A couple of days ago I wrote about serving people in a way that makes it obvious that God is real and active, not just serving people in a way that an atheist or agnostic can serve them. Some of the examples I gave are praying for the sick to be healed and hearing things that only God can speak to people and sharing them. You’d be forgiven if you thought I was making an argument for the supernatural. I was.
But there is another “tool” we have that the Buddhists, Atheists, or other “ists” don’t have: The Gospel. This retelling of the life of Jesus as the doorway for God drawing near to mankind isn’t just a story we tell people to convince them God is real. It *is* the power of God. Literally telling people the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return unleashes the power of God in the lives of those you tell it to.
When we do share the Gospel with people, we unleash Christ’s power to transform a person. This story of God offering His leadership in spite of our sin because of the sacrifice of Jesus is the story that will fix every human issue. It will fix poverty, because it fixes the brokenness of the human heart hat causes people to be unproductive, greedy, and wasteful. The Gospel heals the sexual perversion that is killing us because it tells us about a God who loves us despite what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. Literally, the Gospel is a seed of life that transforms a person from the inside out.
Now, people share the Gospel all the time and nothing happens. Sometimes, it’s because the Gospel isn’t shared from a heart of faith and encounter. No one will believe you’re message of transformation if you haven’t tasted the transformation in your own life. But other times, people remain under the power of the evil one after hearing the message. Jesus told us this would happen (Mark 4). But if we share the Gospel from a heart that has been changed by its message, we will inevitably see it give birth to new disciples.
So you may not be good at praying for the sick. You may not think you hear God well enough to tell people what He’s saying. Both of these things are things you can (and should try to) get better at. But everyone can share the Gospel. Everyone can share what Christ has done in their lives and connect it to what Christ has done for humanity. Every time we do this, it’s an open door to access the power of God to see a broken human life transformed.
Do you want the power of God? Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Share it.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A Christian who is part of a house church starts a conversation with a believer who goes to a traditional/institutional/legacy church. Soon the conversation turns to what the Bible says about church. The house church believer begins to lead the conversation, hoping to sway the traditional church member to become part of a house church in some capacity. The story ends a hundred different ways: sometimes the traditional church member is offended, sometimes they are convicted, sometimes nothing happens at all.
None of this is especially evil. Christians have had these types of conversations for hundreds of years: Catholic vs. Protestant, Charismatic vs. Cessationist, Evangelical vs. Mainline, etc. My point is that sometimes, especially within the house church movement, we are way more evangelistic with people who claim Jesus but not our “way” than we are with people who don’t claim the name of Jesus at all .
But friends, there is a mission field, full of lost souls that have never seen Jesus lived out and proclaimed in front of their eyes. Some of them (even in America!) have never even heard the Gospel. There are people in your neighborhood who will treat you the same way: Some will be offended, some will be convicted, and some will do nothing if you share Jesus with them. But they haven’t heard and you can share the Gospel with them one more time.
When we started out our first house church, we spent almost no time talking about what a house church was or inviting existing believers to our house church. We did what house churches do and we shared the gospel with people who didn’t believe. Did we acquire some Christians along the way? Yes. Did we inspire others Christians to start house churches? Yes. But we did this by almost completely trying to share the Gospel with other believers and ignoring the potential of growing by adding other Christians to our house church.
Alan Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways talks about how most churches in the United States are competing with each other for the 35% of the population that is attracted to a traditional, evangelical church. But there is a staggering 65% of the population in the United States that is not drawn to a traditional, evangelical church and is part of a multicultural, diverse people that are far from God. If America has 325,146,000 people, we are leaving 211,344,900 people who are lost to try and attract 113,801,100 who are easier to talk to about Jesus but are already saved.
Very little of this reminds me of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find the one that was lost (Luke 15:3-7).
Friends, my heart for those of us who claim to be a part of the house church movement is that we start house churches that touch those who are far from God. That there would be a movement of house churches planting house churches among the broken and those who formerly had no interest in God. Who better to reach those burnt out on bad religion and those who would never darken the door of a church than those who have forsaken both? If we love Jesus, we should speak about Him with those who don’t know Him, not just those who do.
We can be a missionary force, if we stop evangelizing each other and start sharing the Gospel.
Americans spend $700 billion on all Christian causes.
Of that number, $45 billion goes to any kind of work overseas.
That amounts to 6% of money that the church gives. Of that 6%, only a fraction of that money ($450 million) is sent to ministries working among those who are considered unreached. This is roughly the same amount Americans spent in 2015 on diet programs. It’s just over what we spend on Halloween costumes for our pets.
What these numbers reveal is that a staggering amount of the money we give to God ends up being spent on us. It stays within the church for the benefit of the church. It pays for pastors and buildings and programs for people who largely know and hear the Gospel. And very, very little goes towards people who have never heard of Jesus.
In fact, for every $100,000 that Christians give to the church, $1 goes to the unreached.*
Statistics, especially good ones, are our friends. They show us where our priorities are. They are like a mirror being held up to our faces so we can see what we look like. My point in sharing these statistics is not to be critical. It’s not to say that even some of the things we’ve spent money on aren’t good.
But friends, we can do better.
If we’re going to do better, it will require all of us to say no to some of the “good” things in order to say yes to better things. It will require we take a hard look at family budgets and church budgets and say “What does this line item in the budget say about our priorities?”
What good things are you committed to? Your building? Your pastoral staff? Your worship experience? Or are you committed bringing the good news of Jesus to the ends of the Earth? As it is written “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news.”
When Jesus came to the Earth, He didn’t ask for a tenth of what we had. He came and asked that we give our all to Him. This is not just a reality for individuals, but churches as well. And we have to decide if we are going to give everything to Him and let Him decide what we keep.
What would it take for giving to the unreached to move up higher in our spending priorities? What if instead of the money to the unreached being a fraction of 1% of our budget, it was 20%? What would that require you and your church to sacrifice? And would the rest of your church tolerate it? And what would everyone’s reactions say about their priorities?
We can do better. But we must change. Will you change with me?
*Most of these statistics can be found on http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats
It’s an old Mike Bickle quote that I’ve held onto for years:
“Lovers outwork workers.”
And what Mike means is that love motivates the heart. Love motivates better than money. Better than ego. Better than just about anything. People who fall in love, be it with people or causes or anything else, will think about the object they love more, do more, and tell more people about it simply because of their love.
People in love with Jesus don’t have to be motivated to spend time in prayer. People who love their church family don’t have to be begged to come to a meeting. People who love the gospel don’t have to be guilted into sharing it. They do it all out of love.
Maybe it’s time, instead of teaching people how to behave, we invite them into love.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
-Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Jesus said that if we wanted to follow him we would have to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (Mark 8:34). But often we are content to settle for uncrucified Christianity–a kind of Christianity that requires little and caters to us.
Uncrucified Christianity is the source of a lot of pain and frustration in the body. It causes us to see everything that God is doing through the lens of how it benefits us. It paralyzes us in our spiritual growth. It makes us ingrown and not outward focused.
You see uncrucified Christianity all around you.
People who get excited about the prophetic promise of a spectacular ministry but never want to serve.
People who want community but never want to share someone else’s burden.
People who love Jesus but never share the gospel.
People who love Jesus but can’t be bothered to be part of a community of people who challenge them in love.
In short, uncrucified Christianity is a hot mess.
There is an answer, but it’s not fun. We all have to go back to Jesus and acknowledge that Christianity is not about us. Once we received the Kingdom of God, this became about Jesus and the Good News.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”
Most of Christianity is trying to find their life. But every attempt, no matter how noble looking on the outside, that is not us denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus will inevitably end up with us losing whatever sense of fulfillment we are looking for. Even if we are seeking for it in spiritual environments.
But friends, if we give our lives away for the sake of Jesus and spreading the gospel, we will find more life than we know what to do with. And it will transform everything we do from a selfish expression looking to boost ourselves into a spiritual expression backed by power from heaven.
That means we need to go back to the cross. Lay our pursuits there at its feet. And wait for God to tell us what to do next.
God, save us from uncrucified Christianity.
So here’s where I get controversial. If you don’t like controversy, don’t read any further.
Several years ago my wife and I listened to a podcast on “The Moth.” The tagline for The Moth is “true stories told live without notes” and it’s a fantastic experience of listening to everyone from common, everyday people to famous politicians tell their true life stories.*
The particular story that made the greatest impact on me was a story about a young lady who moved to Colorado. When she moved to Colorado she was looking for a place to belong so she joined two groups. She joined a new church that was just getting started and she joined a multi-level marketing group (like Am-Way, Mary Kay, etc.).
The kicker was that, while she was looking for a place to belong, she was a natural saleswoman. This enabled her to quickly gain clients for her multi-level marketing business and it made her a great evangelist. She quickly moved up the ranks of both groups, finding herself in leadership and becoming very popular.
But there was a problem. She would use the same sales techniques to win people to Christ that she would use to sell people on whatever product her group was promoting. She’d constantly be in a conversation and in her mind be trying to determine whether this person needed Jesus or needed her product. She even told one story about how she was in Target talking to a woman who was in tears talking about her life and the storyteller forgot whether in the conversation she was selling Jesus or her product as the remedy for her situation.
The story takes an abrupt turn. At some point, burnt out from success and confusion, she distances herself from each group. Then, she and her husband move to New York City and she never sees either group (the church or the multi-level marketing firm) again. But as soon as she moves to New York City, someone tries to introduce her to a food co-op and get her to join. Her response: “No Thanks. I don’t believe in religions anymore.”
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this story, but I want to focus on just two:
- The Gospel of Jesus is the only true gospel. But we often settle for lesser gospels. And in the last several years I’ve seen a slew of presentations for different products that promise to change your life, make you healthier, create a work-life balance, and make your dreams come true. Products meet a specific need. Gospels (true and false) promise ultimate fulfillment. Friends, if Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, glorious resurrection, and promised coming and restoration aren’t satisfying enough for you, you will never find the happiness you seek in anything else. Please don’t buy the promises that fulfillment will come through a product that you buy or sell. It only comes through Jesus.
- The church of Jesus and the Kingdom of God should never be built on the same foundation as any multi-level marketing campaign. I know we are taught to meet people’s felt needs and to point to the promises of the Gospel. But in the end if we are only selling people an answer to their needs and not a relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth, we are doing harm to them and we hurt ourselves. Somewhere along the way, someone should have made sure that the woman in this story was meeting Jesus. Someone should have challenged her about selling Jesus the same way she sold her product. Someone should have made sure that the people she was introducing to the church had truly met Christ. Growth for the sake of growth (especially at the expense of the Kingdom) is a terrible master.
I’ve had many well-meaning friends and family members who have sold and been a part of multi-level marketing companies. They are good people who believe in a product that has made a difference in their lives. And I’m not against selling. Many people sell.**
I am against confusing lesser gospels with the true Gospel. I’m against people believing more in the product that they sell than the Bible that they read. And I’m against the church being built on sales principles that are meant to get people in the door and participating through human means. The Gospel is the power of salvation to those that believe. It will change people if we believe it, preach it, and model it. We don’t need to sell it. We need to be witnesses.
*Warning: If you take this post as a recommendation, know that while The Moth is authentic and heart-wrenching, it is also not always clean or “family-friendly.” Listen with care and discernment.
**This is my olive branch to multi-level marketing folks. I do believe people can and do have good intentions, motivations, etc. But those who are part of one must work to keep these realities at bay in their hearts. There is a lot of seduction in the industry, the primary one being greed.