Monday, May 17, 2010
Sometimes Going to Church Is Not the Answer.
This was a worthy idea, but it soon became apparent that it was doomed to failure. The children were not “used to being in church” even when the worship was upbeat and celebrative. Some church members suggested that they be involved in classes to help understand “how they should act.” As you might expect, the children became less and less interested in attending, and the effort to integrate them into the life of the church failed.
I thought of this recently when I was listening to a friend whose ministry involves doing evangelism in Southeast Asia as he shared the lessons that he had learned. Early in his ministry, he focused on spending time with youth and young adults in certain recreational and sports activities, developing relationships, and sharing the Gospel as the opportunity came. When one of these young men accepted Christ, my friend would attempt to link him to a local church. The “hand off” rarely worked. He came to understand that the church was ready to accept the new converts only if they changed to meet the church’s standards. This often meant not only changing life style but giving up contact with former friends and even family members.
The changes expected of the new convert that became a stumbling block were not doctrinal concerns. Most of these young men just knew Jesus and little else. The problem was matters of dress, language, and association.
The learning experience for my friend was that transformation doesn’t come from going to church but in knowing Jesus. He does not question the commitment or mission of the churches in his area, but he admits that they were a bad fit for new believers. He is now working to develop indigenous faith communities for new converts.
Both situations remind us that those of us in traditional churches may unwittingly provide barriers that keep the unchurched and newly converted out of our fellowships. We don’t do it intentionally, but we expect too much and too soon. We also may take a passionate new believer out of the environment where he or she can have the most impact on unbelievers at a key time.
Sometimes going to church is not the answer.