If I were to use the average church outreach program as a guide, I would have to assume that the average non-Christian is lazy, stupid, ignorant, unwilling to learn and suffering from attention deficit disorder. He has two kids that he loves but never spends any time with, leaving him racked with guilt. He is trying to hold a marriage together but his wife ranks a distant second to his career.
It really seems that this is the way many Christians regard unbelievers. Consider, for example, Bible translations. Though most Christians were brought to the Lord through an ‘old-fashioned version of the Bible,’ those translations are apparently much too difficult for today’s unbelievers. After all, who could understand a difficult translation like ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ when we could use something so much easier like ‘This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.’ Why would we want to give them God’s literal words and make them think when we could do the thinking for them? I recently heard a person in a Christian bookstore explaining to someone how difficult the New International Version is and convinced the patron to purchase The Message. If I was an unbeliever I would consider this insulting! The NIV is easily readable and understandable by anyone with even an elementary-level education.
Or what about preaching? We seem to believe that despite the fact that we all sit through two or three hour lectures all the way through post-secondary education, when it comes to preaching it had better be fifteen minutes or less or we will lose their attention. Having been raised in a television-saturated culture we assume they no longer possess the ability to sit still for more than 22 minutes. So we shorten the preaching and change it to feel more like a casual talk than expository preaching of the Word.
We no longer pray in church, believing that time dedicated to prayer will drive away ‘seekers.’ Whatever happened to good old-fashioned congregational prayer? Our perception of the unbeliever’s attention deficit disorder has made us lose this practice.
Even our music shows the way we regard unbelievers. We somehow think that four verses of a hymn will bore them to tears, so we cut our music down to short choruses (which, ironically, we repeat ten or twelve times).
It is ironic that in an age where we so highly regard the New Testament church, we seem to lose sight of what made that church so great. Throughout Acts we read about the first Christians ‘praying continually,’ ‘searching the Scriptures,’ and studying doctrine. Yet in our churches we so often suppress the Scriptures, pray only before the offering and push doctrine away altogether. We do all of this to remain inoffensive to unbelievers.
I think unbelievers come to church looking for something different. If they wanted exactly what they experience in their daily lives, they would not need church. If a man sits in an office for eight hours a day why do we try to give him the exact same look and feel on his day off? Churches get noticed by being different, not by being the same. Let’s take pride in our differences and trust that God will use these to reach people for Him, just as he did with the earliest church.
What you just read, I wrote back near the beginning of this year. Since then I have noticed another trend I would like to speak about. While I already made the point that we treat unbelievers as if they are stupid, it seems that churches are also beginning to treat their membership as if they are not a whole lot better. And what is even more startling is that pastors are even being treated as if they are essentially stupid. I think, for example, of The Purpose Driven Church, a book that is greated specifically to pastors — not to the laity, but to people who are preachers of the word. The book is written, at best, at a grade-school level. Bible translations are often mixed and matched to provide the easiest possible understanding of a verse or passage and it is filled with nice stories and graphics. While there is obviously nothing inherently wrong with that, it seems to me that people in a position of impacting a church’s health should be people who do not need to rely on The Living Bible to do their biblical interpretation for them. As a guidebook for the growth and health of thousands of churches, it does not inspire much confidence. And this book is but one of a whole generation that treat pastors in the same way.
This morning I received Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox (thank you to whoever signed me up for that!) and read his article about the importance of making mistakes in ministry. Now this newsletter is also geared specifically at pastors and the newsletter itself is an extension of Warren’s site www.pastors.com. Warren speaks of the necessity of ‘believing God for big things,’ a concept I am not convinced the Bible even supports, and provides illustration for this from the story of the faithful servant of Matthew 25. In this newsletter, which is delivered to pastors, he provides Scripture quotes from only The Message. Furthermore, anyone with an understanding of proper interpretive techniques would realize that this story is not about believing God for big things, but rather is about properly investing our gifts and talents. While faith may be involved in this, the meaning of the passage is not that we should believe God for big things!
Warren also writes ‘We serve a big God, and he says the size of our faith will determine the size of our blessings in life: ‘According to your faith will it be done to you. …’ (Matthew 9:29, NIV)’ That passage does not indicate that the measure of these men’s faith was what allowed them to be healed — rather it pointed to the presence of their faith. We have to read meaning into this passage to arrive at the conclusion that the measure of their faith healed them, as if Jesus would not have healed them if their faith was slightly less.
So here we have a prominent pastor teaching other pastors from a dumbed-down version of the Bible and relying on poor exegesis to do so. Warren must regard the pastors he writes to as being intellectually vacant, for how else could he justify writing to them in this manner? Do pastors really want to be treated as if they are completely incapable of handling a real translation of the Scriptures?
Is it any wonder, then, that so many churches treat unbelievers as if they are stupid and uninterested in the things of God? If the pastors are treated as if they have little intelligence, it is no wonder that they treat their congregations and the unbelievers in their communities much the same. Perhaps we would do better to treat people with some dignity, challenging them rather than pandering to them. I often wonder if many churches do not chase away the sheep while building a congregation of goats — a congregation of people who are pandered to and are never challenged; never stimulated.