“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
The strategy/attitude of many believers, especially leaders – vocational and otherwise – is this:
Woo the unbeliever through acts of kindness and winsome discussion. Listen to their concerns. Take their arguments and concerns and past hurts seriously. Or at least pretend to. Go the extra mile. Concede non-germane points. Find common ground. Make no issue of their theological disagreements.
And then when you have them, when they finally convert – tell them what they should be doing. No need to really listen anymore. It is their turn now to listen. Their arguments and concerns are now crowded out by the plain fact of ecclesiastical authority and their need to submit to that authority.
Now we can start yelling at you from the pulpit.
This is what you bought. This is what you get.
Forget the invite to a pizza party for young people which is really an evangelistic service, this is the ultimate bait and switch.
For some strange reason, we have worked under a paradigm of thinking that says, “there is no need for patience with those who have believed and are now growing in grace. Patience is for unbelievers because they need saving grace. Believers need to just suck it up and get with program. You are on the team, act like it.”
Even though I am intimately familiar with this line of thinking and working and ministering – I number myself among the guilty – I call it “strange” because there is no good scriptural reason to be this way.
Paul continues to woo and argue and discuss and make his case to believers throughout his letters. And Jesus shows radical, astounding patience to his disciples despite their bone-headed doubts and foolish questions. Heck, he died for Peter after being denied by him. We would have just labeled him carnal and moved on.
Jesus was actually very, very hard on some people -those who thought they had it all together and lorded it over those who knew they didn’t.
The warp and woof of the New Testament is about how we are supposed to be a loving community. Sure, we rebuke and get frustrated. But we are to do it in the context of love. So, it’s strange.
But I have a guess as to why it happens. The fact that it does indeed happen, I’m sure of. Why? I am only guessing about. Maybe it’s the elevation of evangelization above discipleship. The evangelist and his deeds are the high water mark of spirituality, He helps them escape from hell and that is all that really matters anyway. Though we never say it, functionally we treat discipleship as the red-headed step-child of the Christian life. So, we put on our Sunday best (or is it Saturday night behavior?) to draw them in and then we can control them. Actually it’s not that we don’t care about discipleship. It’s that we don’t care about the disciples.
Those who argue for the primacy of evangelism use the Great Commission to argue their case. But the call is to “make disciples.” So if we concede their point, the line between evangelism and disciple-making shouldn’t be a stark contrast. (I know that deserves a looooong defense but work with me here, especially those who agree with me.) But it is, it’s very stark.
We think the best-case scenario is to be patient with an unbeliever’s wrong ideas about any number of issues – evolution, scripture, alcohol, etc. – and then once they are believers, it’s time to fix their ideas on issues as small as their thinking on well, small groups. And if we see any inflexibility, we abuse them in the name of discipline.
Woo them with patience. Change them with authority.
Why don’t we keep wooing them?
This is what God continually does with you and I. No one ever has all their theology right in the beginning. Actually, none of us will ever have it all right in the end. We will die as old men and women with wrong opinions on morals and theology. Of course, this is no argument for not caring about those things. But it is an argument for caring about them while caring for others. Belief in the gospel doesn’t free us from wrong thinking. It frees us from the penalty and absolute power of sin.
I don’t think our young people leave the church because we are not relevant. I think they leave the church because we cannot seem to walk the line of loving our theology and loving them even when they struggle with it. We love correcting people and stepping on their toes and bringing down the hammer far more than loving them. We want our pastors to bring it and “it” isn’t the mercy of God.
I used to work with young people, so I see through that lens. Loving them won’t keep them all in the fold through college and beyond. But if we listened and were patient it might help serve as an anchor to draw them back when the waves of rebellion threaten to pull them out to sea.
My temptation when I worked with young people was to shower praise and affection on the stronger ones, those who toed the line. When I probably should have bought more burgers and fries for the questioners, the ones who gave me sideways looks and made my job harder.
All that is easy to say now. I work in a bank.
Don’t hear what I ain’t sayin’. I am not suggesting we should reverse it. There are far too many people who are unkind to unbelievers and kind to believers. This should be anathema. What I am suggesting is we show loving patience and kindness to ‘em all. Then our kindness will not be some trick we use to draw people in to the believing community. It will be simply who we are.
Unbeliever: “Why is he being so nice to me?”
Believer: “Oh he is nice to everyone. Sickening isn’t it?”
Otherwise we are just crappy Jesus salesman hocking spiritual goods and services, only kind and forbearing because we get the sale. Our numbers are low and we need to get them up, so smile we will and act like we care about their pitiful lives.
But I don’t wanna be a crappy Jesus salesman, hoping my metrics appease a Sales Manager in the sky. I don’t want to be part of that sales team. There’s no joy there, there’s just transient relief.
Besides I’m a terrible salesman. And I’m not much better with loving people well and showing them grace. Usually, I want to just fix them.
But I wanna be good at this. And I want to be surrounded by people who are not interested in fixing those who even want to be fixed. I want to be patient with those I disagree with and not have that anxious feeling that if it could be articulated would sound a lot like “You’re stupidly wrong! Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.”
I started writing this a couple of days ago and I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ relationship to his disciples. They were constantly blowing it in every way they could…as they followed him. But he never berated him. He showed them a foolish amount of respect and gave them tasks in the midst of their crazy beliefs and requests for glory and staggering unbelief.
Maybe that’s our problem. We only respect those who we agree with and agree with us. Which is really dumb when you think about it. Because at some point you disagreed with them about something and vice versa.
We should just chuck it all… chuck anything that smacks of a “bait and switch” onto the fires of Gehenna and just switch – switch to a rock solid commitment to gracious patience with all who have trusted in this gospel of a patient Savior.