Church growth – a modest proposal

Rev 3:15,16,17  “. . . you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!  You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

     I knew a retired Presbyterian minister who often said that he would rather have started out with ten ‘sold out’ people for Jesus in his church than one hundred self satisfied ‘good’ Christians warming his pews.  He had watched year after year his church age and dwindle in numbers until only a few were left to spend their obligatory hour every Sunday going through the motions.   He knew why the church was declining – the people had lost touch with their own condition.   When we lose touch with why we go to church in the first place we lose the church;  “Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .” (Proverb 29:18)

     Do we pin church decline on the preachers or do we look deeper?  Some would say better preachers would have grown the church.  I don’t think so.  Somehow, we in the church have fallen into a complacent attitude about our spiritual condition and salvation.  We’ve forgotten who and what we are – broken people living in a fallen world.  This has made us too self righteous and too self reliant.   We sit in our pews convinced that the other guy desperately needs Jesus if only he would see the light.  We have become too good for our own good!  
     If  we fall into the trap of feeling that we’re basically good and do no wrong we shouldn’t go to church.  We could stay home and admire ourselves in the mirror getting just as much out of our Sunday morning as going to church to sit smugly through yet another one hour service.  We would not take up space in the pews that a person who really needs Jesus could be sitting in.   Nor would we be there to scare off people with our pious looks.  That way the Holy Spirit can minister to those who need Jesus and not have to search pew upon pew looking for a real sinner.  But a lot of the pews are empty  – perhaps people are doing this already.

     But where are the broken people?  Why aren’t they coming in droves?  Has the  anti-gospel has gotten out – sick, twisted, addicted, hurting people won’t find relief for their suffering in church?  Sadly broken people have more chance of finding Jesus in jail today.  Sick people go to the hospital for healing because  many churches don’t preach, teach and practice this part of the gospel.  Sinners are driven out of church by condemnation.  Twisted people aren’t welcome because they don’t fit in with the few remaining straight laced upright holdouts.

     Serena Woods writes: “For some, the word “Christian” does not conjure up visions of warm people with inviting arms. It conjures up visions of cynical judgments and cold shoulders. It’s damaging when you go to church thinking that you can find a community that won’t crush you with what you’ve done wrong, but find a community that won’t let you be an active participant because of your failures. It’s like finding out that the One who will always take you back, won’t. It feels hopeless in condemnation. It feels like a message of complete rejection from God.”

     The church needs more fornicators, drinkers, addicts, thugs and thieves! The church needs more people who know (and confess) they are sinners and are sold out for Jesus because their very lives depend on HIM! Jesus said; “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)

     Jesus, when he was dealing with a Pharisee’s judgment on a ‘sinful’ woman said; “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”  We need less pride and hard hearts in the church.  We, when we are smug self-righteous pretenders, need to stand up and call out under the conviction of our own hypocrisy;  Come Lord Jesus!  We need more love in the church – where are the forgiven sinners! 

     When I was a student in high school those who had done well in their classes were exempted from writing their final examination.  We had been judged good and had no need to go through the final exams.  We didn’t need to prepare ourselves  because we had already passed!  For us it was like getting into heaven.  Beautiful late spring weather and no worries about any examination.  We could even slack off as long as we looked like we were paying attention!

     What would happen if churches took up such a wonderful policy?  At the end of every Sunday service the preacher could say; “Those who feel they have been cured of their sinful tendencies need not attend next week. However, if you’re still a sinner in need of Jesus, feel free to come.  If you sin during the week and need to confess – come and confess!  If you’re broken and desperate, be here!  Come and be healed with the rest of us scum.”

     Let us make way for Jesus;  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, . . .” (Luke 4:18)

     Praise the Lord!


About Tony Kiar

Studied at Queen's (BA, BSc, BEd) and Carleton (MA). Taught highschool math, computer science and physics for many years. Became a high school principal. Now retired, worked part time at a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Also a lay pastor with the Wesleyan Church, volunteer for Prison Fellowship Canada and New Life Prison Ministries.
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