We Presbyterians are a careful bunch. We carefully follow legal process in our courts. We develop protocols when dealing with children and vulnerable adults. We study issues carefully and repeatedly, especially as they relate to doctrine.
And for good reason: Insurance, due diligence, criminal record checks, The Barrier Act and guidelines for appropriate touch are there because somewhere, at sometime, something has gone wrong and we don’t want history to be repeated. Experience dictates culture.
But in all of our care, have we lost sight of something far greater?
Next time you’re in a church entrance, look around for any user-friendly material aimed specifically at the unchurched: a primer on the faith, A-B-C’s on Jesus, or How to be Right with God.
Odds are, you are more likely to find a pamphlet on Leading with Care or a Presbyterian Connection rather than a glossy, vibrant Gideon mag. We’re very good at posting the locations of first aid kits and defibrillators and have plenty of hand sanitizer, Kleenex boxes and nicely-wrapped mints at the ready. But where are the spiritual life savers?
It’s part of my job to get around to different churches. I try to act like a secret shopper. How would a stranger feel? In many situations, not welcome. I might get a smile and a nod but then I’d be left alone.
The ugly truth is that we are more prepared to handle potential child molesters than with those who desperately need salvation. We prepare for the worst but aren’t remotely capable of knowing how to handle the best.
We can change that. And it starts with one person. The next time you enter your church, imagine you are someone who doesn’t know the Lord. You are desperately seeking answers and peace, a foundation for your life that the world is not providing. If you were to confide in someone, can you find a face who would listen attentively and answer gently, all with confidence and Christlike love? Is there a handy seeker’s guide to the faith, ready to put in their hands? Do you get the impression that if there were an opportunity to stand and provide testimony, that you would be welcomed with tears of joy and surrounded with new friends who will be at your side as your life is transformed?
Roll your eyes if you want, but that’s exactly what we should strive to be.
How many of our congregations teach apologetics and evangelism? I don’t know of one. (There certainly might be one or two who do this in PCC land, and if there is, please let me know.) Even if we wanted to, where would we start? I, for one, have never been formally trained.
This is all part of the two fundamental problems facing the church today: a growing lack of authentic, biblical thinking and a preoccupation with our own well being. There’s a strong connection between them. An adherence to classic theology is essential if we are to connect genuinely to God, and those who follow and practice sound theology are less likely to be wrapped in anxiety over their building and finances. Rather, they will care more about following the Great Commission to go into the world, baptize, and make disciples.
The ability to receive seekers is absolutely essential. Here’s something to ponder: is it because we are woefully unprepared that the Holy Spirit isn’t sending the lost? (Perhaps there’s a good reason — it’s God’s way of protecting the church from further damage.) Or look at it this way: If we were to carefully prep for an influx of hungry seekers, would the Holy Spirit send them?
Even if I am totally wrong and we get all spiritually dressed up for company that doesn’t arrive, at least we’re prepared to go into the world. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing anyway?
People, get ready!