Friday, November 27, 2009

Church as a Spiritual Hospital


When Jesus walked among us He was often criticized by the religious elite for spending too much time with sinners. The way Jesus responded to these criticisms was to use a metaphor about health and sickness. Jesus said that the healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick do. The clear implication of His metaphor was that He had come to seek and to save those who were lost. Yet, in our modern North American culture, most churches actually spend the bulk of their energy trying to attract those who are already Christians. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious is that Christians are the easiest to reach. They speak our church language and agree with the primary principles of our theology.
Reaching those who are not yet within the Christian fold is much more complicated. It takes a lot of energy and effort. It often takes a much longer period of time than we anticipated. It is almost always "messy" in a variety of practical ways. The church where I am an elder has put a lot of energy into reaching out to those who are not yet Christians. By the grace of God, many non-Christians are responding and finding new faith in Jesus Christ. But the process of helping our friends make the journey from a sinful nature toward a godly nature is not without its bumps along the way. Our church was reminded of the messy aspect of reaching non-Christians at our recent Thanksgiving Eve service. We had a large crowd for the worship service and about half the crowd were teenagers who we have reached through our youth ministry. Though the bulk of the teens were very focused on what the Spirit was saying to the group, a small group of young men were sitting over to the side of the sanctuary and were talking during the entire service. Two of the ladies who have strong friendships with the group had already gone over and attempted to quiet them, but the boys did not comply with their request. Though I was sitting on the platform, another man was preaching, so I was watching the entire affair. About half way through the sermon they got so loud that it was becoming difficult to pay attention to the young man who was preaching. I left the platform and made my way over to where they were sitting. It was my intention to send the "leader of the pack" to a different seat and then sit with the rest of the group for the remainder of the service. Needless to say, my plan did not work out so well. The leader of the pack, whom we have had difficulty with before, decided to make a scene. He said a few obscene words. At that point I called for the deacons to come and they escorted him out of the building. I wish I could say the situation ended there, but it did not. The young man became even more belligerent in the parking lot and the deacons regretfully had to call the police to come and help resolve the situation. I suppose I should point out that this is the fourth time in two years that the police have had to come to our building to assist us in situations involving difficult people. Like I said, reaching out to non-Christians is messy. I understand why most churches don't bother to do it. But if churches are not willing to get their hands dirty and reach out to people with problems, then who will help non-Christians find Jesus?
I did not go home with an uplifted spirit that night, but I did go home with an even firmer commitment to reach out to the lost. I don't know if we will ever reach that particular young man or not, but there are many other young men just like him whose hearts are not yet hardened to the Gospel. Those are the kind of people Jesus would be reaching out to, and so we must walk with Jesus in this journey, even though it is often painful and messy. We must avoid the temptation to do it the "easy" way and just reach out to the religious elite who already think they have it all together. We must continue to be a spiritual hospital reaching out to the spiritually sick. I am thankful that the Great Physician is the leader of our church, for He can heal those who are sick. I commit myself afresh and anew to do what I can to assist Him in His great work.

39 comments:

  1. I'm glad those kids were there. Good job in making a place for them. And perhaps through continued friendship the love and acceptance of Jesus will break down the hardness.

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  2. Dr T, you're spot on today. God is showing me some "new things" since I've started my new position as "outreach pastor." Reaching the lost is difficult work and requires much of us, so much that many believers & churches have checked out of the true evangelism scene.
    Praying that God's church will remember that we have been given a command to "Go, Tell and Make disciples."

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  3. Very thought provoking. I have sent this on to many in our church, especially our pastor search committee members. We are a pretty "settled" church and I'm not sure how our pastor, deacons and members would have reacted in a situation like this. The church we previously attended had a man leading the youth who had come up on the streets and had a real heart for reaching lost teens. I helped in the youth SS class and it was difficult to say the least. The church as a whole was not receptive and eventually the youth and the leader quit coming. However, many of these young people had come to a saving knowledge of Christ prior to leaving. I am adding the young man to my prayer list.

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  4. I like this.

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  5. Believers and churches have settled for religious practice rather than relationships. We seem to fear an intimate relationship with Jesus and authentic relationships with the unregenerate, regardless of how moral the unregenerate are that we know.

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  6. As a street minister, I can relate to this. So many times I have had folks show up for a service drunk, rowdy and obnoxious, a few times even had to take a knife away from someone. But that just goes with the territory. The blessing is when one of those folks come to Christ!

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  7. And (of course) it can't be just a few in the church who have this mind-set and heart-set. Lord, may ALL we 'churched' believers be increasingly willing to get a little "messy" for You and for those who do not yet know You. Amen!

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  8. Amen. How often we just reach out to those who are already believers. The Lord just keeps laying it on my heart that we are here for one more to come to faith in Christ. Keep doing what you're doing. We are praying for you.

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  9. Nice job, Terry, and oh so true.
    Sometimes I feel as though New Covenant is a "MASH UNIT." Frankly I would much rather work with these kinds of lost folks than spend a lot of precious time attempting to undo a lot of the spiritual "gobble-d-gook" all too many Christians have been fed and devoured throughout their journey.
    Humbly rely on Him for the wisdom, courage and Christ's strength working in you, and then keep plugging away, brother.

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  10. Thanks for sharing this account Terry. When we reflect Christ like love to the lost we must be willing to make Christ like sacrifices. Ouch, how far I fall short in this respect. Lord help us to be bold in our witness and not shrink back. Help us to love those who hate us and spitefully use us. May Christ's love motivate us to get out of our comfort zones, for souls are at stake. May the Kingdom of Christ rule in the hearts of many.

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  11. Very difficult situation, difficult to handle with tact, diplomacy, grace, love, and discernment while at the same time being mindful of the needs of the people in the church. Sounds like you did the best you could given the situation.

    How about a follow-up of some sort? Invite the leader to coffee. Express to him curiosity about why was he there? Does he always act this way in all public situations? Would he do this with a lecture on Zen, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.? Why did he feel the need to be socially rebellious? What is his opinion? What holds him back from Christ?

    Keep on lifting up the cross of Jesus Christ. What you are doing is right. When I read Acts, I see that every time the Gospel is preached there is controversy. If there is no controversy, it is very possible the Gospel is not being preached.

    Just a few thoughts ... thanks for your post.

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  12. I was there as well. while it was so sad a teen had to be ask to leave, as he was not willing to comply, to some simple rules of respect, I was most impressed with the way others were willing to help. But what impressed me the most was the way the teens were taking part in the service and the many wonderful testimonies of thankfulness they were sharing. That was a blessing. So that service showed what is and what can be when you really try to reach the teens and youth of today. If you don't reach out to them now then how will your church contiue on.Our youth and teens are our church of the future. They need all the leaders willing to stand in and stand up and do like Jesus did. Reach out to them when others are not willing.

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  13. May God bless you, Terry. I'm so grateful for your determination despite difficulty. It's so easy to give in or give up. There are many teens throughout the Barre area that have been drawn to Christ because of your diligence. They look forward to youth group and arrange rides to get there so they don't have to miss it. Thank you. My son is slowly drawing closer to Christ.

    I trained to be a foster parent some years ago, and they taught that often the kids will do everything they can to prove you don't love them. That's what our youth do sometimes when they are beginning to fall for the Savior-they scream and kick all the way to make sure it's real, because they want to make sure they aren't going to be let down and hurt deeply when they finally allow themselves to trust Christ. Thanks for sharing the love of Christ with our young people.

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  14. This story of the "disruption" touches my heart. Thank you for all you and your family do to reach people like this young man.

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  15. Thanks for sharing this story. It stands as an example of reaching the lost. I pray we will always be willing to have disruptions to our plans in order to share the truth with non-believers. Believers certainly need to grow but we are called to reach the lost. One thing that may help is to always remind ourselves that without Christ there is no telling how bad off we would be ourselves. It also helps to remember that before Saul believed, he got his kicks out of killing Christians. If the Lord saved Saul, and me, He can save anyone.

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  16. It's always encouraging to me to read your blog. I think many people are intimidated by some of our churches (I think poor people especially would be intimidated by some of the really big mega churches). It's a difficult thing sometimes to create an atmosphere that is inviting to the people of the world. But when they are determined to disrupt the worship, we need to act. I pray that this young man and his friends will open their hearts to the love of God. God bless you!

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  17. What you have said is absolutely true. However, we cannot cast any of them aside, even though here may be times when we would like to do so. This young man you have written about needs our prayers.

    I remember such a young person that was attending the church where I was Pastor. It appeared nothing would stop him from interrupting the service. So, I put a prayer box at the front of the Sanctuary and asked people to put the name in of any person they would like to be prayed for. Just so B.P. would be prayed for, I put his name in 12 times. Then on a given Sunday, everyone drew names and agreed to pray daily for the person they drew. Several weeks later we had a revival meeting, and on Thursday night, B.P. was the first person to respond for salvation. Once he responded, 13 more followed him to Jesus.

    By the way, B.P. grew up, became Sherrif of the county, and an outstanding Christian.

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  18. Joanne Graves, Knox City, TexasNovember 29, 2009 at 7:31 PM

    We will be praying for this young man.

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  19. This is well written and really defines the events of our Thanksgiving Eve service well. Our church has really made a point of reaching the lost in our area. It is "messy business" since most of those young lives are in trouble. But the result in a few years will be to sit back and review the changes and marvel in all God did. May we never lose this passion for the lost.

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  20. Amen!! While sharing our evening's events with a family member, I heard "Why would they let someone like that come back?!"...I responded "Who needs to be there more? The hope is that we can love them through it with God. Many lives have been changed already." I went on to share the stories of the cardboard testomonies from the anniversary service, the sermon in the clown suit, plus a few others and I was eventually faced with family members who were wishing they didn't live so far away and could be part of a ministry like the one at Faith Community Church...perspective...hmmm. I especially like the metaphor about the physician and the ailing...very apt!

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  21. Terry, my heart is with you. Thanks for your pure, surrendered heart. I am praying for the youth that you had to control, for him to find peace in Jesus. I am going to share this event. It is important for the Church to remember it's calling.

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  22. This is a must read for every true church attending Christian. It is an eye opener for us all. Please read, it will give you BACKBONE.

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  23. It is not surprising that someone who is "sick" should show symptoms of their sickness...even within the hospital. Until they have been saved from their sickness by the Physician, they will remain sick and continue to show symptoms. We cannot expect to change their behavior before the sickness has been healed.

    However, one must wonder. Is a church a spiritual hospital? I don't think that we can say that it is a spiritual hospital in the same sense that you suggest it is in your blog post. Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is our Great Physician and the leader of our church, but I don't know that that makes our church into a spiritual hospital for the unsaved. It has been my understanding that church services are primarily for the fellowship and discipleship of believers.

    Perhaps we should see Jesus as less of a physician who worked from within his hospital and more as a house doctor who went to those who were sick. When Jesus told the Pharisees that he was a physician who had come to heal the sick, it wasn't because he was inviting sinners to come to the synagogue. It was because he was going to the place where the sinners were in order to heal them. Jesus, the disciples, Paul, etc. didn't ask unbelievers to come to church so that they would hear the Gospel and be saved. Instead they went to the unbelievers. Is inviting unbelievers to church the best way to "[help] our friends make the journey from a sinful nature toward a godly nature"? Perhaps in our cultural context this is an effective method for some. I'm not sure.

    We can praise God in knowing that in some cases it can be effective. The fact that about half of the crowd at your church during your Thanksgiving Eve service was youth who have been reached through your youth ministry is a testament to that. Your church must be doing something right. It's absolutely amazing to even hear of a church with such a large number of youth attending. This can many times be the most scarce group of people within a church.

    Although I don't know if inviting an unbeliever to church is the best way to share the Gospel with them, I do know that we are all called to "GO and a make disciples of all nations..." As a church we must be willing to get "messy" and go do outreach in our community. Your exhortation to churches to be willing to do the work of reaching out to the sick is a sound one. We must reach out and share the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We cannot keep the Great Physician to ourselves.

    Thanks for the blog post, Pastor.

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  24. This was cheering to read, for me. It's nice to see that Christians haven't closed themselves off entirely and become elitist like so many other religions.

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  25. I am always inspired when I visit Vermont by the passion that I discover to reach the lost. You have said it well that doing so can be "messy." I'll continue to pray for you and the people of Faith Community, and I hope you'll pray for us that we will grow a similar passion.

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  26. Thank you Terry for this reminder. God never said it would be easy but we are commanded to reach out to the lost. Many churches in my area seem to be content with where they are. They feel no need to reach out to this new generation. My prayer is that we become fervent in our faith and get over this whole complacency issue.

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  27. Tough call. I think sometimes it's better just to let such people blow off steam and continue to be disruptive when they're just testing your patience (or are subconsciously trying to find out how tolerant Christians are). But sometimes they come just to disrupt, and I say that's when you have to throw them out. I've only had to do that twice -- usually, if the speaker can divert his attention to the one causing the distraction, it causes enough pressure for that person to leave on his/her own! But in a larger or more sensitive crowd I guess it's better to have the deacons or ushers handle it discreetly. The important thing is that the teenager came -- and I'll pray for him tonight. I hope he doesn't leave with a bad taste in his mouth but instead with an understanding that God's grace has its limits and that he is at risk of being thrown out of eternal life just as he was thrown out of the meeting.

    I'm glad you posted this -- it's not something we talk about enough.

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  28. This article was published by Baptist Press on December 10, 2009. You can find the link here:
    http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=31856

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  29. This article is also now on TownHall.com
    http://townhall.com/news/religion/2009/12/10/first-person_the_church,_getting_its_hands_dirty

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  30. This article is also no StretchMark.com (I absolutely cannot imagine why, but it's there!)

    http://www.strechmark.net/2009/12/10/first-person-the-church-getting-its-hands-dirty-530-town-hall/

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  31. Dr. and Mrs. H. B. GravesDecember 11, 2009 at 6:16 PM

    This is a good article. We added this young man to our prayer list and pray for him every day, and for all of your youth too.

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  32. THIS WAS AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE. I HAVE SENT IT TO MANY OF MY FRIENDS. YOUR GIFT OF WRITING HAS ME PRAYING EVEN MORE FERVENTLY FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO WRITE A BOOK.

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  33. http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169898

    You can also find this article on the Lifeway.com website at the link above.

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  34. Dr. Terry W. DorsettDecember 17, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    This article was reprinted in the Biblical Recorder which is the news magazine of the North Carolina Baptist Convention.

    http://www.biblicalrecorder.org/post/2009/12/16/The-church-getting-its-e28098hands-dirtye28099.aspx

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  35. Thanks for your article in the NC Biblical Recorder. I very much appreciate your resolve for those in need of the Savior and your willingness to guard the sheep while still yet pursuing the those not numbered among the flock.

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  36. Looking for practical ways to put some of the principles in this blog post into action? Purchase my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The first part of the book explains why bivocational ministry is biblical, normal and missional. The second part of the book explains how to mobilize the laity to do high level ministry in a team setting with the pastor so that the church can be effective in reaching its community for Christ.
    The book is published by Crossbooks and you can buy the book directly from them at:

    http://www.crossbooks.com/BookStore/BookStoreBookDetails.aspx?bookid=58188

    The book is also available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles.com and a many other online bookstores.
    If you live in Central Vermont, you can purchase a copy at the Faith Community Church in Barre, VT.

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