“If anyone teaches a different doctrine, and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissention, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of of gain.” I Timothy 6:3-5, ESV
At a conference I attended this past week, at Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, a surprising statement came from Ed Stetzer, the director of Lifeway Research. While we have seen, in recent years, many studies and statistics related to an exodus of young adults from the church, and looking inside the church would indicate that there is at least some evidence to testify that this is, at least in part, true, there is also substantial research which shows that they are not necessarily hostile to the Christian faith, or to the truths presented in scripture. A recent survey indicated that, among those who are not part of a local church now, 63% of younger adults said that they would attend a church if it presented truth to them in an understandable way that relates to their life now.
That’s supposed to be a big part of the ministry of the local Christian church, regardless of the brand name.
In the passage from I Timothy that I quoted above, the scripture gives insight regarding what happens when the church doesn’t teach truth in an understandable way. The product of such a position is envy, dissention, slander, evil suspicions and constant friction. Who would want to sign up to be part of a group that exhibited those characteristics toward its fellow members? When people are looking for meaning and purpose in life, the church needs to meet those needs with what it believes and knows to be the truth, revealed by God through Jesus Christ, and written down through the spiritual inspiration of the Bible. Many times, people wander into a body of believers simply looking for community and relationships. Unfortunately, in many cases, what they find in the church is exactly what Paul describes in this passage which doesn’t meet their spiritual need for truth, and definitely doesn’t provide community.
The same writer, Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, emphasizes the unity in the body of Christ that is supposed to characterize it, describes the new life that comes from finding, and receiving, the sacrifice of Christ and the resurrection that comes as part of that, and then says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 4:32-5:2, ESV
If a local church could be described in those terms, and word got out somehow, then it would become attractive for all of the right reasons. God’s plan for church growth is for the church to preach truth, in love, and reflect his love through Christ’s love. It would not need to rely on much in the way of creative advertising, or the attractiveness of the pastor’s personality or preaching in order to grow. It would not need to soft-pedal the redemptive message of Jesus dying on the cross, or fear that people might leave if they are offended by talking about their own sin and how to become free from it. It would not have to adopt the consumer mentality of providing everything and not expecting its members to do anything more than tithing, sitting, and listening to the religious entertainment.
It is also hard, from inside the church culture, to present truth in a way that is understandable, and relates to people’s lives where they are now. In order to do that, we have to disengage ourselves from the insulated church culture in which we have lived and done much of our thinking, and find out what it means to meet people where they are. It might be uncomfortable to do that, and it might require forming meanigful relationships with people who, at least at first, do not share your personal beliefs or convictions. You might never come to an agreement on everything, but don’t let the priorities slip, and live out the truths you teach. Make an effort to understand people and “where they are.” You have to speak their language, and they have to understand you.
Sometimes we forget that Christian faith is not something we have to do alone. We have the scriptures, inspired and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and we have the mind of Christ from the same Spirit. God is living in you. That’s why he created you in the first place. And in spite of all the things that happen to you in a lifetime, that’s an assurance that you always have.