Removing obstacles for outreach
I think it’s safe to say that all congregations want to grow. Faithful and Bible-believing Christians are well aware of the Great Commission—Jesus’ command and encouragement to his church and to believers to proclaim the gospel to all nations. They simply want more people to come to know their Savior,
And so congregations ask the question, “What is the best way to reach the lost? Why don’t people come?”
Some would point to liturgical worship as an obstacle. But is it really? Liturgical worship need not be an obstacle. The beauty and benefit of liturgical worship lies not in the fact that it is historical, but in the fact that it provides a clear path in which sins are confessed, prayers are offered, and God’s Word and sacraments are proclaimed and celebrated.
Some would point to the music used in our worship and conclude that the unchurched will not feel at home unless the music and the instruments sound more like the culture in which they live. But numerous surveys have shown that the style of music in a church is one of the least important things that the unchurched consider.
Some would point to the fact that the congregation does not have a well-organized and active evangelism program. But some of the fastest growing congregations in our synod are growing without a formal and defined effort.
Some would even point to the fact that some of the teachings we hold should be softened or tailored or even abandoned because they are out of step with today’s culture. Yet many people today are looking for a church that has not surrendered to the whims and currents of an increasingly skeptical world but boldly stands on its beliefs and principles.
I would suggest that if these are the only things we are pointing to, we are missing the two main obstacles that stand in the way of reaching the lost.
The first obstacle is one that hits very close to home. We find it in our own sinful human nature, that part of us that wants to close our ears to God’s Word, to forget his promises, and to ignore his call to us to be his witnesses. Removing this obstacle happens only when we return daily to the cross in humble repentance. This obstacle of a sinful and stubborn heart can only be thrown aside by the joy that we have in Christ. And in that joy of learning to know our Savior, we are moved to go to family and friends and neighbors and coworkers and say, as Philip said to Nathaniel, “Come and see!” (cf. John 1:43-51).
The second obstacle resides in those we want to reach with the gospel. It is the same one that’s found in us—a human heart hardened and darkened by sin and unbelief. That obstacle can’t be removed by trying to make the church seem more attractive or less offensive. It only can be removed by the same message of law and gospel that has touched our hearts.
Therein lies the mission of the church: proclaiming and sharing law and gospel to sinful people. Therein lies the power of our message: sharing the Word of God with others and watching as the Holy Spirit does the rest. Therein lies the joy of sharing the gospel: knowing that God will bring sinners into his family not by our strength or zeal or creativity or planning, but by his grace, by his power, and in his time.
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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016
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