When Jesus walked on earth He was often criticized by the religious elite for spending too much time with sinners. The way Jesus responded to these criticisms was to remind them that the healthy do not need a doctor, only the sick do. The clear implication of His metaphor was that He had come to seek and to save those who needed Him most, those who were still lost in their sin. 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. But is that what Jesus did?
If we followed the example of Jesus, we would be reaching those who are not yet Christian. This 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.
I recall a time with I was reminded of messy aspect of reaching non-Christians. We had a large crowd for a special worship service. About half the crowd were teenagers, most of whom were from non-Christian families. Though the bulk of the teens were very focused on the worship service, 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 had already gone over and attempted to quiet them, but they boys did not comply. 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 decided to make a scene. He said a few obscene words and drew back his arm to assault me. One of the deacons, a former Marine, immediately intervened and escorted troubled young man 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 resolve the situation, not exactly the way a pastor would want a church service to end.
Reaching out to non-Christians is messy. I understand why most churches do not 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?
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY