I came across an interesting story in my daily Bible reading. In Acts 15 we find possibly the most critical church business meeting in history. God was working mightily and the church was growing steadily. New believers were being added daily to the body and in the midst of this powerful wave, satan sowed a subtle seed (say that seven times).
A proposal was made by the frozen chosen to actually make it harder for people to become a part of the church. They wanted the new believers to clean up before they join up.
After hearing testimony from two front line missionaries (Paul and Barnabas) and The Rock (Peter, not the actor), James, the senior pastor of the church in Jerusalem, stood up and declared:
“My judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19, NLT)
That phrase really hit me. How many times do we make it difficult for people to come to Jesus in our churches? Sometimes it’s intentional, but more often it’s unintentional. So, what are some ways we might “make it difficult” for people?
THREE WAYS WE MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR PEOPLE TO COME TO JESUS
1. We make it difficult to feel at home.
Perhaps one of the scariest things a non-Christian can do is to visit a church for the very first time. There are so many questions echoing in the mind of a first time guest. (10 Questions First Time Guests are Asking) Long before a guest makes it to their seat, the question is who will they meet. Will it be a warm, welcoming greeting? Will they feel wanted and accepted? Will they be ignored? Or even worse, will someone treat them rudely. The fact is hospitality is palpable. The question is, what taste are we leaving in our guests’ mouth? Sweet or sour?
Most churches consider themselves friendly. The problem is that they’re usually only friendly to each other. If you really want to know whether your church is truly friendly, hire a secret shopper and ask them to review everything you do. The results just might surprise you.
An unfriendly church makes it difficult for people to come to Christ.
2. We make it difficult to enjoy the worship.
Music is the world’s most powerful medium. How many people will endure a boring Superbowl (yes, there are boring ones) just to catch the half-time show? Like it or not, music can penetrate where words may fail to communicate.
The musical style of the church can either increase the discomfort of your guests or it can build a bridge into their heart.
How many all-hymn radio stations do you think lost people listen to? If the musical style we use for worship is completely foreign to our guests, it further amplifies their cultural discomfort. I know, I know, some will say, “Yeah, but unbelieving sinners shouldn’t feel comfortable in our service!” Please tell me we know the difference between making a guest feel comfortable in our service versus comfortable in their sin. I’m assuming that a church, whose mission it is to reach people, doesn’t want to repel them.
Someone said, “but the hymns have so much great theology.” Perhaps, but I’ve also seen old hymns with terrible theology. I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be getting our theology from the Bible, not the hymnal.
Non-believers cannot worship, but they certainly can be drawn into the worship. Music does that. When we use music styles that the culture can relate to, the guests find themselves tapping their feet to the beat thinking, “This is pretty neat!”
However, when we choose music that feels like a funeral, we make it difficult for people to celebrate new life in Christ.
3. We make it difficult to understand the truth.
There are three ways we make the truth difficult for people. We use difficult translations (KJV, really?), dated methods (paper versus apps), and dull preaching.
Bryan Chappell cites a survey on preaching in America in his classic book, Christ-Centered Preaching, finding that “1) Preachers tend to use complex, archaic language which the average person does not understand; 2) most sermons today are dull, boring, and uninteresting; 3) most preaching today is irrelevant; 4) preaching today is not courageous preaching; 5) preaching does not communicate; 6) preaching does not lead to change in persons; 7) preaching has been overemphasized.”
I know we want to get our money’s worth out of all that seminary tuition, but we need to get back to the approach of the Master. Jesus used simple language to communicate a difficult truth. Jesus’ sermons had 4 characteristics:
- They were short (the longest one is estimated to be less than 15 minutes)
- They were clear
- They were relevant – He often used everyday stories to communicate eternal truths
- They were actionable – people knew what to do when He was through
The Bible is the world’s most practical book. The promises, principles and precepts contained in scripture are truly life-changing, and yet somehow, we seem to make it difficult for people to understand and apply. The point of preaching is to make the Bible clear. People can’t obey what they don’t understand. The Apostle Paul said, “In a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.” (1 Co 14:19)
Our preaching should reinforce our people’s confidence that they can read and understand the Bible themselves. So we need to discombobulate their misconceptions by recombobulating our methods (see what I did with that?). In other words, put the jam on the bottom shelf so the people can get to it. Choose clear over clever. (For more on the topic of preaching, check out my blog: 8 Principles of Great Preaching)
Those are some of my thoughts.
What are your thoughts?
What are some other ways we make it difficult?