Are you the Reason?

Are You the Reason?

A husband and his wife arose one Sunday morning and the wife dressed for church. It was just about time to leave when she noticed her husband wasn’t dressed. Perplexed, she asked, "Why aren't you getting dressed for church?" He said, "Because I don't want to go.” She asked, "Why not?" He said, "I have three good reasons. First, the congregation is cold. Second, no one likes me. And third, I just don't want to go.” The wife replied, wisely, "Well, honey, I have three reasons why you should go. First, most of the congregation is warm. Second, there are a few people there who like you. And third, you're the preacher!"

I assure you this did not happen at our house. Yet, this humorous story introduces the fact that people get discouraged about attending church because of how they are treated. Could that be the cause for someone not attending this church? Am I the reason? Are you the reason?

Today, the Church is generally considered irrelevant by society. Here are some reasons:

1. The Church no longer emphasizes the Gospel message (Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus). The message is prosperity, self-esteem, and political agendas.

2. The Church "vision" is not the Great Commission. The vision has become a fancy building and raising huge revenues to support the staff’s lavish lifestyle.

3. To avoid persecution, the Church has become cowardly and refuses to call sin a SIN. As a result, adultery, fornication, and homosexuality are the norm in many churches.

4. God is missing in the congregation. People go to church looking for God but they don’t sense His presence. Instead, they find disunity, gossip, and grumbling among the congregation. And, they don’t like the way these problems are handled or not handled by the leadership.

5. Others just don’t want to follow Jesus, Who says things like, "Take up your cross and follow me" and "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Following Jesus means following Him all the way to the cross. They believe there are easier ways to Heaven. So they create their own way and avoid the Church.

6. Some refuse to attend because someone in a church hurt them or they are afraid of getting hurt. Everyone who has ever been part of a church for an extended period of time has been hurt by others there. When it happened to you, how did you react? If you complained and told others about it, they probably don’t want to experience the same thing, so they stay away from church, too. The easiest excuse to escape hurt seems to be to leave church entirely, but that won’t work. We will get hurt wherever we are unless we become a hermit. Church should be a place where we can learn how to respond to hurt with forgiveness, love, and reconciliation.

7. Disenchantment with the pastor is also a common reason people leave a church. Specific reasons are “the pastor is not a good preacher”, “the pastor is judgmental of others”, “the pastor is hypocritical”, and “the pastor doesn’t visit often or keep in touch with the congregation”.

So I wonder, am I the reason people quit coming to this church?

8. Honestly, the most common reason people don’t come to church is rarely admitted; that is, most people are enjoying things that they know the Bible says are sinful. They like what they are doing and don’t want anyone telling them that it’s wrong. Therefore, rather than go to church, they seek the approval and fellowship of others who are living in sin.

According to a survey by Lifeway Resources, “Christians” who quit going to church gave these excuses: 1. Too busy 2. Family/home responsibilities prevented attendance 3. Church members (including preacher) are hypocritical 4. Church members are judgmental of others 5. Moved too far from church 6. Work situation prevented church attendance 7. Church was not helping me develop spiritually 8. Stopped believing in organized religion 9. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement 10. Got divorced or separated.

So what does God think of excuses? Jesus told a parable to answer that.

Luke 14:16-21 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’

Let’s look at the Lifeway Resources survey again.  As we can see, many excuses, like those in the parable, are a matter of misplaced priorities. God, worship, and the Church are just not that important to many people, including some who call themselves Christians.

Nevertheless, we need to seriously consider excuses 3,4,7, and 9. They are indictments on the church membership. We need to ask ourselves, “Are we the reason people don’t attend church?” Because if we don't reflect the love of God among ourselves and towards others, then we may be chasing people off! Some people won’t go to a particular church because of the unloving attitudes and sinful behaviors of its members when they are not at church. That brings up excuse number 3.

3. Church members (including preacher) are hypocritical. We, as Christians, must walk the talk. If we come to church on Sunday morning and act all nice and pious, then act like a heathen or act unloving the rest of the week, we are being hypocritical. If we are honest, we are all hypocritical to some degree. We all talk about how we should do this or that, while standing behind the pulpit or sitting in the pew. Then we leave here and don’t do it. This should not be. Therefore, we could be the reason people don’t attend.

Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

4. Church members are judgmental of others. We must define “judgmental”. To silence Christians, the world frequently quotes only one piece of Scripture, "judge not, lest ye be judged!” However, Jesus said we have to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep's clothing, and we can determine who they are by judging the fruit they produce. We can examine the fruit of people without judging their souls. God has already judged bad fruit. We need to judge rightly.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

However, we must not look down our nose at those who fall into sin. Our job is to humbly and gently lift them out of sin by sharing the truth. When we need to correct someone, it must be in love; and at first, it needs to be done privately.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

7. The Church was not helping me develop spiritually.

Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

One of the things Jesus commissioned us to do is to make disciples. These are people of faith, who desire to follow Jesus and become like Him. They go to church to associate with like-minded disciples who have applied the Word of God to their lives and are openly sharing their experience. If the content of sermons and Bible studies isn’t applicable to their faith and life, nor helping them grow in the Lord, they will seek a place where their spiritual needs are met. So, I wonder, am I making disciples or am I the reason they don’t come to this church?

9. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement. It's important to recognize, that there are cliques and there are groups, which are entirely different things. Most often, cliques are composed of those who feel superior in some way to others. They are usually comprised of those that are power hungry, who gossip about others that the clique feels are beneath them either in the amount of money they make, the clothes they wear, their cultural or community background, or how long they have been a church member. Generally, cliques are evil.

On the other hand, it is natural for us to gravitate toward people with backgrounds, jobs, and education levels that are similar to us. That being said, we must make a concerted effort to associate with people outside our natural grouping and get to know them.

Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Furthermore, we need to be sensitive toward visitors at our church so that they always feel more than welcome. We need to show them that we love them. We need to be one of the reasons they come to church instead of a reason they don’ attend.

However, we can’t be a reason they come to church if they don’t know us well. People become willing to visit a church and consider Jesus when they like and trust the Christians they know. So, how can we become a reason they attend church and come to believe in Jesus Christ? Here are ten ways:

1. Pray for them. We need to make it a priority to pray for our unbelieving family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. All the strategies and friendliness in the world won't make any difference without prayer. Faith and conversion are God’s doing. We need to fast and pray to bind the spirits of unbelief and release the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2. Build relationships with no strings attached. No one wants to be someone else's project. They always know when they are being recruited. Just love people like Jesus did. If we lift Him up, He will draw them to Himself.

John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

3. Be patient and don’t give up. Overcoming someone’s apathy about Christ and the Church doesn't happen overnight. It may take years, sometimes decades. But in the light of eternity, it's more than worth the investment.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

4. Live with integrity. Integrity may be the most-needed, but least-evident character trait in society. People have less faith in our major institutions, including the Church, than ever. Therefore, we need to live upright lives, holy lives, honest and transparent lives that are different from society. Trust is easy to lose and hard to earn.

Titus 2:7-8 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

5. Talk about life, not just about church. Real life is never just about one subject. If Jesus influences every area of our lives (which He does), then we should talk with people about every area of their lives while incorporating our faith in words and action.

Colossians 4:5-6 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

6. Stop connecting faith to politics and denominations. The Gospel of Jesus is not about our political parties, national pride, denominations, and creeds. We are to be Christ’s ambassadors only, so they can get to know Him and be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Jesus said to give what belongs to the government to the government, and what belongs to God to God. Our faith will affect our political and world views, but we are citizens of a Kingdom and subjects of a King. So, don’t confuse faith in Jesus with politics or nationalism.

7. Be more joyful. There are too many mean and sad “Christians”. People are not attracted to that. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and very contagious. Therefore, live joyfully.

Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

8. Live a life of generosity. In its beginning, the Church distinguished itself by being people who shared with one another. This behavior attracted others and they became believers, too.

Acts 2:45-47 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

9. Be authentic. It's better to be authentic than popular. If Jesus doesn't cause us to live differently, what's the point? But here's the challenge: we need to live differently without coming across as "I'm better than you." Because we’re not. For the best example of how to do this well, imitate Jesus.

Philippians 2:3-7 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

10. Be available. When people are hurting, they reach out to a friend. And if that friend is a Christian, then that friend can be an ambassador for Jesus when they need His comfort. And the best way to comfort them is to listen to them. Jesus listened, emphasized, and then spoke. Resist the temptation to switch into recruitment mode when people are in a crisis. When people are hurting, be available, and let the Holy Spirit lead you and draw them to Jesus.

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

In summary, God did not create us to go to church. No, He created us to relate to Him and be the church. We are to love God and to live with others in a loving community. That is what creates a church. Jesus is the reason the Church exists. However, we can be a reason people are interested in or disinterested in Jesus and His Church.

Matthew 22:37-40 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

It's living the Great Commandment of love that opens the way to relationships. When we love, the Great Commission is at work. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God changes people. Therefore, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit daily so that we have power to love, to be His witness, His ambassador, in this world.