My Dad was a pastor so I grew up very aware of the inner workings of churches in America. I was privy to the strategies and techniques used to grow a church and the plans to attract more people each Sunday. It is both interesting and sad that church growth has traditionally been about the number of bodies in the pews rather than the actual development of the individual; but I digress. As an avid reader I have consumed many books on the subject of the Western church, megachurches, emerging churches, evangelism, church growth, etc. With that in mind, I believe I have discovered the one sure fire way to impede church growth (as defined by adding members): preach the Gospel. Most Christians I have talked to in my life attend their particular church because they preach the Gospel, or they leave a church because it does not. It makes me wonder exactly what Gospel they are talking about. Let’s take a quick look at a few teachings of Jesus to determine whether or not your church is actually preaching the Gospel.
In Luke 18:18-23, Jesus told the young man that if he wanted to follow Him, he would have to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. When was the last time your preacher told the congregation they needed to start liquidating their material possessions and donate that money to care for the less fortunate in their town and around the world? How well do you think that sermon might go over? This isn’t some vague notion or the opinion of a learned scholar, these words came directly from the mouth of Jesus. How convenient that we have chosen to either ignore or explain away this teaching. This is part of the Gospel of Jesus. The good news is that He has come to bring life and justice, and sometimes justice means selling what we have in order to give to those who are hungry or homeless.
In the book of Matthew (chapter 8, verses 21 and 22), a man says he will follow Jesus, but first needs to go bury his father. Jesus rebuked him and told the man that if he wanted to be His follower, he would need to forget about his family. In fact, Jesus went so far as to say we must hate our mother, father, brothers and sisters if we would follow Him (Luke 14:25-27). I have heard more sermons preached on taking care of one’s own family than I have on hating them. The point is we must be so consumed with Jesus that everything we do in life is with Him in mind. All other obligations and responsibilities must be set aside when it competes with following Jesus. If a scheduling conflict forces you to choose between a kid’s soccer game and feeding the hungry at a soup kitchen, it has to be the soup kitchen every time. This is not going to be a popular message on Sunday morning, and I can only imagine the email the pastor would receive after preaching it. But this too is the Gospel. Our mission is to tell the world about Christ, to make disciples of all people. Everything we do must revolve around this purpose.
Finally, Jesus told another man who wished to follow Him that He had no home (Matthew 8:19-20). The implication is that if we would follow Christ, we too will be homeless; so much for the American dream. In the era of the “prosperity gospel”, this is not a popular topic. Western Christianity has come to be taught as some sort of slick panacea, a comfortable existence lived with a dose of compassion. The modern church has planted itself in the suburbs and consumed itself with programs to entertain and cocoon its members. Many churches have become nothing more than large social clubs where one must maintain a certain look and lifestyle in order to gain admittance; the homeless are often not welcome. Yet, the Gospel of Jesus, the true Gospel, states that if we would follow Him, we will have no place to lay our head at night.
Do you really want to attend a church that preaches the Gospel? The Gospel is amazing news indeed; it is the story of God’s love for His creation. It is the story of His redemption of our fallen and wicked world. It is the story of Jesus giving up His own life so that we might gain eternal life. There is more than this, however. The Gospel is also about our responsibility to spread the message to all nations. We are called to give up everything we own or hold dear for the purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God. We are called to sell our possessions, to renounce our earthly relationships and to live a life of utter dependence on Jesus. Not all will be faced with these trials, but all must be willing. If God chooses to bless us with even more than we give up, then it is for His glory. If He chooses to not return abundance to us in this life, it is also for His glory and we will be lavishly rewarded in the life to come. Are you willing to live your life in total surrender to Jesus? Are you willing to live out the whole Gospel, not just the comfortable parts? Your answers to these questions will determine whether or not you are a true follower of Jesus. Don’t get left behind.