I’m back after a hiatus doing some summer family things. In the meantime I got a note that another District was looking for my vital information and wanted an update on something we call “The Self-Evaluation Tool.” This is basically an FAQ form that pastors in my denomination are asked to complete so that District officials and calling congregations have an idea about some of our attitudes and opinions. After some thought I asked my District office to send back the one they already had, because in that one I answered the questions the way I’m pretty sure congregations want to hear.
In the meantime I’ve been thinking about answering these questions in different ways. I suspect that the answers that congregations want to hear are not the answers that I really believe in many cases, but I’m also pretty sure that congregations are not used to thinking in terms of the answers I really believe. So while the District has the form, here are some of the questions and what I’m really believing these days:
1. Describe your understanding of the church and its mission, especially regarding outreach to the lost.
Before we talk about the church and its mission, let’s talk about the nature and identity of the church. The church is the bride of Christ, dearly and deeply beloved by Him to such an extent that He gave His life for her, to make her His own bride, holy and blameless in His sight. So the church is the Spouse of Christ, Redeemed and made Holy in His precious blood. Her joy and delight is to praise and proclaim the Bridegroom to all, whether they will listen or not. She rejoices when those who hear join Her at the wedding feast; she is saddened when those who hear decline the invitation. She praises and proclaims the Bridegroom to all so that they may join her in her joy.
The church that urges outreach to “the lost” because “they will be lost if we don’t evangelize them” is not communicating a sense of urgency, but manipulating believers by shaming them.
The church that urges outreach to “the lost” because it’s numbers are declining is lying to “the lost” because it really doesn’t care whether they are “lost” or “saved” as long as they can bring more money / people / members to the church.
Finally, the church that urges outreach to “the lost” denigrates and marginalizes them the same way the Elder Brother denigrated and marginalized the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, calling him “This YOUR son” rather than “This MY brother.” We need instead to love them as brothers and sisters who may not have received the invitation of the Bride to the Wedding Feast or responded to her delight.