Passion is what we can’t keep inside. It spills over and can’t be contained. We love our kids – we can’t help but talk about them. We love our favorite sports teams – we talk about them first thing Monday morning at the water cooler. Christians love God more than anything else – He should constantly be on the tips of our tongues. Our passion for the Lord should be evident to all those around us. “Private Christian” should be an oxymoron – our faith should pour out through every fiber of our being.
That passion should extend to a sincere concern for those who don’t know the Lord. The fate awaiting those dying without Christ should compel Christians to set off on a rescue mission – to bring our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers toward Christ before it’s too late. That sense of urgency should drive us to risk our reputations or even lives for the sake of sharing something so valuable with those at such great risk.
But is that the Christian we see walking out the doors of America’s churches today?
This week, we continue our series about the church’s Perception, Purpose, Priority, Passion and Platform. Each “P” addresses typical objections pastors offer for no longer making community engagement and compassion core elements of their strategies – as Jesus, His disciples and the early church all did.
Passion for What?
Churchgoers believe their foremost passions line up with scripture:
- Passion for Christ
- Passion for one another
- Passion for sharing the gospel and making disciples
- Passion for serving the “least of these”
However, society today believes the passions of pastors and church members are:
- Passion for their church
- Passion for their views on social issues
Why the disconnect? Is that perception justified or just an excuse to dismiss Christianity?
At Meet The Need, we believe the Church’s shift toward Attracting & Retaining (Members) versus Transforming & Releasing (Disciples) explains its plummeting reputation:
- Passion for their church
- Advent of advertisements for churches (appealing primarily to those who attend other churches)
- Invitations to church by members (leaving gospel presentations to trained “professionals”)
- Promoting the church (e.g. “I Love My Church” bumper stickers)
- Taking care of their own yet doing little to alleviate suffering outside the “4 walls”
- Placing a higher priority on sustaining and growing the institution than loving and impacting the world around it
- Passion for their views on social issues
- Speaking out without “earning” the right to do so (by demonstrating love in commensurate proportion)
- Applying a moral standard to those who don’t subscribe to that standard in the first place
Churches Once Had Passion
When They Viewed the Community as their “Customer”
- Like Church Plants – Planters select a location strategically and cast vision for reaching that entire area for Christ. They engage in community activities and networking – or they’ll never get off the ground. Most get involved in service projects to demonstrate an interest in the welfare of the city. Yes, it’s all hands on deck in the early going – pastors and members alike must be externally focused or no one would find out about the church. Church plants are much like recent converts, eager to share their faith with all those around them. They have passion.
- Like the Church During its 1st 1900 Years – Peter, Paul and Jesus’ disciples preached and healed outside the church at every opportunity. Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter until the last century. Churches started the schools and hospitals. They served as the spiritual, educational, and charitable center of town in cities across America and throughout the world.
However, do churches exhibit the same degree of passion to reach their communities for Christ today? Do they care as deeply as they once did about the hardships and injustices of the poor and oppressed? What aren’t churches and their members as passionate about evangelism now? Why isn’t intensive evangelism training (e.g. discipleship) a significant Purpose and Priority for most churches?
The actions and behaviors of many churches are (inadvertently) feeding the public perception that they are not very interested in the needs and affairs of those outside the fold. Society is the disgruntled “customer” that feels slighted and ignored – even judged. Studies show that people still expect churches to lead the way in compassion – yet those expectations are no longer being met.
What Killed our Passion?
When Churches Started Treating Members as “Customers”
Let’s address the next two common objections heard from pastors when they see articles or books encouraging community engagement. The two we’re covering this week are “We’ve got too many issues right now to focus on external ministry.” and “We don’t have enough budget for big projects in the community.”
Do those sound like the words of pastors who maintained the same passion for the community that they did when they first planted the church? Is that the response of someone following the example of Jesus, His disciples and the early church – seeing the lost as their target “customers”?
As a former consultant, those sound more like the words often heard in business when entrepreneurs begin to realize the success that comes from being initially market focused. One day growth requires greater focus on administration and customer retention. The passion for sales takes a back seat suddenly there’s something to lose. Similarly, church planters have nothing to lose either until they face their first growing pains and the temptation to redefine their target “customer” – from reaching the lost to retaining current members.
Budgets have reflected this redefinition of the Church’s “customer” – with roughly 1% of the average church’s budget invested back in the community, where that number was historically closer to 40%.
What Can Revive Passion?
Begin Truly Treating Members as the “Church”
- The greatest enemy of passion is comfort. Comfort brings members back next Sunday but doesn’t motivate believers to rock the world for Christ. Will pastors have the audacity to challenge congregations to step far outside of their comfort zones to live Prayer-Care-Share lifestyles – and risk losing “consumers”?
- Shift from fighting an air war to a ground war. It’s easier to speak than act, to protect turf by defending the Christian stance on social issues than to show compassion to the hurting and helpless. Yet love is the only weapon that will win the culture war in America. A louder megaphone will only deepen the divide between “us” and “them”. Society already sees our passion for what we’re against, but not our passion for what we stand for.
- Prepare the troops for battle through discipleship and then deploy them into the mission field, locally and around the world. Inviting friends to church and abdicating personal evangelism is easy – but it’s not passion. Taking responsibility for sharing what we believe – not leaving that to “professionals” – is far more convincing. Passion is members acting as the living, breathing embodiment of church between Sundays.