Three friends – Pastors Thomas, Mark, and Brian – met up once again at the annual pastors’ conference. They were all looking forward to the get-together as they had all been implementing the things that they had talked about last time. At this year’s conference, though, the speaker talked about how the senior pastor must shape the culture of the church so that outsiders wouldn’t feel uncomfortable when they visited the church.
“Why is it all on the senior pastor to shape the church culture?” asked Thomas. “There are a lot of other influences – the culture of the world around us, the media, people’s own ideas about God and church, favorite traditions, the way things were done back in the good old days – how can one person make a difference?”
“You have a good point!” agreed Mark. “There are a lot outside influences that we can’t control. But there are things we can do to shape the culture within the church. We can teach what the Bible says about godly living. We can encourage people to be friendly and give them time to greet one another. We can set a loving tone by being a loving example at services, meetings, prayer and Bible study groups, whatever we happen to be doing. We really do have a lot of different ways that we can set the tone and shape the culture of the church.”
“I agree,” said Brian. “There are many ways for us to teach and model the kind of church culture we want to have. But should we be so concerned about what our visitors think? Should the feelings of newcomers be more important than what God wants us to do? For example, you brought up godly living, Mark. Should we not talk about how to live a godly life since it might make some people uncomfortable?”
“I see what you mean,” said Mark. “But the megachurch pastor, Pastor what’s-his-name, he knows what he is talking about. Look at how many people he pulls in each Sunday! He must be doing something right. If he says a key to success is to not offend people or make them uncomfortable, I think we should at least listen and give it a try.”
“I don’t know,” Thomas interjected. “I think Brian is on to something there. Although you are right, Mark, about how we all want to be more successful and bring in more people, at what price do we want that to happen? Do we shrink back from telling people that they are sinners in need of a Savior just because we don’t want to offend them? Are we willing to let them stay in their sin and go to hell just because we want better attendance numbers and we’re afraid to make them uncomfortable? Sometimes people need to be made uncomfortable! Sometimes people need to be challenged! Jesus didn’t shrink back from calling people out of their sin to follow Him. We shouldn’t shrink back either.”
“You’re right!” exclaimed Brian. “Jesus didn’t tell us to go and put on a performance or make a Christian social club that attracts everyone in the world. He told us to make disciples that obey His commands. How can we make disciples who obey His commands if they don’t know His commands? How can we bring people to salvation if we don’t tell them they need a Savior?”
“Okay, I concede, you guys are right,” Mark admitted. “But what about the other things the speaker said about how to have a successful Sunday service? You know, the excellence in everything, new songs every Sunday, make people laugh and feel good about themselves, never do uncomfortable things like small prayer groups or discussion groups, but do make everyone comfortable with the best facilities, comfortable chairs, easy parking access, free coffee and pastries, all that stuff we do to try to get people to come. It’s all kind of overwhelming to me and I just don’t know if that is God or not.”
“I think all that stuff is just that – it’s just stuff!” said Brian. “I don’t think God cares that much about our building or furniture or parking. I think He cares a lot though about some of the other things. Like prayer, for example. How will people learn to pray and minister to one another if they don’t learn it in church? How will people be comfortable talking about Jesus with their friends and neighbors if they aren’t comfortable talking about Jesus in a small group on Sunday morning?”
“You’re right, Brian!” interjected Thomas. “We have to make disciples, not put on a performance to attract the masses. We have to set a church culture, all right, but instead of a church culture that says ‘sit down, shut up, and enjoy the pretty music and the pastor’s jokes,’ we need to establish a culture that encourages people to follow Christ, even if it costs them something or makes them uncomfortable. We need to have a church culture where people expect to have an opportunity to pray or be prayed for. We want people to be excited about the things of God and look forward to sharing their testimonies. Church is all about connecting with God and His people – everyone should be singing worship songs, praying, encouraging one another, exhorting one another, sharing what is on their hearts.”
“I hear you,” said Mark. “I guess it all depends on what we want. If we want a church full of mature Christians who are praying for their neighbors, winning people to Christ, and living godly lives for Him, then we had better equip them for that by teaching them how to grow in Christ and live in Him. But if our goal is to attract the masses, then we had better put on a slick performance and be careful not to make anyone uncomfortable.”
You nailed it!” exclaimed Brian. “That’s exactly it. And if we go down the broad road of trying to make everyone happy and comfortable, we wind up with a church of baby Christians who are unable to pray for a friend or lead someone to Christ or teach a simple Bible study. We have to decide if we want our focus to be on equipping people to go out and represent Christ to the world or if we want to focus on the number of people who come through the front doors of the church building.”
“My problem,” said Mark, “Is that I have a hard time deciding which way to go. I am always trying to do both. I am trying to make everyone comfortable and yet call people to follow Christ and grow in Him at the same time. From now on I am going to focus on making disciples who live godly lives and are able to pray and tell others about Jesus. We’ll do the prayer groups and discussion groups and allow room for everyone to participate in the services. And yes, I will still try to make visitors comfortable with what we are doing, but we will do the things that God is calling us to do as His church.”
As Mark was talking, the next session began. The three friends agreed to go out for coffee afterwards to talk about it some more. They are not alone, though, in talking about these subjects. It is a discussion that is going on across the Body of Christ. Will you join the discussion? Will you take some time and talk to God about it? Will you talk with others about these things if God leads you to?
Questions for Contemplation and Discussion
The past few decades have seen many discussions like the one above as much has been written about church growth principles and the need for churches to be seeker-sensitive. Do you think that this has been good or bad or maybe a little bit of both for the Body of Christ? In what ways?
What has been your personal experience with discussions like the one above? Have you wrestled with questions like these personally? Have you attended a church that followed some of these ideas? What did you think about them at the time?
Let’s Pray Together: Father, forgive us for the times when we have allowed the wisdom of men to lead us astray from Your will for Your church. Give us discernment to know what is from You and what is not from You. Help us to abide in You and in Your Word so that we might know the way that we should go, especially when it comes to leading Your church. Give those of us who are church leaders wisdom and insight as we lead services, meetings, prayer groups, Bible studies, all kinds of gatherings of Your people. Help us to invite everyone to be a part of what God is doing and to not just put on performances. Lead me by Your Spirit as I pray for the church leaders you have placed on my heart today….(continue praying as you feel led)