Saturday, August 21, 2010

Does the church really know its limits - and its responsibility?

In this morning's lesson from John 6 we hear Jesus say,

"No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me..."

I thought immediately of recent reports from Alabama, where youth ministers were advised,

"Doing fun things makes it [the Christian message] accessible, but if we get too caught up in entertainment and neglect the gospel, that's when entertainment doesn't have value..."

As churches seek members, there are practical means that can be used to attract attention and connect with people. But sometimes these means become ends in themselves, and attendance numbers replace measures of spiritual conversion and growth in Christ.

The fact is, nobody can come to Christ based on the knowledge, creativity or energy of any person or organization. The will and purpose of God are decisive as to who is called to Christ, not to mention when and how they are reached.

Church responsibility kicks in once the Father draws a person to the Son. Churches provide the teaching, sacraments and disciplines through which people grow by the Holy Spirit.

Within the last decade, a self-study by giant Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois led to just this conclusion. The church found that its emphasis on excellent and expansive programs to attract the unchurched was leaving sincere converts stuck in spiritual infancy. There was too much emphasis on programs to draw people (God's work) and not enough on efforts to make them into disciples (the church's work).

Right now, the traditional worship offered in Anglican/Episcopal churches is not broadly attractive. Why God has some of his sincere people carrying a witness that is not crowd pleasing is an open question. Some would say it is punishment for compromised teaching. Some would say it is a test of faith. Others might say it is a "wilderness" experience like Jesus underwent before he went out preaching - a painful preparation for something great.

The truth is in the mind of God. He will draw to himself those he chooses, by means of his own design and by timing that fits his purpose. The church's job - always - is to open the Word of God to them so they can grow to eternal joy.