A Responsibility to Members
However your church might view or practice church membership, we have a particular responsibility to shepherd those who are walking their Christian life with us. The first priority of our Sunday meetings is strengthening the church. We’re God’s covenant people who have gathered in his presence to be built into “a spiritual house” through the gospel (1 Peter 2:5).
God doesn’t intend for the people we lead each Sunday to remain perpetually immature. He wants them in every way to grow up into Christ. So as leaders our job is to support our pastor in his role of ensuring that the church is growing in maturity.
But that maturing can be hindered when we focus primarily on non-family members. When the entire church program revolves around drawing new people, when all your musical choices are geared to the tastes of non-Christians, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to provide the teaching and nourishment the church needs.
One pastor confessed that he’d been marketing his church for years, offering “human enrichment rather than eternal and powerful truth.” The unfortunate result is, “I have grown a church of baptized pagans.”1Unless we focus on the genuine need of the members in our church to consistently sing, hear, and apply gospel-centered, biblical truth, we may have the same result.
Imagine the effect if church growth referred to churches growing in their understanding of the gospel, personal godliness, involvement in the church, and their heart for the lost rather than simply numbers. That kind of growth must take precedence over worship that is simply meant to draw crowds. And it will have more impact on the world than anything else we can try or think of.
Keeping Unbelievers in Mind
But what happens when unbelievers show up at our meetings? Do we care if they feel confused by our “Christianese”? Are guests thrown off by actions and responses that are completely foreign to them? Do we ever acknowledge their presence or even consider them when we plan? Will unbelieving guests sense a spiritual pride in us that keeps us from remembering what it means to be a sinner saved by grace?
Hopefully not. But such are the dangers of forgetting the non-Christians who might be with us and are vulnerable to confusion.
Paul challenges the Corinthians to take unbelievers into account when they gather. He insists that they keep the unbeliever in mind as they exercise spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:23–25). Your church may not believe in the present-day use of tongues, but to many non-Christians, that’s exactly what some of our meetings sound like. Whether it’s raised hands, formal liturgies, or unspoken standards, we need to see them through the eyes of an unbeliever.
Being aware of the presence of non-Christians in our meetings causes me to say things more simply, explain common Christian phrases or words, and occasionally address those with us who don’t know the Savior.
It was fashionable for many years to take surveys of communities to find out what non-Christians liked and didn’t like about churches. Churches then developed advertising strategies and meetings that reflected the expressed desires of their unbelieving community.
But that’s a problem. Non-Christians are aware of their wants but not of their true need to be reconciled to God. And what meets that need can be found in any gathering of thoughtful, Christ-exalting worshipers.
Contrary to the surveys, here’s what we’ve seen affects unbelievers most when we gather.
We have an enthusiastic church. I’ve read the studies that say you can’t sing for any longer than seventeen minutes, that messages shouldn’t go longer than twenty, and that people are put off by expressiveness. That hasn’t been our experience.
When unbelievers visit our church, they find people who are awestruck and amazed by the kindness and mercy of God. And we seek to make it clear that God’s grace is what has affected us so deeply. We don’t meet just to talk about God; we’re encountering his gracious presence. And we aren’t reluctant to express outwardly what has so affected us inwardly. People show demonstrative emotion all the time at rock concerts and basketball games and no one ever questions it. Why do we think guests will be surprised to see it in people who claim to have the greatest news the world has ever heard?
One of the most significant ways of impacting non-Christians at our meetings is through the way we reach out to them. We’ve experimented with different ways of identifying visitors. We always come back to having them stand while we thank them for coming through our applause. This gives those around them an opportunity to introduce themselves, invite them to our guest reception designed just for them, and often invite them out to lunch. We want to overwhelm them with our love.
We have no better way to serve non-Christians than to help them hear, understand, and experience the grand story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.
Time and time again visitors have commented not only on the genuine love they’ve received but on the love they’ve observed between members of the church. That’s what Jesus said would happen. He prayed for our unity “so that the world may believe” that the Father had sent him (John 17:21). As we encourage believers in the church to serve each other in practical ways, not only are we fulfilling biblical worship, but people notice and are drawn to the Savior.
The best way to maintain the healthy tension of building the church and reaching out to unbelievers is by proclaiming and expounding on the gospel—Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins to bring us to God.
The gospel, clearly proclaimed and faithfully applied, will speak to unbelievers because it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). We have no better way to serve non-Christians than to help them hear, understand, and experience the grand story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ. The gospel will also speak to Christians because we’re to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:23, emphasis added). We don’t have to adopt atheological, man-centered methods with uncritical, wide-eyed wonder. D. A. Carson, in The Cross and Christian Ministry, writes:
If the church is being built with large portions of charm, personality, easy oratory, positive thinking, managerial skills, powerful and emotional experiences, and people smarts, but without the repeated, passionate, Spirit-anointed proclamation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” we may be winning more adherents than converts.2
Let’s not ignore non-Christians when we gather to worship God. But let’s not allow them to dictate our direction, methods, and values either. Those have all been determined and modeled by the risen Savior who now invites us to celebrate as a family and to invite others to join in on the feast.
- Quoted in Mark Dever, “Baptized Pagans”; http://blog.togetherforthegospel.org/2006/03/baptized_pagans.html.
- D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 80–81.
This article is adapted from Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin.
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