Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jesus was the Friend of Sinners

The word on the street is that some people actually select a church based on what it does for them or how they will benefit from it.  Imagine that!

To other people, this is horrifying.  They can’t fathom God being pleased with a church full of people who decided where to attend based on a preferred worship style or a preacher they can connect with.  They think it’s awful that people decide where to go to church based upon the quality of the children’s ministry.  Top-notch bands, interesting speakers, air-conditioning that actually works, and parking-attendants who make sure no one has to wait too long to get in or get out, is consider to be “catering.”

The truth is, EVERY church caters to some group.  Just change your music and worship style and you’ll quickly discover who YOU’VE been catering to.

If our goal is to fill our churches only with people who are already deeply committed believers, then it might be a good idea to focus our attention solely on them.  But if our goal is to persuade the unconvinced, reach out to the uninitiated, and invite the sinner to come and see what Jesus and the Scripture is all about, it might be a good idea to target them for evangelism.  Along the way it would also a good idea to make sure our restrooms are clean, the grass is mowed, our buildings are inviting and comfortable, and our services are as appealing as possible.

The notion that lost people need to be smoked out and driven away at the first opportunity ignores a significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  The sinners that Jesus so famously spent time with were sinful to the core:  prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, and a host of others who irritated the religious elite to no end.

The thin-the-herd crowd wants to write these kind of people off as unworthy of our time, energy, or compassion.  But we can’t redefine the ministry of Jesus so that it fits our paradigm.  If we want to reach the lost like Jesus did, then our list of approved people will have to also include the spiritual window shoppers who populate our pews.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that we should be satisfied with a church full of carnal, casual, or consumer Christians.  Neither should we settle for a definition of spiritual maturity that’s anything less than full devotion.    Nor am I saying that we should ignore church discipline in the face of continued sin.  (God knows how we much we practice church discipline at PCC, and our congregation knows how challenging the teaching is.  The mission of the church is to make disciples, and there is no Plan B).  Our ultimate goal is nothing less than full obedience to everything Jesus taught.  It’s the only way we can fulfill the second half of the Great Commission.  But our attitude towards people who are sinful and hurting needs to be aligned with the compassion and ministry of Jesus rather than the disdain, disgust, and exclusivity of the Pharisees.

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