As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. –2 Timothy 4:5
You’ve invited Julie to church dozens of time, and she finally agrees to come. You’re excited, you’ve been praying for her. You get there early, she actually shows up (a miracle in its own right!), and you sit together. You’re more attentive to the sermon than normal; you hang on every word the pastor says. You aren’t listening because you’re “hungry;” you’re making sure that every word is what Julie needs to hear. You’re hyper-attentive, your inner-monologue is, “he better present the Gospel clearly. He better give her an invitation.” The sermon ends, she says it was nice. You part ways. She never comes back. You never bring it up again, but keep praying for her.
Many of us have experienced this sort of awkward and, at times, painful experience. Is there a better way? Thankfully, yes! We too often confuse church attendance with discipleship and skirt our own obligation to be salt and light in the lives of those we know. We too often assume that if we can get our friends, family, and coworkers to show up to a Sunday worship event that they will “get saved.” There are three problems with this:
1. It’s Not the Pastor’s Job to Convert Your Friends:
First off, the pastor is a limited finite being. He is responsible to God for leading a church and preaching God’s Word faithfully, but he can’t possibly ensure the outcome of these events. I can count on one hand the number of Christians I know that were won over by a single sermon. Think about your own conversion story; was it a sermon that did it for you? God had to use the persistent witness of a pretty girl for over eighteen months in my own life. It could be the same for your friends.
2. God is Relational:
Our witness should start long before Sunday. Part of the pastor’s job is “equipping the saints for ministry” (Eph. 4:12), so you’re not off the hook when it comes to the discipleship of those you know. I’ve invited a lot of people to church, and a good amount of these invites resemble Julie’s story above. The ones that break this mold went much differently. My friend Mike, for example, became a Christian because I spent hours talking to him over coffee, dinner, and late night bonfires about Jesus and what he had done in my life. My emphasis was less on “going to church” than it was on being the Church. We lose our saltiness and hide our light under a basket when we make church attendance synonymous with discipleship. God became man in Jesus Christ and used the vehicle of flesh and blood to seek and save us. He still works that way today through His people and their existing relationships. He wants to use you in the lives of those you know.
3. Church Buildings Can be Intimidating:
Experience tells me that most of those outside the Church think of Church as nothing more than a building. The idea of “going to church” is not appealing to them because most people aren’t comfortable sitting in a large room full of people and listening in silence as someone else talks about a book they aren’t familiar with. At our church we emphasize community groups as the main method of discipleship. These are much more conducive to sustainable discipleship than “going to church.” Those outside the Church are often more receptive to the idea of gathering in someone’s living room for conversation and snacks than the normal Sunday worship service.
While it seems counterproductive at first glance, this seems to align more to the New Testament examples of discipleship. Rather than getting people into church buildings, we open up our homes and life to them; we invite them into a Church family before a church building. They take a sort of side door into the Church instead of the front door. For good reason, our commission is to make disciples, not introduce our friends to a good preacher. This takes time, energy, emotion and prayer and is not done over night. It is messy, but so was the crucifixion that God used to save us.
What steps can you take to be the face of the Church to those God has put in your life? What other ways can you be the Church to people instead of inviting them to a worship service?