Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller is a self-avowed and vocal athiest. He tells of a time when he was given a Bible by someone after one of his shows and Penn says:
I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is certain point where I tackle you. And is this more important than that…”
Luke 2 records the story when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem.
I find it interesting that the place where they lost Jesus was at the Temple.
Mary and Joseph aren’t the only ones who’ve lost Jesus at church.
When the church focuses more on the color of the carpet or the drapery, whether people should be bringing in their Starbucks into the sanctuary, what kind of music is appropriate for worship, or anything else that isn’t the mission of Jesus Christ to go and make new disciples and make faithful disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), people will continue to lose Jesus at church.
It’s not that things like carpet, sanctuary decorum, music, etc., are not important. It’s just that these things are not the main thing. When we get overly caught up in discussions over secondary things, when we fail to demonstrate love, grace, hospitality, mutuality, submission, cooperation while disagreeing, that’s when people start losing faith in Jesus and his church.
But here’s the good news. Not only are people losing Jesus in church, but many are finding Jesus in church.
Mary and Joseph lost Jesus at the Temple, but that is also where they find Jesus.
When the church functions and behaves as the church of Jesus Christ – where truth and right teaching is accompanied by grace and love, where people are received for who they are so that everyone might become who God has created them to be – that’s where people find Jesus.
That’s our hope. That’s our purpose.
May we work towards becoming the church where people are re-discovering Jesus.
“Evangelism works best in the context where it’s an answer to a question” – Graham Tomlin.
Richard Froth, a seminary president, shares the following story in JR Woodward’s book, “Creating a Missional Culture”:
When he was in Romania he sat down with some members of a church who told him about a young Protestant who went up to Moldova to begin a church. The people – the city fathers, the elders, the ruling people – didn’t want him in town. They said if you come to this town and build anything, a church or anything, we will tear it down.
The young man felt God calling him to begin a work, and he went to Moldova and started by building a house for his family. He built the house, and he and his family moved in. The next morning, early in the morning they heard a knock. They went to the gate, opened it up and there stood eight men. They said, “We are here to tear down your house.” The young pastor stepped back and said, “Do what you need to do.”
The men proceeded to climb on the roof and they started tearing the roof off, one piece at a time. They worked all morning. About 11:30 the pastor said to his wife, “Honey, we need to fix some lunch.” The wife agreed. “You probably should fix it for, oh, twelve people.” She said, “What?” He said, “Yes, twelve people.” “What for?” she asked. “Well, for the people up on the roof.” She said, “What? They’re our enemies. They hate us. They’re tearing down our house.” He said, “But Jesus said we are to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. They have been working hard. I’m sure they are hungry.”
So she made them lunch, and the pastor invited them into the house. The weary men came down from the roof, entered the house and started to eat. They said, “Why are you doing this?” He said, “Because we are followers of Jesus. Jesus said to love your enemies; you’re our enemies, at least you feel like you are. We don’t know why you’re doing this, but you think you’re doing something that is good and right. We don’t understand that, but we love you anyway and we forgive you for doing this.”
After lunch they thanked the woman for the food, climbed back on the roof and started putting the roof back on, one piece at a time. And when the young pastor and his wife opened a church in that village, those eight men were the first eight converts.
Evangelism is most effective when it’s an answer to the question to which Jesus is the only right answer:
- Why do you love us?
- Why do you suffer with us?
- Why do you serve?
- Why do you care?