Friday, January 22, 2021by Reverend Dan on January 22, 2021
So, if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while someone if prophesying (preaching), they are convicted of sin and will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
When you have been preaching as long as I have, you realize that not everyone in the church is in the same place spiritually. Every weekend, churches are full of people who are at different points in their journey. They come with a variety of needs, agendas, expectations, willingness to hear, and worldviews. Some coming knowing the Bible and others know very little about it. Some hold fundamentally to the truths of God, some have convictions that are contrary to it, and many are somewhere in the middle. Some are fluent in “Christianese”, and some sit and wonder what in the world those words mean. Some open their hands to receive the Holy Spirit and others fold their arms, ready to resist anything that doesn’t agree with their own personal theology.
I remember a friend in college who received Christ after attending a series of Wesley Foundation meetings (Methodist campus ministry) and decided to go to church with a group of us. (He had once had an experience with church that kept him out for years so this was a big step.) He showed up that morning ready to feel the same intimate relationships he had forged through love, acceptance of who and where he was, prayer, and the willingness of the group to be open and honest in discussing God.
After church, he seemed perplexed and a little frustrated. From his perspective, everything changed. We sang songs he didn’t know (or even particularly like.) People prayed using words and phrases that were weird to him. Everyone knew where to turn in the Bible, and he was struggling to find a “book” inside a “book”, much less the chapters and verses.
It is disconcerting to think how much those of us in the church take for granted during worship. And that makes is hard for new people to assimilate into the church culture. Someone once said there are two groups of people in the world: those who divide everyone into two groups and those who don't. As pastors and leaders of churches, we tend to fall into that first category.
A lot of pastors, without realizing it, speak to people who are already Christians during the weekend service and mostly ignore everyone else. The church gathering is for Christians who have learned the language and culture and are acclimated to “our kind” of worship. Other churches use worship evangelistically to reach people who have yet to believe in Christ. But in so doing, they neglect believers seeking to learn and grow and who are hungry to be challenged.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. The tension of having to address both believers and unbelievers in worship is not new. In Corinth, for example, believers were enamored with the gift speaking in tongues. The apostle Paul felt a need to weigh in and corral this behavior at worship. His reason? Unbelievers who are present in the church will not understand speaking in tongues and will be confused and scared and conclude Christians are crazy. But if those unbelievers hear God's Word spoken clearly and directly, they will be much more willing and prepared to receive that Word.
Don't miss the point Paul is making. There are at least two groups in the church at Corinth, and the presence and needs of the second group (the unbelievers) should modify the behavior and practice of the first group (the believers).
The next time you come to church, take a look around. See if you can spot a visitor or new attender who seems to be by themselves. All it may take is a quick, “Hi, thanks for joining us today. Any questions I can answer?”, and you’ll have given that person the thing they needed most: the feeling of being welcomed and loved and included.
I have a proposal – you do your part, and I’ll do mine. I’ll keep trying to feed those who hunger for more while at the same time offering the simplicity and timelessness of God’s Word and promise of salvation to those who have never heard it before. Together, let’s make the church all God created it to be.
Great and merciful God, help us to welcome everyone in Jesus’ name and show Your mercy and grace so that they know you are among us. Through Christ Jesus our Lord, AMEN.