Friday, November 13, 2009

What If They Hate Us?

One of the questions which has gone viral for church planters and pastors in the last year or so has been something along the lines of, “If your church closed its doors today would anyone miss it?” The idea is a church body should bless a city – or at least a segment of the population – to the point they (the church) are missed if they are not there. This line of thinking comes from two places.

First, there is the call for the Israelites to seek the prosperity of the city of Babylon in Jeremiah 29. Second, there are 2nd and 3rd century accounts of Christians, who at the risk of contracting “the plague”, cared for the sick and dying instead of fleeing infected areas. As a result of their compassion, many converted.

I love Jeremiah 29 and I absolutely love the stories of the sacrifices of the early church. And I have no problem with asking myself if anyone would miss my church if we closed our doors. It’s not a bad question. But I have another question…

What if they hate us?

What if they want to persecute us? Kill us? Exclude us from the marketplace of ideas? What if the city riots because we have challenged its idols? What if they ignore us? What if they love what we can offer them tangibly, but are not bothered when we go? What if they think we are hackneyed? Backwards? Intolerant? Homophobic? And despiser’s of women? What if they are glad to see us fade into the night? What if they laugh at us in the name of God?

I ask this because we were never promised we will have favor with unbelievers but we are promised we will be persecuted (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12). In fact the whole picture of the Biblical witness is one of persecution, difficulty and trial because of believing the gospel and therefore following Jesus. It is impossible to read the NT and not see this as the case. Persecution is the norm, not favor. Those who placed all their work in the work of Jesus on the cross, dealt with persecution from the inside and the outside.

Now listen, this does not mean I disagree with the need to ask if we would be missed if we left the city we are ministering in. But the question is far too flat. The reality is there are contours to ministry in any particular culture. Sure, some may miss you but some may be glad to be rid of you. It would be great if people missed you and your ministry of the gospel but let’s face it; there are many who may not care at all.

But those of us who hated the bumper-sticker clichés of the fundamentalists are tweeting statements like these. And when we do we flatten the landscape of thought about how we should love the city we live in.

My fear is we will push pastors into capitulation; capitulation to a culture that will gladly celebrate our mercy ministries but decry our evangelism, our theology and our ethics. Every city in the USA will love it when we care for the poor and seek racial reconciliation. But they will not love our biblical view of money and the call to repent of it. They despise our belief in the exclusivity of Christ. And I think the popularity of this question has the power to slowly push men and women into valuing the opinions of unbelievers inordinately.

You may think I am overreacting. But I ask you, “Is it not reasonable to worry about pastors wanting to curry favor with the culture to the point of watering down the message of the gospel?” It is not like I am worrying about the ecclesiological equivalent of the Yeti. This is a real problem every pastor must deal with. No pastor wants to end up being lampooned on Everyone wants to be liked and pastors are well – this may shock you – part of ‘everybody.’

Should we love the city we minister in? Yes! Should we care if they miss us? Absolutely. But why is no one tweeting, “Does anyone…anyone in your city seek to shut you down because of your relentless preaching of the singular need to repent and believe the gospel?” Too many characters, I suppose.


Southern Cheesehead said...

Sadly, most Pastors end up spending most of their time dealing with petty things inside the church body and then don't have time left for radical evangelism. Don't get me wrong, I believe Pastors are to shepherd their flock, but sometimes the flock can monopolize all their time because they feel like that's what they pay him to do. Some of the problem is also that the congregation believes that evangelism is "the pastor's job" and not theirs. Man, we have things mixed up sometimes!

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