Taking the Gospel to "The Found"

For all the talk that goes on in Christian churches today about reaching “the lost,” I would love to see a little more emphasis on reaching “the found.”  When people who identify as Christian but are mired from month to month and year to year in pornography, gambling, addictions, and bad marriages (at nearly identical rates to those who do not claim to be Christians), something is profoundly wrong.

There are several directions we can go with this.  1.) We can say that the reason Christians are nearly identical to non-Christians in terms of how we actually live is because what we believe is not actually capable of bringing transformation; 2) We can say that we’re missing a critical piece of the whole thing — something upon which the promise of transformation itself rests and without which there can simply be no significant transformation; 3) We can say that the problem is that we just aren’t trying hard enough.  (As some popular writers are in fact saying.  See my post “Not Crazy about Crazy Love“.)

I think the answer is #1 and #2.  I think the reason Christians en-masse are not experiencing significant life transformation is because we missing a critical piece of what Christianity actually is.  Therefore, what we end up believing in and practicing as Christians is in fact not capable of bringing significant transformation.  The solution that is always offered to this problem?  #3.  Try harder.  Think hard and grasp the amazing love of God.  Get out there and accomplish big things for God.  Look in the mirror and realize your apathy, then get with the program.  Realize what a slacker you are and do something about it.  Get “fired up.”  These are more or less all versions of the “Come up to the altar after the service and say a prayer and God will magically change you in an instant, and you’ll never be the same” approach.  (Of course though this has been known to happen, it usually does not work that way.)

I wonder what would happen if in the church we decided to stop that whole range of activities that goes by the name “evangelizing,” “witnessing,” “sharing our faith,” etc.  What if we stopped trying to “get people saved”?  I mean really, if you look at the statistics about how “saved” people actually live, what are we actually saving people from?  Better yet, what do we think we are saving them FOR?  If we say we’re saving people from hell, I would simply say, “Really?”  If the stats are true, then Christians are living in precisely the same “hell” as most other people.  So we’re just saving people from hell after they die?  Is there no connection between hell in the next world and hell in this one?  Are we really saving people from hell?  When Jesus said he came to proclaim freedom for the oppressed, did he mean that if we just grit our teeth and grin and bear it, this life will be over soon enough and we’ll somehow avoid going to hell?  No wonder our efforts at evangelism aren’t very successful.

Just forget for a minute about esoteric stuff and theology and all that.  Just think about plainly, on the level of how many of us actually live (and I don’t mean even just morally – I mean in terms of living free from fear, experiencing peace and joy, etc.).  What message do we send by what comes out of our lives?  If I could sum up the message that many Christians are, unfortunately, putting out there, I’d say that message is:

HOLD ON — THIS IS GONNA SUCK!!!

Not only does a person coming to Christ have to swear off so many things they used to consider fun before, but apparently there is no substantial change in life that happens because of it.  All the “perks” happen after we die.  New believers must plan for their marriages to still be as bad as they would have otherwise been.  They might as well plan on staying addicted to pornography or whatever else they’re addicted to.  Most everyone is judgmental (almost always including those who are most convinced they are not), but the newly “saved” person can count on learning new ways of being judgmental!

Is this the life we are calling others to?  If so, why are Christians so gung-ho about evangelism?  I know, because Jesus told us to evangelize.  But wait — the same Jesus who told us to evangelize also said,

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The known sky-high rates of Christian dysfunction is all the evidence that is needed in order to conclude that, in general, Christians are not generally living freely and lightly.  Should we really be calling others to live lives that we ourselves are not living?  Isn’t this getting into the hypocrisy our founder often talked about?

So what if we just called off efforts at evangelism for a while?  What if we asked ourselves hard questions about what it is we’re actually calling people to?  What if we focused on getting our own houses in order?  What would happen if the criterion for whether or not we are a Christ-follower was not whether we prayed some prayer in some church service, but whether we’re actually living in the freedom and lightness Jesus said is available to us?  And what if we didn’t stop seeking until we found exactly that?  What would happen if we did this?

Our lives would begin to change.  Drastically.  We’d suddenly find ourselves living what we say we believe (without even trying).  People around us would see it and wonder why and would ask questions.  Some would want the freedom and lightness we were living in and we’d have a chance to let our lips speak from the same platform from which our lives had already been speaking.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we need to try harder.  That’s the last thing we need, and is part of our problem in the first place.  Nothing is more embarrassing than when someone is well-intentioned, but trying too hard.  What is needed is something else entirely.  I will begin to deal with that in my next post.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Jeff Vannest

    I believe it was Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God, that made a very good point on this issue: The point of Christianity is not self-help. People don’t get “better” by being a Christian. Instead, people get saved. They still murder, they still divorce, they still look at porn, they still share the same human condition as everyone else.

    Kierkegaard wrote, “Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself before God…Faith is: that the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God.”

    I think he has the right of it: it’s not whether we sin, but our willingness to be transparent before God about it when we do.

    • Yes, Keller, I like him! Yes, Christianity is not self-help. But Christianity is clearly the message that help is both sorely needed and readily available.

      You mentioned (Kierkegaard mentioning) transparency. I think sin is the thing that prevents transparency between us and God from occurring (and the reverse – whatever prevents this transparency is sin). It seems like to whatever extent we are seeking real transparency with God, we must be seeking to abandon, through him, all that keeps transparency from being possible. The question is how this happens. Certainly not through simply gritting our teeth and trying harder, and certainly (from my point of view) not by giving up and saying transformation is neither possible nor intended for us.

  • Church is not the cure, but the Bible is a road map. If the ministers would stop trying to be the door to salvation with their programs and nice show and start giving the individuals more keys to study and become Christ-like I believe it would help. Those programs are nice and do draw people but why get them stuck in the door? The key to becoming christian is to become Christ like. Christ like requires Christ inside. We need more sincerity within the ranks of the believers. Even a mommy weens the baby after a while and teaches the infant to walk on its own. She will be there to assist, but not to do all the feeding. This is my belieif, think about it. Meanwhile read my book, (The Cross and the Psychiatrist) see at amazon.com also google it! Terry Dorn

    • Looks like you’ve been on quite a journey, Terry. Thanks for your comment.

  • I really enjoyed your post and found it quite thought-provoking. It occurs to me that you might enjoy a new book by Russell Rathbun titled nuChristian: Finding Faith in a New Generation. It challenges us to be transformed from unChristian (as we’re often perceived by “outsiders”) to nuChristians who are:

    * Transparent
    * Holistic
    * Loving
    * Engaged
    * Just
    * Humble
    You can find Russell’s book here: http://www.judsonpress.com/product.cfm?product_id=13514. See what you think!

  • Bryan

    I believe most people are attending church for the right reasons. However, it appears that a lot of people treat church like it was an “Airborne” tablet – you know, the ones you take if you think you may possibly get ill, preventative medicine. They seem to be hedging their bets and going through the motions, in hopes that if there truly is an after-life, they will be welcomed – whether they truly believe in what they are doing is another matter.

    Therefore, as with any other endeavor where people are going through the motions, the results are lackluster. Who likes that coworker that just barely has the energy to show up for work and just barely does enough to keep his/her job? Does anyone want a doctor or dentist who just goes through the motions? “Okay, its time for your root canal, I guess I’ll just give you some sort of shot and start drilling…yawn…”

    “Punching the clock” at church in an attempt to build good will for a ticket to heaven, out of guilt, or as a matter of routine is probably no better than skipping it altogether. What kind of life-altering experiences can be had under those conditions?

    (Disclaimer – I have never been to Dave’s church, so my comments are not directed towards his church!)

    • I don’t disagree with anything you said, Bryan. My only comment would be that I’m concerned that the problem is actually a little deeper. I’m talking not just about people who attend church for the wrong reasons, I’m talking about well-intentioned people who truly desire to know God. For even among many of them, significant and far-reaching life-change does not seem to be happening.

      • Jeremiah Diehl

        When an animal is neutered they are incapable of reproducing no matter how hard they try.
        Is it plausible that cultural and environmental factors for this generation have spiritually neutered people? Rendering them completely incapable of true and significant life-change?

        • I do not, and cannot, believe that Jerry. I think in any and all generations, people can make choices to live certain ways or not to live certain ways. I do not accept that the choice is no longer available to people about how they will live.

      • Bryan

        In looking at why church goers are failing to implement life changing activities, it could be good old fashioned procrastination robbing everyone of their motivation. Think of that seminar at work that is supposed to improve productivity – everyone leaves motivated and fired up, but you get back to your desk and there is a pile of papers to deal with, improvement must wait. So too are failed New Year’s resolutions, diets, home improvements, promises to stay in touch with friends, etc. More so than ever, the hectic nature of our society has most people in a sort of “survival mode” (not to sound dramatic), where we just barely have time to do what is needed, and what is wanted falls by the wayside.

        People at church are probably highly inspired, know what they should do, and intend to do it. But as the glow of Sunday morning wears off and the realities of their obligations set in, the churchgoer is in the same grind as the non-churchgoer. Both groups have the same short 24 hrs to deal with it all. “I would love to change lives, but it will have to wait until tomorrow”

  • Tim Mattila

    Free me from evil passions and cleanse my heart of all disorderly affections so that, healed and purifed within, I may be fit to love, strong to suffer and firm to persevere.
    Thomas a’ Kempis
    I am finding just what you are saying to be true in my life. I found this prayer in The Imitation of Christ so fitting. Written so many years ago yet still so true today. Looking forward to your next post. Thanks.
    Tim

    • Thanks Tim. Can’t go wrong with Thomas a Kempis!

  • Jeremiah Diehl

    Absolutely amazing post Dave! This really hits the bullseye on the issues I have been thinking about lately.

    “Should we really be calling others to live lives that we ourselves are not living? Isn’t this getting into the hypocrisy our founder often talked about?”

    What if the people doing the calling were brutally honest about the sin in their own lives instead of acting like they have it all together? Isn’t that false advertising?

    “What if we stopped trying to “get people saved”?”

    I hate that term, getting people saved. I hate hearing about soul saving, soul harvesting or anything else that makes us sound like spiritual superheros. The entire premise implies we have the power and that seems like the wrong mindset for a christian. Is there anywhere in the Bible where Jesus commands us to “Go out and save souls.” I was under the impression our only job was to tell people about salvation and to love others.

    Something truely is prfoundly wrong Dave! And you are right, trying harder is not the answer.
    Would you tell a blind man to try harder to see? Definitely not! He’s incapable of seeing, all the trying in the world won’t change that.

    I love reading your blog Dave.