Jesus began his official ministry in Nazareth, the town where he was raised. And in Luke 4, we see that he began it by answering a question no one was asking him.
From the book of the prophet Isaiah he read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Everyone there would have known that this verse refers to the Messiah, the Chosen One who was to come and save his people. And no one there would have thought to ask Jesus whether this verse was about him. Why would they? Jesus was a local boy who used to play with the other kids of the town, only now he was grown up. Though all devout Jews waited for the Messiah desperately, it would never have crossed their minds that Jesus was he. And yet that’s exactly who Jesus was claiming he was. There he was, in their midst, the answer to the question no one was asking him.
This post is somewhat inspired by a question sparked while reading a recent post from my friend: notapastor.wordpress.com. Thanks for sparking my thoughts with yours.
In trying to become a church that is irresistible to the “unchurched,” are we essentially answering a question no one is asking? At this time, I think the answer is yes. However, I don’t think that is reason to change our direction. I actually think it’s reason to continue.
First of all, when I say the church is answering a question no one is asking, I realize that someone is asking the question, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing the fourth of what will be many posts on being an irresistible church for the unchurched. No, my theory is that hardly anyone of those who would need to be convinced is asking this question.
Someone who doesn’t already go to church most likely is not asking how they can go to church, just like someone who is not Buddhist is probably not asking how Buddhist temples can be more welcoming to non-Buddhists. People generally do what it is they like or want to do. So, it would seem that a church who is trying to be irresistible to the unchurched is like trying to convince someone to like something they don’t already like or want something they don’t already want. The only reason this is okay, the only reason this doesn’t seem like manipulation or huckstering, is if the church is offering something of lasting value. And it has to be something that is of value even to someone who isn’t a) already asking for it, and b) already part of the congregation. It has to be easily recognizable as valuable, and immediately ready for application in every day life.
So, the challenge seems to be how to offer people something they may already be longing for (entertainment, inspiration, dialogue, true satisfaction, etc.), but to do it in a way that is sincere and not an obvious ploy to simply get more people into the building on Sundays. Just like the people in the synagogue, listening to Jesus’ proclamation, the unchurched may discover that many things they have been searching for may be available in an unlikely place.
I actually think convincing church people of this idea would be harder than convincing unchurched people. I say this as someone who has been part of one church congregation or another for my entire life. Church people like their church experience a certain way, which is why most church people choose to be part of whatever congregation they are in. Even with all the things church people may complain about in their respective congregations, there is enough that suits them to keep them around. When there isn’t enough to keep them, they either find another congregation or they stop being part of church altogether.
Obviously, the churched people of today are more like those sitting in the synagogue, listening to Jesus deliver his first sermon. None of them was apparently ready for what he had to say, to have their entire way of doing and thinking about God turned upside down. So, why would someone who likes things more or less as they are agree to change things so that those who aren’t already included can be included? My only answer to this would be that one would have to care more about including others than making him/herself happy, and how many people–churched and unchurched alike–live like this? Church people would have to be convinced that not only is it God’s will that all would be included, but that being a church to the unchurched would be the fulfillment of everything church people never knew we always wanted.
Really, one would have to be willing to do as Jesus did, and in reality even what Jesus does today: be the answer, to churched and unchurched people, that no one is asking.