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How much church is enough?

MELISSA, Texas (BP)–“No, there’s no time to have fun as a family, we have to go to church.”

“Sorry, can’t talk right now. I am busy listening to Christian music on my Christian iPod while I use my Christian phonebook to find a Christian plumber to fix the leak in my Christian sink.”

“You think I want to sit here and bask in the awe of God’s presence? No way, I have choir practice in 15 minutes.”

Have you ever said or thought statements like these?

While I know that this is not exactly breaking news, I must admit that sometimes Christians forget they live in the real world. This may sound strange coming from a Christian, especially one whose chosen occupation is centered on helping non-Christians become Christians. Yet, each of us has met a Christ-follower (or seen buildings full of them) too busy with church stuff to pay attention to the needs of the world around them.

The highest calling of Christians, as given by the Savior Jesus Christ, is to “go and tell.” The words of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) were given to organize the followers of Jesus into a committed army of people who constantly seek ways to share the simple yet powerful message of salvation through faith in Jesus. Sadly, many followers of this Messiah have forgotten “go and tell” and instead adopted the opposite, and less stressful, philosophy of “come and hear.”

Some churches in our society still boldly preach “go and tell”, yet actually live out “come and hear.” The pastors and members of these churches readily proclaim the urgency of the Great Commission and believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. Somehow, however, they get sidetracked by laziness or busy schedules or fear of change. Perhaps they are unwilling to open up to strangers or simply are spiritual apathetic.

Tragically, some self-proclaimed Christian churches are too busy with chicken fried steak dinners and softball games that they don’t ever get around to preaching “go and tell.” In these churches, the atmosphere felt by newcomers, if they ever attend, may best be described as “we don’t really care if you come and hear, but we sure have no plans to go and tell.”

At First Baptist Melissa, our church family has adopted the vision statement of “Love God, Love One Another.” This philosophy, which guides our decisions and strategies and ministries, is powerful and motivational, but it is not very original. Actually, it was best stated by Jesus Himself in John 13:34-35 when he taught, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Loving God is the desire to worship Him and sing His praises and study His book and follow His commands. Loving others requires one to observe the needs of neighbors and friends and seek ways to meet those needs, be they emotional, spiritual, physical or financial.

While these may seem like separate and unique objectives, one of the best ways to love God is to follow Jesus’ commands (like the Great Commission) and one of the best ways to love others is to “go and tell” them about salvation found only in Jesus. See how they combine into one life-long strategy? We have found that people outside the faith are much more motivated to “come and hear” after the faithful followers of Jesus have been willing lovingly to “go and tell.”

One of the greatest obstacles to living out “go and tell” is the tendency for Christians to spend all their time inside the physical walls of the church or inside the social walls of the Christian community. In my sermons, I call this temptation “living inside the bubble.” If Christ-followers only live inside the bubble, how will people outside the faith ever hear about Jesus? If Christ-followers spend every day at church and choose only to socialize with other believers, how can they truly obey the spirit of “go and tell?”

I am convinced that one of the reasons the First Melissa family is made up of people from so many denominations and so many cities is that we really have bought into the “go and tell” instructions given by our Savior. As Christian believers, we should be thrilled when non-believers take the initiative to “come and hear,” but it is not their responsibility to obey the Savior’s commands; it is ours.

The extreme reaction to “go and tell” would be a willful decision to shun the bubble and avoid organized churches altogether. To discover the balanced, biblical reaction to “go and tell” requires one to ask a few questions.

Should Christians be involved in a local church? Of course they should, which is why it is so exciting when churches like ours reach people from a variety of religious, economic, geographic and ethnic backgrounds. The local church is where the Word of God is taught and caring relationships are formed.

Does Jesus want Christians in church? While hesitant to speak for God’s Son, I am not sure Jesus is overly pleased with His disciples being in the “come and hear” church or the “we don’t care if you come or not” church. However, I am quite certain that the Savior endorses all “go and tell” churches.

Can one be too involved in a church? I believe the answer is yes if that involvement causes me to remain forever inside the bubble and oblivious to the real needs of those outside the faith.

May I therefore call the followers of Jesus to renounce “church-ianity” and return to “Christianity”, a faith and devotion centered on Christ, not our church calendars? May I ask Christ-followers to begin living faithful, holy lives outside the bubble, following the admonition to “go and tell”?
Trey Graham is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Melissa (www.firstmelissa.com) and the author of Lessons for the Journey and Light for the Journey. He can be reached at [email protected]. In Dallas/Fort Worth, “Faith Walk with Trey Graham”, a daily Bible teaching program, can be heard at 6:30 p.m. Central weeknights on KTXG 90.5 FM. “Smart Talk with Trey Graham”, a weekly news talk show, can be heard at noon Saturdays and 8 p.m. Sundays on KTXG 90.5 FM.

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  • Trey Graham