As I reflect on the nature of growing things it seems like things that grow to big – to fast, also often grows corrupt. This might seem like a big assumption to make but here are a couple of examples.
If a company grows its market share and profit in a way that was not expected then that perpetuates more growth buy interested investors who want to be a part of this new ‘miracle’ on the stock market. Eventually the company is not able to sustain the growth expected by the new investors and the interest starts to fade. However, before this takes place often the leadership of the company has managed to make a good private fortune on the company, selling their shares. Knowing what would happen all along. (Hello global economic recession in 2008)
You can observe this pattern in plants as well. Plants that are given ‘speed’ nutrients’ to grow fast are not as high in nutrition (or flavor) as naturally grown plants. The same goes for animals. What we gain in time and size seems to be lost in quality. When maximizing physical profit is the solemn priority and transaction the method then things may grow fast by the optimization of the profit, but usually there is also some kind of crash or corruption of what was good in the beginning. The root and stem can‘t sustain the weight of the crop.
Unfortunately we see this pattern in church life as well. Churches often want to grow fast to get big because we make the mistake of equating the good and true work of salvation with the number of people that has said the ‘sinners prayer’. We view the ‘unsaved’ as a ‘market’ to convert to the ‘product’ we can offer (salvation). We believe that a good church is a big church. But we are not called to be successful as the world defines success (size) we are called to be faithful, full of faith. When Christ issued the great commandment to ‘go an make disciples’, He said just that, disciples. A disciple I someone who follows. He did not say: “Go-and-make-people-that-goes-to-church-once-a-month-because-they-agree-with-the-things-said-there-and-it-eases-their-sense-of-guilt.” This is not the essence of gospel life, yet this is what we experience in many, if not the majority of churches in North America. This is not the essence of the Good News of Christ. The essence of the Gospel is a living, ongoing relationship with the risen Lord, Christ.
To fill the pews on a Sunday morning in a 3000 seat church building is not rocket science. With the right marketing strategy you will eventually be able to do so. If we use the methods of the world, the world will respond. But to see peoples lives transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we carry the gospel with us all week, wherever we are, requires more than a great marketing campaign with a huge budget. It requires relationship. And in a way that costs a lot more than your monthly check to the church. Evangelizing requires getting to know people and their joys and sorrows, to enter a journey with them. To be there when life just seems to be a long line of unbearable situations and events. To preach the gospel is to be the gospel to people who has lost a sense of joy.
People can get the worldly things anywhere, but the Church evangelizes and spreads the joy of Christ by taking time to build true relationships when the world won’t. During a couple of afternoons in Lent, clear your schedule from activities. Look around and start to listen to the people around you. You might be surprised how many people out there that just needs to be seen and listened to. If you want to be a light to other people, start to create time in your schedule where you listen to others hurts and joys. Don’t just wait to talk, but listen. To listen to someone is a rare gift to give these days and people need to be heard, not just considered as a consumer. They don’t need a ‘clean cut solution’ to all their problems but they need to know that someone actually cares, that they are seen. It may not be as glamorous as you imagined the Christian walk to be but then the Kingdom of God was not about glamour and quantity. It is about reality and quality. We don’t evangelize by great slogans, the best web resources and podcasts. We evangelize by making ourselves available to people that hurt.
There is an answer to the question that The Beatles posed back in the 60s. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” They belong with God and His family, and if you confess yourself to be a Christian, you have a responsibility to leave your comfort zone, seek lonely and hurt people out and get real, to be a friend. To evangelize is to walk alongside someone on a journey towards healing, not a ‘one time stop’ where everything is solved right then and there. Because people are people, not machines. They need time to heal. Use Lent as a period in your life when you give of ‘your’ time to others.