In the “real” world, the recipient of service gets to determine the value of the service received, not the individual providing the service. Demand determines supply and price. For instance, the customer in the restaurant not the waiter, determines the size of the tip, based on the quality of the service provided. Too often in “church-world,” we believe our own press clippings. That is, our own evaluation of ourselves and what is important, bears no resemblance to what others value or need, but we feel good about ourselves none-the-less. First century converts were motivated by things that we often don’t value highly.
Have you ever wondered what would motivate pagans in the first few years after the resurrection, to want to align themselves with this “Jewish cult” of a crucified, criminal, itinerant peasant preacher from a despised country? There were no services, choirs, special music, solos, a good Sunday School program, youth ministry, singles ministry, young adult ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, nurseries, paved parking lots, latte bars, sound systems, worship teams, prayer summits, proper church government, budgets, elder boards, etc., to “attract” them. Something other than a clever name resulting from a demographic marketing survey to determine “relevance,” and a slick highway billboard with Pastor Ken and Barbie grinning down in stylistic perfection, had to be working.
Why would pagans risk losing everything that matters to them in life (perhaps even life itself) to join the “Way” as it was called. What was attractive about the church that made pagans risk everything?
I think that is a fair question.
The catch phrase: “We want to be a New Testament church,” sounds noble, but it was unnerving to me to discover some years ago, that in spite of that mantra being on my lips, very little, perhaps nothing that I was involved in as a “pastor,” had any bearing on what was attractive to pagans in New Testament times.
Some years ago there was an article in Christian History magazine in which the author did a survey of pagan literature regarding the church. Since the church is supposedly called to “serve the world” as ambassadors for Christ, it makes sense to not just believe our own press reports, but to humbly consider what objective critics had (or have!) to say about “the church,” both fairly and unfairly. Sometimes, our critics are the most honest harbingers of evaluation. Even in an unfair criticism, we need to look for the germ of truth. It is usually there. Sometimes our critics are more honest because they are not influenced by worrying about hurting our feelings. We do not have to receive the malice of intent, but we should look for the glimmer of truth, and humbly take it before the Lord, and submit it to others who do love us enough to tell us what we do not want to hear about ourselves.
Herein is a condensed and adapted summary of what the author of the article discovered from pagan sources regarding what attracted them to want to become a Christian, join the community. I cannot expound on every point here, except to say, none of the things we typical value (the quality of the sermons, the worship music, the “ministries” offered, the heat and air conditioning in the building, etc.), had any bearing whatsoever on the interest of unbelievers. Here is the list (not listed in any particular priority):
1. Fortitude under persecution/pressure
2. Fearlessness of death
3. Tight community
4. A life of moral purity and prayer
5. Strong leadership
6. Care for one another, care for the needy, they lived longer. They shared risk in a time of trouble, people drew together.
7. Miracles and deliverances
8. First century evangelism consisted of relationships not arguments.
9. Many women were drawn to Christianity, because the Christian ban on abortion appealed to them, as abortion was often fatal or sterilizing. No female infanticide in the Christian community also appealed to women of the first century Roman period. A Roman (especially the father/ patria potestas) could leave a baby exposed to die if it was defective in any way, or if it was a girl should a boy be desired. These things would “motivate” women.
Friends, what is distinctive about this list? The answer to this question was instrumental in my own journey of re-evaluating everything I was doing as a “pastor” within a traditional church. It was humbling to discover, that just about everything I was giving my time, energy, and other people’s money to maintain, was irrelevant to what really matters in reaching the lost. Just about everything that is valued in a typical, Western, American “size and success” Evangelical church, isn’t in this list.
God help us all to give ourselves to what really matters, for Jesus’ cause, rather than the perpetuation of a ghetto of irrelevant religious practices, that we happen to enjoy on a weekly basis. God deliver us from a man-centered, ego-centered, bless-me-centered, false gospel that permeates the very fiber and fabric of American cultural Christian religion.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is manifested in a life that is lived, not an argument that is won. The biggest stench the Body of Christ leaves in the nostrils of an observing unbelieving world is the smell that comes from believers whose behaviors do not match their words. Ethics matter.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.stevecrosby.org. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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