I’ve been a pastor for a pretty long time now and I’ve heard my fair share of reasons why people don’t go to church. People say churches are judgmental, they’re close minded, they’re too political, all they want is your money. The list goes on. There is a lot about the church today that could easily turn off outsiders from ever wanting to be a part of it. In today’s cultural climate, it’s gotten harder and harder for church to become a part of people’s lives.
This isn’t a new problem. Christ followers have had detractors and critics since the early church started 2,000 years ago. What has changed though are the complaints that people have had about the church. Did you know that in the first 300 years of the church, Christians weren’t persecuted because they were irrelevant or because they were judgmental of their culture. It wasn’t because they were constantly taking offerings. It was because they said, “Caesar is not our king, Jesus is our king.” That is why Rome persecuted them.
The only bad thing people could complain about the church 2,000 years ago was “Those Christians think Jesus is God.” I’ve probably heard thousands of complaints about the church, but rarely have I heard the complaint “I don’t like that church. Sure they are loving and accepting, but they think Jesus is God.”
Despite being persecuted by the Roman empire, the early church grew exponentially. There was something about the church that was simply irresistible to people. I believe that church now should be just as irresistible to people as it was then. I understand that believing in Jesus as the Son of God is hard to believe and it’s a big step for a lot of people. That’s why when the church adds extra barriers to being a part it, it can become very insider focused.
There is one particular story in the Gospel that moved me so much that it forever changed how I looked at church. In Matthew Chapter 9 we get to find out how the author of the book met Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector, a profession in his time that made him a low life. Being a tax collector where Rome was an occupying force not only meant that you were a traitor to your people, but you also made money by extorting your countrymen. There were murderers, thieves and liars, and under those were tax collectors. While he is collecting taxes, Matthew meets Jesus just as He is starting to gather disciples. Instead of condemning Matthew for collecting taxes or giving him a stern talking to, Jesus just gives him this invitation.
Matthew 9:9 “’Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”
The other disciples were roughneck fishermen, so they were no saints either, but even they had to think Jesus was crazy. Why would Jesus ask someone who is a traitor and a thief to be a disciple? In the next verse He takes it a step further and goes to a party with Matthew that’s filled with other tax collectors. As Jesus is hanging out with the bottom rung of society, He is challenged by the religious leaders of the day as to why someone would associate with these types of people. In verse 12 and 13 Jesus says,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’’’
Sometimes we like to divide people up into different categories. Maybe we consider some people “accidental sinners” who have made a couple mistakes, while we consider others “purposeful sinners” who live in a way that seems so disgusting to us that they must somehow be less deserving of God’s love. But Jesus saw no distinction between accidental sinners and purposeful sinners. Jesus didn’t tell these people to first get their life on track and then to follow Him. He just told them “Follow Me” with no condition. That’s because it wasn’t just the accidental sinners that Jesus came for — it was everybody.
If the church can remember that their primary mission is for the sick and not just the healthy, than they’ll become a church that is simply irresistible to those on the outside.
Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at email@example.com.