I read a lot of magazine articles, web pages, and blog posts about church growth and leadership. Frankly, I often feel overwhelmed when facing the tasks of preaching and teaching and working with our leaders to help this body of believers grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus. I need the help; I need ideas.
What I don’t need are gimmicks. A few years ago, there was a church in Missouri where the preacher gave his sermon while a young woman was given a tattoo on stage. No kidding. Basically he preached about having a faith that can’t be wiped away; so having someone get a tattoo on stage was relevant, but I’m fairly certain it was inappropriate.
For some reason, some people – preachers, churches, or average Christians – think they need gimmicks to make the Gospel more interesting or even more palatable. The argument often goes like this: if you want to reach “this” group of people, then you need to do something like “that.” This argument makes several seriously flawed assumptions.
First, it assumes that anyone can accurately and adequately define any group of people; most definitions like that are hasty generalizations and stereotypes. Second, it assumes that all the people you’ve lumped together into a group are going to respond to any specific event, message, or medium in one specific way. Third, it assumes that individuals will reject your message out of hand because it doesn’t conform to a specific method. Last, it assumes that targeting one group of people will be more successful than communicating your message to a wider audience.
Granted, Paul did write in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” However, it seems that Paul was more concerned about meeting individuals where they were culturally and spiritually rather than trying to draw a crowd of curious spectators, hoping to win a few.
Perhaps a better perspective comes from Jesus’ parable of the sower from Matthew 13. In this parable the man sows seed by casting it broadly. Many different soils received the seed, but only the receptive soil allowed the seed to grow and produce a harvest. If we balance Paul’s approach with Jesus’ parable, maybe what we need to work on is our preparation of the soil instead of our aim; maybe we need to work on building more and better relationships with people to prepare them for receiving the Gospel than trying to target specific people with a specially prepared message.
Regardless of the approach, we must remember that the Gospel message doesn’t need gimmicks to make it more interesting or appealing. Another article I read recently stated, “If Christianity bores you, then you haven’t met Jesus.” If we discover that people are bored with the church or its message, we’ve probably been preaching and teaching the wrong message. Our message is Jesus, and after celebrating the birth of Jesus, there shouldn’t be any question about how exciting Jesus is!
Maybe we’re not living our lives in a way that reveals how exciting Jesus is. Perhaps we’re focused on the wrong message in our own lives; maybe we’re focusing on the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” instead of Jesus’ message in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I’m not going to say that we will never change what we do or how we do it, but we will never change our focus on sharing the Good News of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus. We will never change our mission of making disciples in this community.
As we go into a new year, let me assure you that I won’t be riding a motorcycle down the aisle or getting a tattoo while I preach, and we won’t be installing beer taps in the fellowship hall just to bring in a few enthusiastic new believers. I will, however, continue preaching about our amazing, life-giving Savior, Jesus Christ, and I will do my best to communicate with as much love and enthusiasm as the Holy Spirit leads. I pray you will join me on this wild ride!