Here is the first five of my list of what I believe to be the top ten mistakes made by Evangelical churches in America, in no particular order. I believe that each of these mistakes cause us to be less effective in our mission to participate with Jesus in bringing about restoration through the gospel. I hope you enjoy reading this post, because it came at the expense of my youngest son’s lunch, which I burned because I paid more attention to this article than I did his knockwurst. Next week, I will post the next five of top ten mistakes.
What do you think? Disagree with one? Have more to add? Please comment and let me know!
Sharing Half the Gospel Message: Recently, an unchurched friend asked me, “Why do Christians use the term ‘saved,’ don’t they realize how judgmental that sounds?” My answer was that many times, we Christians communicate our message as merely rescuing, or “saving” someone from hell–that Jesus only died on the cross to “forgive your sins so you can get to heaven.” I then let him know, that while I do believe that that Jesus died for my sins and that I will go to heaven when I die, that sometimes we forget to mention that there is also a life in-between! Jesus not only died to provide legal forgiveness, but he also rose to give us a transformed life in the here and now. Jesus has a story in which he invites us to participate. That truth should also be part of our message. Amazed, my friend said “Yes! I never heard that before, That makes a lot of sense. I need to take some time and think about that.” My friend has always understandably seen the church as completely irrelevant, since he had heard little or no talk about a restored life the present, but much talk about how he needs to be saved. Hopefully he is beginning to rediscover the relevance of the Gospel in his everyday life.
Lack of Timeliness in Baptisms: Baptism is also a powerful evangelism tool because it is a picture of the complete gospel: that Christ both died and rose again. It is also an opportunity for people to take a tangible and meaningful step after coming to faith. In fact, for some people baptism is the very step that they take to profess their saving faith – much like the “sinner’s prayer” does for others. Some churches delay baptism after a profession of faith to allow for some sort of process. However, a timely baptism demonstrates that nothing else is necessary but God’s grace. I have always been amazed to witness people who were close to believing finally come to faith immediately after witnessing a baptism.
Drawing a Line in the Sand Over the Theory of Evolution: The church made a similar mistake 400 years ago when it drew a line in the sand over a geocentric view of the universe. This view that the earth was the center of the universe was based on literal interpretation of verses such as Psalm 19:6, which says about the sun: “It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other.” Galileo’s good science eventually proved not that the Bible was incorrect, but that the church’s interpretation of the Bible was. The resulting causalities were the many people who were alienated from faith, because when the church drew a line in the sand, they had no choice but to step over it. Likewise, we may be drawing a line in the sand by insisting that Genesis is meant to be taken as historical narrative, thereby laying out a necessary time sequence for the origin of life. However, it is conceivable that Genesis may be in some way intended to be taken in a more figurative, poetic way, much the same way as we now understand Psalm 19. This does not mean that we understand it to be any less true. Among the people who held this view was St. Augustine, who is way out of any of our theological leagues, and had no pressure from science to interpret it that way.
So, let’s just admit that we are not scientists, that we don’t really know anything about Potassium-Argon Dating, and allow science to run its course before we alienate even more millions of people. If it is done well, science will certainly reveal new amazing truths about God and his work in the universe, much like Galileo’s telescope has done for us today!
Lack of Emphasis of Corporate Prayer in Worship Gatherings: When I was in college and involved in a campus ministry, we took time every at every meeting to share prayer requests and pray for each other – it seemed so natural, even though there was easily 100 people present. Then, when God answered prayer it not only strengthened our faith, it also demonstrated to the people among us who did not yet believe that God is real. It was exciting to see the result of many students on campus coming to faith. Compare my experience to a recent study showing that prayer consists of merely 5% of the worship service in the average contemporary evangelical church.
Deemphasizing corporate prayer potentially shields people from seeing God do his best work. Prayer also demonstrates that we are a community of people who love and care for each other. I recently met a young woman who came to faith because during a service she witnessed a church gathering around to pray for a member recently diagnosed with MS. The love of the community demonstrated in that act is what won her over. Our church takes time in every gathering to share prayer requests and pray for each other, and it has been a highly effective form of evangelism lately as nonbelievers have been witnessing God answering several prayers.
Having Separate Events for Outreach: I guess we can also call this “Having Events for Christians Only.” The transformative power of the gospel working in and through the people in the community of faith is a very powerful evangelism tool. When the gospel changes people, others notice! This means that we must be patient and gracious enough to create an environment which allows people to belong before they believe. We must create a paradigm in which it is typical to include unbelievers at every event, whether they are worship services, service projects, bowling nights, or informal Sunday afternoon dinners in one’s home.
We have made a commitment to no longer get together with “just our Christian friends.” I now grieve over years of missed opportunities when we did not invite our unbelieving friends to join us for the evening because they did not fit into the correct “category.” We falsely believed that they would not relate to the gathering. Now, I understand that the problem was not in their inability to relate to the environment, but in our inability to create a relatable environment. My middle son, who is also my proofreader, reminded me on this point that our exclusivity at times also makes us appear “stuck up.” Good point.