How to Have a More Open Church

As we approach the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference session, I have been thinking about the many issues we face as a church. I have written in other places about the way we in the church relate to each other. Now my thoughts have turned to how we relate to those who wish to become a part of us. Any church worth its salt has to be bringing people in. The whole point of the Christian movement is to make disciples (Matt 28: 19, 20). But what has often distressed me is that we don’t treat people the way we should when they show an interest in us. I think that in order for the church to be successful in its ultimate, God-given mission, we have to get better at how we treat people that we define as sinners. These are the people who should be coming to us for help, and yet I have found that we are not always in the best position to help them. Here are some things I think we should consider changing within church culture in order to make the church a more welcome place for the people who need it most. (I think I should say here that I can only speak with authority about the Adventist Church, but I think these principles apply to any Christian denomination.)

1. Welcome people in love. I know that seems self-explanatory, but many Christians I know have a really hard time hanging out around “sinners.” I guess the first thing would be to stop thinking about them as sinners. But there’s also just a pragmatic element to this problem. If the job of the church is to make disciples, who are we making disciples? Obviously, it would be people who are not disciples now (sinners). If you can’t get comfortable around sinners, how are you going to help make them disciples? I find it funny that this is the same problem that Jesus had in His day. He spent His time trying to help people, and was criticized by “church people” because He spent too much time with those who were considered too far gone for the church. Jesus’ response? “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:12, 13)

2. Speak (and receive) the truth in love. Here is the truth – everyone in the church is a sinner, some of us saved by grace and some of us not so much. But all of us are here because at one point or another we decided that we wanted to live a better life that was more in line with what God has asked of us. Now for the person who is coming into the church seeking to learn and to grow, we cannot present to them something other than this honest picture. If we do, then all we are doing is setting them up for disappointment when they find that we are not as advertised. In addition to this, we also have to learn how to receive truth from the very people we think we’re trying to save. In Romans 2, Paul talks about those who instinctively do what the law requires because the law has been written on their hearts. (Rom 2: 14, 15) There are several implications of this text, but for our purposes here it lends credence to the idea that it is possible for someone outside of the church to know and understand thing about God that we inside the church do not know or understand. We have to be just as willing to accept truth from them as they have to be in accepting truth from us. We are here in this body called the church to learn from each other. The fact that I have been here longer does not mean that I have nothing to learn from the sinner who just walked in the door.

3. People are not the sum total of their past. We have a nasty habit in the church of defining people by their past, as soon as we discover it. We define them by the sins that we discover that they are seeking deliverance from. This is a particularly nasty habit because some people are better at hiding their sins from others, and therefore escape this labeling. But it is also just functionally incoherent. All of us are in the church to be different from who we were, so what sense does it make to define people by that? We are all attempting to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom 12:2) Furthermore, what does it matter the sins someone has in their past? Christ died for all of us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:6-8). If He loved me enough to do that for me when I was in that state, why would I accept His gift and then turn around give a sinner something less than my all? The problem is that we have yet to create a culture and environment where people can feel comfortable laying their sins open before the church and asking for help. Too many people have tried this and seen their lives torn about by gossip and scandal. Too many people have had no choice but for their sins to become known (I’m thinking of every unwed mother here) and have had to watch the eyes of judgment follow them in the house of God. If we’re ever going to fully become what God has called the church to be this must change.

4. Let people know that we are no better than them. I’ve been hinting at this throughout, but I believe this is the only way that the culture can change. We have to let people know that we are seeking to live a better life, just like they are, and that we continue to struggle with our secret and open sins, just like they will. The good news is that they can have victory, just like we do, and grace to cover them if they should fall, just like we do. Paul’s example is instructive here. The Book of Romans was written approximately ten years before Paul died. This was towards the end of Paul’s life after several years in ministry and starting churches all over the world of his day. At that point in his life he said this to the Roman church, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (Rom 7:18-20) If Paul was saying that towards the end of his life, I think it’s safe to say that many of us will continue to wrestle with good and evil. But this also gives me hope. Because Paul continued to wrestle and at the end of his life was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7-8)

If Paul can fight and win, we all can do it. I’m not saying that if the culture changes then every person who walks into a church will be saved and never leave. However, I want people to leave because they have a problem with Jesus, not because they have a problem with us.

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesite.Blogspot.com.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6885
5 Likes

the once was a TV show–You Bet Your Life The Gospel is not about taking a chance .“one can go to the bank on that”. The First Angel of Revelation Had the everlasting Gospel. it was a done deal. our redemption is assured, no yes buts. never the less most church’s add a yes but and then they hit you with the list.,
their theology is built upon a trust and obey with enphasis on the obey. So to most minds one is back to a works agenda, rather a Guilt-Grace-Gratutude-generosity model. The Gosoel is a gift to be shared. blessed Assurance Jesus is mine and yours also… Tom Z

5 Likes

“Sin” and “sinners” should be largely eliminated from our vocabularies as that includes everyone. Why not simply think of them a potential friends to become better acquainted with; show we are anxious to know more about THEM than eager to tell them about US. Everyone is unique and finding their interests, work, and pursuits is richly rewarding. Not until these have been explored, should we expect them to want to know more about us.

It’s not about us and our religious beliefs, it’s about them and who they are first and foremost.

5 Likes

Until we have an ALL ARE WELCOME, ALL WELCOMING attitude by 18 Million SDA believers, ALL the Pastors at the Local Churches where these 18 Million sit each Sabbth,
We WILL NEVER have an Open Church.
Plain, Simple.

2 Likes

Your would have to revise a large portion of the Bible to achieve that, since it speaks a lot about sin and sinners. You sound a lot like the late Robert Schuller, who said we should not tell people they’re sinners, since it hurts their self esteem. Mankind already has too much self esteem, without eliminating the “s” words from our vocabularies. Aside from that, many people think they are pretty good people, and aren’t inclined to include themselves in with “sinners,” whom they perceive to be the really bad ones: pedophiles, murderers, thieves, etc.

3 Likes

AMEN! Wise and wonderful words, Jason. If only…

3 Likes

To be human is to be a sinner. In training children it is always best to focus on what is praiseworthy and comment on those rather than emphasizing what may be wrong. Everyone but the psychopath knows he has done wrong, but most believe that people are good, rather than most are bad.

How many parents believe that their children are bad or see them as sinners? How many see their children as essentially good and help them to improve? Which works best in developing strong, independent adults knowing how to make good decisions?

Like the Jews with their abundance of laws and noting all those broken, is to see the worst in people while Christ encouraged the best. He also spoke on principles of how to live with others much less than individual’s sins. A church that doesn’t seen and help people to achieve their best by emphasizing the good that we all have is not following Christ’s example.

2 Likes

Reminding myself that I am a sinner ,right now in this moment, helps me to try to respond to those I find objectionable with a more compassionate heart. I frequently don’t succeed, but at least it’s a goal.

3 Likes

If we dwell on God’s Grace, we become gracious people. If God’s love is paramount in our lives, we become loving people. If sin, judgement and perfection are what matters the most to us, we end up being unforgiving, judgemental and legalistic. Adventism world wide is in dire need of an indepth and authentic culture change - that of becoming genuinely Christlike.

8 Likes

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23. Not very affirming on the part of Paul.

“There is none that doeth good, no not one.” Psalm 14:3. Very judgmental on the part of David.

“All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Isa. 64:6. No wonder Isaiah was murdered. This hurts my self esteem.

Reminding one’s self is fine…but too much of that is also detrimental. I agree with Elaine that it should be mostly eliminated from our vocabularies as it seldom has positive results.

2 Likes

Please, Birder…I didn’t notice Jesus went around spouting off negatives, in fact, it was the opposite! If you want to “shame” or “guilt” people go right ahead…just what we need a whole lot more anxious Adventists (there’s enough of those anyway).

5 Likes

Amen, Claude…this is the issue.

1 Like

blc
"The Gift of God is Eternal Life" — is!
Our righteousness is like stinky, dirty clothes, TRUE.
But God clothes us in a “ROBE of righteousness”. Covers our whole naked body because we gave our old clothes up when we “went down to the river to be baptized”, and washed in the Blood of the Lamb.
There is none that doeth good, TRUE. But when God looks at us, He only sees Christ.

blc
You gave some TRUE statements, unfortunately, you failed to finish the sentences.

5 Likes

I think the last paragraph is a good one. And even the others.

But one of the great sermons in the Bible, (Acts 2) is quite accusatory, and points out sin in such a way that the listeners asked what they should do, as they saw their sin face on, and desired repentance.

I think you cannot make broad generalizations about calling sin by its right name intentionally and openly. Yes it can be offensive, but necessary.

Being open with our own shortcomings I have found is very effective at winning the trust of others. They know they are among realists, who do not shy from their own weaknesses. It makes everyone more comfortable, and helps them realize that God will deal even with them. Very helpful.

4 Likes

Instead of speculating and arguing over how to make the churches more open… why don’t pastors initiate anonymous surveys for their members so they can input why they are so complacent, apathetic, passive, not open, not friendly to visitors or each other? The last pastor we had had us put on, temporarily, paper name tags so others could learn our names. All that is required in some/most SDA churches is for attenders to say…“Happy Sabbath”. Fewer say “Good morning”

Maybe include, in the survey, why so many, who attend, are so unhappy and/or lonely. Are pastors/.conference afraid to let the truth come out and let the people have a voice?

1 Like

Since you bring up these points again and again…have you explored your ideas with the brethren at the Union and/or Conference level??

5 Likes

Kim
DO people tell the Truth on Surveys?
Once a Survey is completed, a Survey is only as good as the questions.
Surveys DO NOT allow people to verbally share and compare. This sharing and comparing is where ‘Healing’ takes place.
This sharing and comparing is why I like the idea of having sit down social hour with drinks and snacks at church available each week. This is so much better than having a “survey”.

3 Likes

Why do you think 2 people liked your reply and not my post that you replied to?

Anyone care to post some survey questions here that would be relevant to assessing why churches are not open?

Rate 1-5
5 = true or highest.

  1. I enjoy going to church
  2. The sermons challenge me to spend more time with bible.
  3. I get more life insights from attending church.
  4. I feel comfortable inviting people to church
  5. I have the opportunity to really get to know people at church.
  6. At church I get tools to overcome temptation and worldliness.
  7. Church helps me develop an altruistic attitude.
  8. The sermons teach me a lot about the bible.
  9. Sabbath school is well worth my time.
  10. I hardly ever miss communion.
1 Like