistic fervor that reaches out beyond the church and into the culture. That’s the call to every follower of what Paul calls the Way in this extended passage. And yet evangelism is the least practiced of all Christian disciplines, including faithful stewardship. Yes, more people actually tithe than regularly share their faith with Nones, the irreligious, unbelievers, and the unchurched.
A conversation with a pastor recently highlights the dilemma (used with the pastor’s permission).
It is difficult to continue to be faithful in pressing forward with any evangelistic fervor when so many of my church’s most vocal leaders make it clear that they wish I would:
- Target people just like them rather than young adults who have different preferences.
- Spend my time with the church’s membership, loving on the saints and visiting the members rather than prioritizing my time with those outside the church. These vocal members would prefer I spend my time visiting them in their homes, in the hospitals, in the nursing homes, in their meetings, at their small group fellowships, or wherever else these members congregate.
- Be available in my office virtually all day just in case someone wants to drop in to see me.
- Spend 20+ hours a week creating a sermon that is emotionally and academically stimulating, but spiritually and practically anemic.
- And above all, do nothing to challenge the traditions and status quo that have been so successful for the church in the past. [Yes, they were successful from 1945–1954, but have also been successful in 40 years of progressive decline of the church.]
If this pastor did that, “everyone” would love him. He’d be the beau of the ball, the talk of the church – but unknown in the town, and the life of the party. But he’d also be the Grim Reaper for that church, for the church would join the ranks of the 150,000 churches that will close over the next decade. On the other hand, “everyone” would be happy and at the closing ceremony, they would tell him what a great ministry they all had at the church, that they were a faithful remnant who withstood the pressures to conform to (or address) culture, and that the church was dying with dignity.
Except there is no dying with dignity when you’ve abused your body so badly that you’ve killed yourself.
There is no dignity in dying from lung cancer when you’ve smoked for 30 years.
There is no dignity in dying of liver failure when you’ve drank yourself to death.
There is no dignity in dying of malnutrition after a decade of meth addiction.
And there is no dignity in the death of a church that has exhausted its resources in order to pander to the membership.
There is no dignity in the death of a church that has not been faithful to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”) and in investing itself to do whatever it takes to reach those without Christ as in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”).
There is no dignity to the death of a church that has not faithfully engaged in outreach that transforms lives (as opposed to feeding a “need”) or in evangelism that saves.
And there is no dignity in closing a church that lives as if 1954 was returning and that the world would one day re-accommodate itself to the church.
My advice to that pastor and to you? Continue to confound those in your church and the thousands of “church members” who are far away from Paul’s model and from the Way.
Remain faithful, even if it costs you your reputation.
Pursue what is right, even if it costs you your career.
Continue to challenge the cultural church in order to reach those who are far from God and perhaps even farther from the church.
Or find another career. Today’s church needs church leaders who have the stomach and the backbone to boldly go forth, even in the face of insurmountable odds.