Wait a minute! Did you say there is a problem sharing Christ with Christians? Don’t they by definition already know Jesus?
I was working in the vendor’s area at a physical education conference and as I was setting up the booth, I got into a spiritual conversation with a woman next to our display. She happened to be from Alabama and was a professing Christian. During our brief talk she found out I was a Christian. She closed our discussion with the statement, “I didn’t know there were any Christians in California.” What she said stunned me and I didn’t know what to say. Her words bothered me throughout the conference.
Over the next few weeks I pondered that statement. Truthfully, part of me struggled with the fact it was a putdown of Christianity in California. The other part of me was upset because I didn’t have a snappy comeback. I should have asked her, what do mean by that? In her mind the church in our state was weak. Why did she think this way? What point was she trying to make? How did she get this impression?
Since the conversation ended with that statement, my only recourse was to guess as to what she really meant. However, based on my travels throughout the U.S. and spending time in the south, I have reached some logical conclusions.
It has been my observation churches in the south are on almost every street corner. Throughout the Bible belt it seems everybody attends a church and says he or she is a Christian. On the surface professing followers seem to make up about 80% of the population.
In California many people profess to be nones (no religious affiliation). The number of professing Christians drops significantly when compared to the south. There is a strong division between being a follower of Christ and someone who has no religious affiliation.
My conclusion is the south has a greater number of people who say they are Christian because they attend church and do good things for others. I did an entire series on the problem of being religious and not a spirit filled believer. Evangelism is much easier when the division is pronounced, when darkness and light are recognizable. Sharing the gospel with people who say they are Christians can be difficult. Blogger Paul Dean wrote about his frustrations of trying to share Jesus in the south.
The problem is that just about everyone I talk to is a member of a church. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re saved: far from it if lack of love for and commitment to Christ or lack of spiritual fruit are any indicators. They’re not saved but they think they are because they’re on a church roll. And when I’m a good guy to them, they don’t chalk it up to me being a Christ-follower (like I do), they chalk it up to me being – well – a good guy. They do that because they don’t really know the difference Christ makes in a person’s life because they’ve never experienced it. They see good Christians and bad Christians and it never occurs to them they might be seeing Christians and non-Christians because the church is filled with both. In their minds I’m a good Christian and not a – you know – regular Christian – like them.
Certainly much has been written on this issue and a watered-down gospel of easy-believism. So yes, we have a bad view of salvation and the gospel message. But I want to highlight something else (not that others haven’t done so; but it’s on my mind). We have a bad ecclesiology: a bad view of the church. When we focus on “going to church” instead of “being the church” we’ve already messed up. People go to church to fulfill their religious duty or get their religious fix. They don’t live like the church the rest of the week. They have no notion that they are the church and have a responsibility as such.
Add to that our rejection of the necessity of a regenerate church membership, our failure to exercise biblical church discipline, and our love affair with attendance over discipleship, and we ourselves – the church – have created an inability to do evangelism in our culture. You can’t evangelize people who do their religious duty and go to church occasionally.
Personally I love the division because it makes it easier to evangelize. I think the pastors in the south need to turn up the heat on their congregations and challenge the commitment of their people more. Preach the good and bad news of the gospel. Teach the book of 1 John and emphasize the marks of a spirit filled believer. This will likely result in losing some religious people, lowering your weekly attendance.
Pastors like Joel Osteen teach an appealing Christless message that attracts over 50,000 people on any given Sunday. He attracts the religious followers who want to know how they can be a better person. I’ve heard him preach an entire sermon without mentioning Jesus once.
Osteen is an example of what not to do. Instead we need strong pastors who are not caught up in the attendance game other church are playing. As in Osteen’s case it means watering down and giving a false impression of the gospel. Preach Jesus and Him crucified! Teach we are the church and going to church is a response to an inner change of the Holy Spirit and not just a Sunday duty.
I believe John in Revelations wrote to a church loaded with people who professed to be Christians but were not spirit filled. Their deeds or daily lives exposed their hypocrisy. Revelation 3:15-16 [Jesus speaking] “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” I believe Jesus hates churches whose pastors preach a watered down message and attract many who are not spirit filled believers. Jesus wants the division to be pronounced, either hot or cold but not lukewarm.
How do you evangelize the religious person? I don’t have a good answer. It is a problem of recognizing false believers and then confronting. All I know is it is difficult and trickier than talking with nones, who outright reject the gospel. This is why I love living in California. Light and darkness are easier to see.
Where is that lady now? I have a good answer to give her.
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