Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Relevant or relative Christianity? (Part 3 of 4)

As I attempt to share some of my thoughts with you on the issue of finding a balance in the way we do church let me relate a conversation I had this past weekend with a pastor friend of mine. While sitting down to lunch with himself and his wife, our conversation drifted in the direction of discussing our favorite Christian authors. I mentioned that I was particularly partial to Erwin Raphael McManus whereupon my friends wife proceeded to tell me that she had heard that he was too “seeker sensitive” in his approach to ministry. I asked her to clarify her assertion and she further explained that the seeker sensitive crowd were the people who watered down the message of Christ so drastically that it lost its potency. I then asked her if, in her estimation he was not preaching the gospel and reaching people for Christ and her answer shocked me to the core. She said she didn’t know!

Wow! I didn’t know how to react to that. Her response seemed to imply that because a Sunday service does not incorporate “miraculous” healings, speaking in tongues, “falling-under the anointing,” prophecies and various other demonstrations of “super” spirituality, it would of necessity have to be labeled seeker sensitive, as if that is somehow a blight on the character of Christianity. Jesus Himself said He had come to seek and save those that were lost. Before you begin to question my stance on supernatural ministry, please believe me when I tell you that I have absolutely no issue with supernatural manifestations, in fact I have been both the instrument and the beneficiary of supernatural healing, but I also recognize that sometimes, these acts are forced during church services in an attempt to create a sense that God is moving. I have heard horror stories of people being pushed down as the preacher prayed for them and “released the power of God” so that they would fall under the anointing.

As we further pursued the discussion, I realized that we were in many ways at complete divergence in our approach to doing church. They were convinced that church is meant for the Christian; a place for discipleship, supernatural manifestations and the like. They opined that the irreligious or the unbeliever was welcome to attend the service as long as he was aware that it was a believers meeting. I on the other hand am just as convinced that church is an extension of Jesus and is meant primarily to reach the lost. This fundamental difference in philosophy, though on the surface simple, is really the crux of our approach. You see if you believe that church is primarily where Christians receive their spiritual nurturing, where supernatural ministry occurs, and where marriages are healed, then you will think that everything has to be accomplished in your Sunday service. You will believe that this is the only opportunity you have to “minister” to the visitors that come, so that they are impacted by the power of the anointing.

If on the other hand, you are persuaded that your Sunday celebration is primarily a point of contact to introduce people to Jesus, then you are less inclined to think that everything that the visitor needs has to be accomplished in that one service. The goal, at least from where I stand, should be to create an environment where the irreligious are accepted not threatened or confused (note that I didn’t say where they are comfortable), so that it opens the door to dialog and ultimately a desire for a relationship with Jesus. This has been our amazing experience at The Well, and I have learned that it is much easier to pray for healing in a marriage in the privacy of my office than it is to “prophesy” from the pulpit about a husband who is cheating on his wife, but about how God wants to touch and heal their marriage if he (the husband) will come forward and repent.

I take this position largely because I believe that you must earn the right to speak into people’s lives. You do that by creating a safe and non-threatening environment of mutual trust. I am not your pastor simply because you attend a Sunday Celebration Service at The Well, I am your pastor because you have learned to trust my calling, my commitment to you, and my ability to coach you in living life well according to the dictates of the Scriptures. All of this suggests that it’s actually not a sin if you don’t speak in tongues from the pulpit on Sunday morning. It means God is not necessarily mad at you if prophecy doesn’t happen after worship. It means you don’t have to have a separate sermon for the offering in order to “convince” people of the need to give. That’s what small groups are for: To teach people the doctrines of the Bible. That’s why we have encounter retreats, and discipleship classes, and growth tracks, and all the other things we do that provide an avenue for growth in, and ministry to the Body. Tomorrow I will explain a little bit more about the idea of finding balance in doing effective ministry.