Yesterday evening I checked my mailbox. Junk mail. As usual.
But this time, one of the advertisements caught my eye. It was a postcard from a church in my area—an invitation to their special Easter services. The front of the advertisement read: “We’re nearly as harmless as, well…a bunny.” Followed by a picture of one of those marshmallow “peeps.” I kid you not. I flipped the card over and read:
Does the thought of going to church make you uneasy, even a little queasy? Maybe you’re worried about what to wear or what others will think. At ______, we’ve worked really hard to make your experience non-threatening, beneficial, and even fun. We have a no-pressure, laid-back style and everyone is welcome! Stop by one of our ten Easter Services… it will be more than you expected and everything you’ve been looking for. Wear whatever you want, just be yourself. We’ll have the coffee ready for you.
Now, I’m not aware of a single church that wants to come across as threatening, miserable, and a waste of time. I have no problem with churches that work hard on being welcoming. And I really appreciate good coffee. But something about their whole presentation seemed, frankly … a bit pathetic: “Don’t be scared of us! We’re not that bad! We’re ‘harmless’! We’re nicer and more comfortable than all those other stiff, meanie churches.”
I know there are many “Christians” who have done horrible things in the name of Jesus. I know there are countless individuals who have been hurt by churches. Those situations are sad and should not be swept under the rug. But still…it seems to me that some churches spend way too much time apologizing and trying to “fit in.” Like the kid in high school who will do anything to get friends—only to find out those “friends” mock him behind his back for being so insecure.
Last week I came across the website of a church in Ann Arbor. Their “About Us” page reads:
Church: a word that has been around for thousands of years, with so many meanings to different people. You do not need to throw out your definition of church, but try ours on for size. At ______, church is about people. It’s about you. So we accept you just as you are: church background or not, student, single, married, single again, with or without kids, rich, poor, young, old, whatever, we are about real relationships, relevant speakers, real life stories and rockin’ music.
I resonate with some of that statement. I’m all about churches being welcoming and relevant. Nothing is more relevant than the gospel! But again, it comes across as a bit pathetic: “Try ours on for size”?!?
It reminds me of an observation by William Murchison I read at Kevin DeYoung’s blog the other day:
“Oh, please, approve of me”—the usual message of modern Christian churches—makes a feeble substitute for “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” The trouble with Christianity is not flamboyance of conviction. The trouble is paucity of conviction, flaccidity, the turned cheek replaced by a “Kick Me” sign. (William Murchison, Mortal Follies, p. 206)
My purpose is not to sit here and point fingers at other ministries. We will all give account of our own ministries before our Master (Rom. 14:4, 12). But the two examples I referenced (and many others) make me think about our own church and how we ought to represent the convergence of grace and truth that Christ displayed. The spirit of our age seems to be: “If it sounds harsh, it’s not loving.” However, the Jesus who said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28, NIV) is the same Jesus who also said,
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:34-39)
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “No servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20)
Here’s the point: let’s represent Christ well. We must certainly do that by welcoming visitors in love. In fact, we must go beyond that and seek the lost! But we do not represent Christ well by portraying him as milquetoast and insecure. A true encounter with him will radically change you forever. He is not “harmless.”
Mike Moses is a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. He married Bethany on December 19, 2009! Mike serves as Director of Ministries at Harvest Bible Chapel in Canton, MI and is in his final semester of the M.Div. program at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike blogs at The Convergence.