When you stick with your current customers come hell or high water, you wind up cutting yourself off from new ones. Your product or service becomes so tailored to your current customers that it stops appealing to fresh blood. And that’s how your company starts to die.
That’s consistent with one of the key attributes of churches in decline. When churches become inward focused and start making decisions about ministry to keep people rather than reach people, they also start to die. In Luke 15:4, Jesus said it this way:
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?
Why do you think some churches slip into the mode where they’re so focused on keeping people that they neglect trying to reach people who are outside the faith? As I was reading the Bible, I stumbled upon 1 Corinthians 10:33:
I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.
Fascinating perspective, isn’t it? Typically, we don’t operate like that. We put personal conviction or preferences ahead of what may be best for others. Think about it …
- It isn’t worship if the music is too loud or too fast or the wrong genre.
- It isn’t discipleship if the content is delivered in a home or online instead of in a classroom.
- It isn’t missions if we help a neighbor who has wealth instead of focusing on people who live in poverty.
- The message is good if it calls out the sin of other people, but we’re offended when it’s our sin.
- Rather than embracing the ministries that are impacting the most people, we want the church to embrace our personal projects and passions.
- We’re more inclined to give when we can direct how the money is used.
Crazy! You’d think we’d be intentional about living out our faith to do what’s best for others. Instead, we make ministry decisions to try to keep people happy. That’s how we end up with churches full of happy Christians. That’s why churches stop growing. We start doing church for us instead of trying to impact the lives of people outside our walls.
The reality is that if we’re going to reach people outside the church and outside the faith, we’re going to have to be uncomfortable. And, once we figure out what’s best for others today, it’ll be different tomorrow. That will involve change. That means we’ll have to get uncomfortable again.
Let’s face it. It’s a lot easier doing ministry when our only goal is to keep people happy. Doing what’s best for others makes life and ministry messy. We have to be willing to rock the boat. We have to be willing to watch people who don’t have a “1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ” mindset leave the church.
When I stop doing what’s best for me and focus on what’s best for others, though, that’s when real life-change happens. It’s worth making “happy Christians” mad so that many may be saved. People who walk through the doors of our church every Sunday may look okay on the outside, but many are dealing with some tough stuff on the inside. Addictions. Marriages collapsing. Kids heading in a wrong direction. Medical challenges. Financial crisis. Lack of purpose.
Let me challenge you with these thoughts:
When you teach on “felt needs,” you aren’t watering down the message. You are helping people find forgiveness and healing and a new direction for their lives. It’s easy to preach through the Bible. It’s much harder to preach to hurting people who need to understand how the Bible applies to their lives.
When the person sitting beside you is dealing with a marriage crisis that’s leading to a crisis of faith, it makes your preferences of music and volume seem pretty insignificant. When you neglect the mission field in your neighborhood because of your sole desire to help people across the ocean, I wonder if you’re just choosing the path of least resistance.
When you choose to focus on your theological differences at the expense of helping people find healing and hope, could it be that you haven’t spent enough tyme living out your faith because you’re too busy defending your faith?
I’ve looked in people’s eyes and heard many stories. They are the real stories of real people experiencing real pain. Let’s not forget why we do what we do.