OK, I don’t actually pastor a nightclub, but sometimes it feels that way. Maybe I should explain…
Discovery Church is just 10 months old. We’re a baby church. I’m new to the role of Lead Pastor. I’ve learned more about leadership this year than any of my previous 30. It’s been a wonderful, rewarding year. With that said, let me be honest about one of the weirdest aspects of planting a church like Discovery: Atheists and Agnostics like me/us much more than many of my conservative Christian fundamentalist brothers and sisters.
That seems like an outlandish hyperbole, right? In the last year we have seen faithful attendance from various Agnostics. I’ve had dinner and coffee with them. Atheists have written me to say they appreciate what our church does for the community. One Agnostic friend from another state wrote me this year and said he would regularly attend on Sundays to hear my sermons. He doesn’t buy what I say about Jesus, but he likes the message and practical application enough. Of course I’m sure not every Atheist/Agnostic feels this way, but that is the interaction I’ve had with them over the last year.
On the other hand my more conservative, “fundamental” Christian friends have had the exact opposite reaction. As a matter of fact, it would seem I pastor a nightclub. “Brad, I’d love to visit Discovery, but I’m not allowed too.” I’ve pretty much lost count how many times I’ve heard that one. One high school student had to beg their Christian parents to see their friend get baptized at Discovery. Just this past Sunday a young woman in tears said to me she loves coming to our church, but that it caused her a great deal of conflict with her Christian family and she is torn with whether she should continue to come. Her family is convinced she’s being taught a false gospel because I don’t preach from the King James Version. I’ll leave some of the other backlash out. It’s important to note here that not all of my fundamentalist friends have responded this way – some have been very encouraging and gracious, and not mean spirited.
So why have some acted as if Discovery Church and other churches similar to it are like nightclubs or other worldly places ‘good Christians’ avoid?
I would totally understand it if we soft sold the Gospel, weakened who Jesus was, viewed the Bible as just a nice piece of ancient literature, or embraced sinful lifestyles. But we don’t do any of those things. Watch our Beautiful Collision, or Captured by Grace sermon series and if you come away with those conclusions then you might fit in well at a Westboro Baptist Church protest.
So what is the issue? The issue is almost always in the HOW.
Not what I preach, but HOW (usually in jeans)
Not if we sing hymns, but HOW (with electric guitar and drums)
Not if we love and believe the Bible, but HOW (we don’t exclusively use the King James Version)
Not if we have church, but HOW (We meet on Sunday mornings, but not evenings. We meet for small groups in homes, not in classrooms for Sunday School)
HOW we do WHAT we do always creates the tension with some in the christian community. We’re OK with that because of WHO we do it for. We do it for those lost and in need of salvation from their sins. And we do it for those burnt by previous experiences with the church. If that brings criticism, that’s OK, I don’t lose sleep over it. I do hurt for those Christians who get caught in the crossfire.
So let me offer these pointed thoughts. You’re a fool if you are critical of other churches and pastors for doing church ministry differently than you would prefer it be done. If you criticize a church for using ‘contemporary’ Christian music (I hate those terms) instead of hymns, you are a fool. If you criticize churches for using the organ and singing hymns instead of being cool and hip like your church, you are a fool. If you use your church sign to let everyone know you use the KJV and still have night church unlike those weak watered down churches, you are a fool. If you scoff at pastors who still wear suits and not True Religion jeans, you are a fool. And there is a lot of foolishness out there.
The HOW is important because we should try to be as effective as we can in reaching people, making disciples, meeting the needs of the poor, sending missionaries to the nations etc. Discussion about discernment in the methods we use is absolutely helpful and necessary, but pot shots and back biting have no place in the kingdom. The HOW should never be the focus. The focus should be the WHAT. The WHAT is the GOSPEL. It’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ that matters.
Just to be clear it is the Gospel that is critical, not my jeans or your suit.