A couple days ago, my wife and I were spending time with our neighbor, and we got into a conversation about religion. As a Christian, I want to take every opportunity to share the hope of Christ with our unbelieving friends. And so, we got into a conversation about Jesus and the fact that I am a Christian.
And I knew that this was the time when I should open my mouth and declare the truth about the gospel. But for some reason, the first thing that started coming out of my mouth was the fact that I went to a church, and that it’s just “right down the road”, if he’d “like to join us on Sunday”.
Sounds like a good invitation, right? Well, the problem is that that is not the gospel. That is just inviting people to church. And so, before I went any further, I had to stop myself from talking about my church, and redirect the conversation to the actual content of the gospel declaration.
It was so strange. Of the many times that I’ve proclaimed the gospel with people, I have found that it is so much easier to just invite people to come to church with me on Sunday. So much easier. But why? Why wouldn’t I just share the very simple truth of the gospel first?
I think there are several reasons why it’s easier to invite people to church than to share the real truth of the gospel:
We don’t have to confront them:
The first reason should be obvious. We don’t have to confront them with very offensive truth. Peter calls the gospel a “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Pet 2:8), and Paul calls it a “folly” and a “stumbling block” to both Jews and Greeks (1 Cor 1:18-25).
And the reason the message of gospel is foolishness, and a cause of stumbling and offense is because it assaults the pride of the human heart. The gospel tells all men that they are by nature sinful, unable to do anything good. The gospel attacks the very core of human pride by telling us that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God” (Rom 3:10-11). We must sit in front of our neighbors and coworkers and proclaim to them that they are not good, nor do they desire it, nor have they ever desired it. In fact, the intentions of man’s heart have always been, from the time of their birth, sinful (Gen 6:5).
More than that, we must tell them that the wrath of God is rightly directed at them for their sin against him. We must tell them that they are by nature, children of wrath, and that nothing that they do can remedy this problem (Eph 2:3).
Finally, we must tell them that the only way they can be saved is by looking and clinging to a humble carpenter, who though he is God, made himself nothing, and bore the wrath of the Father in our place, and rose again (literally) to everlasting life (Phil 2:5-10). And that means that nothing that we do earns us salvation, and we have no room to boast (Rom 3:27-28).
The gospel tells us that we need a salvation that we cannot earn. It tell us that even our best efforts fall eternally short. It tells us that we are all sinners. It tells us of the just wrath of God.
It is so much easier to invite someone to a ministry meeting, or a church service, or a Bible study, because that means that we don’t have to tell them any of that stuff. Indeed, sharing the gospel takes a good amount of Holy Spirit courage. Even Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, asked for boldness (Eph 6:19-20). He didn’t simply want to send out a Facebook invite to his next Wednesday night Bible study — he wanted to go deep, and share the entire gospel with all whom he encountered. And this gospel proclamation takes confrontation.
We can give the weight of responsibility for evangelism to the preacher:
The second reason it’s easier to invite people to church is because we can hand off the responsibility of evangelism to the pastor. Rather than being present in our communities, and bravely and courageously confronting the unbelievers in our lives, inviting people to church puts all the pressure on the preacher to bring a nice convicting sermon. All the weight of the Great Commission is shrugged off our shoulders and onto the minister.
This is not right. It encourages Christians to be indifferent concerning the state of their neighborhood and city. There is no weight of responsibility, and no brokenness over the lost state of friends and family. There is no weeping over the death of an unbeliever. There is no urgency. There is no sorrow and unceasing anguish in our hearts (Rom 9:1-3). And why? Because, in having a culture in which the preacher is the only one who bears the responsibility to evangelize, we are led to lazy apathy in evangelism. It really become irrelevant to us.
But biblically, the preacher is not the main evangelist, and neither is your outreach pastor (Eph 4:11-12). You are. But, because it is easier to simply bring a friend to church and let pastor preach at them, we don’t feel that weight. We don’t feel the urgency of the Great Commission. We don’t pay any attention to unreached people groups, much less our lost neighbor across the street. It is simply easier not to think of it.
But really, we should feel the weight of Paul’s anguish when he tells the Romans that he is “under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to the foolish” to share Christ (Rom 1:14), and that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart for his lost brethren (Rom 9:2). Indebted to share the gospel, and broken over the lost. This should be our heart. And indeed, it is hard to sit under that weight, which is why we give that burden to the preacher.
Church numbers and celebrity pastors appeals to the flesh:
Lastly, it is easier to invite people to church, because programs, celebrity preachers, and concentration on church attendance appeals to even the unbelieving heart. When we invite someone to church, appealing to the great children’s ministry, the goofy youth pastor, or the great sermons, we are ultimately appealing to the pride of the flesh. We appeal to the hunger in our flesh for human recognition and self-glory.
We don’t appeal to the glory of Christ; ultimately, we appeal to human strength rather than the glory of God. And that is something that every unregenerate soul can relate to, and even craves. We can all relate to the inner resume that boasts in our own greatness. And so, inviting people to church can really have a negative affect.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, dealt with this issue. There were factions between the members of the Corinthians church over which preacher was the greatest. Some followed Paul; some followed Apollos; some followed Peter. And they all argued over who was the greatest pastor. Paul wrote them, and rebuked them for becoming “puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Cor 4:6).
It is easier to invite someone to church, because we can appeal to the greatness of the programs, and boast with our unbelieving friend in the flesh. But this couldn’t be further from the gospel.
This is why I make it my aim to preach the explosive power of the gospel first. And even though it’s harder, more burdensome, and eternally more humbling to share the gospel, it is also eternally more rewarding. We should always accept all who come to our church, but never at the expense of preaching the truth of the gospel, boldly, with much fear and trembling, and all to the glory of Christ.