Part of What Church Attendance Means and Doesn’t Mean

car_in_garage_by_C_DOBeing inside of a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being inside of a garage makes you a car.

I love pithy statements like that.

Mind if I attempt another one to help balance the one above? While its true that being inside of a garage doesn’t make you a car, it’s also true that if a car is going to function like its supposed to, it definitely has to spend time in a garage. While being in a church building doesn’t make you a Christian, a Christian must spend time with other Christians (the church) in order to function like he’s supposed to.

We should be clear that salvation is by God’s grace in Christ through faith in Him. No one is declared righteous before God because they gather with Christians every Sunday. There very well may be people who are trusting in their religious fervor instead of trusting in Christ for salvation. We should warn against that. I warn against that at my church.

At the same time, Scripture is clear in calling believers in Christ to meet together:

. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV).

If those who have been born again by the Spirit of God upon their faith in Him are “the body of Christ and individually members with it” (1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12; Ephesians 4), then those members will sense their need for one another. After all, there is only one Spirit of God, and that Spirit is one that promotes unity. It would be silly to claim to be unified with a group of people if the group of people never united in a regular gathering.

It is true that salvation is by grace through faith, and it is also true that those who have been saved will show evidence of their conversion, and that one of those evidences is a love for other believers expressing itself in a local church (1 John 4:20). Church attendance doesn’t save you, but for the Christian who has opportunity to gather, it does give evidence of it.

Kingdom Priorities

There was a man who stumbled over treasure in a field and was willing to sell everything he had so he could get the treasure. That’s how valuable the kingdom of God is–it’s more valuable than everything you’ve got (Matthew 13).

May I suggest that a way to tell how much the kingdom of God is worth to us is to ask: “When the priorities of God’s kingdom and another kingdom come into conflict, which one consistently wins?”

Not attending church one Sunday doesn’t cause you to go to hell or lose your salvation, but a lack of desire to attend that expresses itself in missing for almost any reason could be evidence that you don’t truly understand the value of the kingdom of God. That’s a nice way of saying, you might not actually be saved.

Remember these?

Remember these?

Look, I’m not trying to be a “if you aren’t at that building every time the doors open you’re not saved” kinda guy. I get that a local church is more than just a building–it’s a body. I get that a lot of real church stuff happens throughout the week as we encourage, check on, write, text, hang out, etc, with one another. But that doesn’t mean local churches aren’t called to meet together corporately.

I also get that sometimes  you get sick. Sometimes you’re out of town visiting family. Sometimes your job has extenuating circumstances that forces you to work on Sunday for a short period of time. I’m not worried about out of the ordinary situations. I’m worried about those who show a pattern of missing and the implications for that person and the church he is supposed to be part of.

When something conflicts with the kingdom’s priorities, which one consistently wins? How you respond to that in your lifestyle reflects how much you truly value the kingdom of God.

Suppose you’ve got a “friend” who you keep inviting over to hang out, but at the last minute, almost every time, he comes up with an excuse not to come: “I got tickets to the football game.” “I stayed up really late last night.” “I’ve got homework I haven’t done yet.” “I was nervous about getting out in this weather.” Every once in a while he shows up, but based on the excuses he gives you and how many times he has said no, you’re beginning to wonder whether or not he’s really your friend. You’d be crazy not to wonder that! Why would we think it would be any different when it comes to the priorities some have over regularly coming together with other Christians?

After all, going into a garage doesn’t make you a car, but a car won’t be functioning for long if it never spends time in the garage.

A Few Thoughts on Sermon Illustrations

preach-from-bibleI am thoroughly enjoying the new blog put out by some friends over at ministrydudes.com. It’s good, practical content for ministry, and I find it helpful for me as a rookie pastor. So, if you’re in the same boat, go check out their stuff.

Recently Marc Neppl wrote a post titled “3 Sermon Illustrations You Should Throw Away.” I asked if i could respond to his post here as it gave me a few thoughts I’ve been considering about illustrations that originated by Bryan Chappell’s book Using Illustrations to Preach with Power. I must confess I don’t know Marc well at all. We’ve met at the NAFWB convention once. I have deep respect for him, however, as he is a church planter (something that scares me–a lot!) and he can surf (I’m one of the sissiest people ever when it comes to swimming–I still hold my nose when I go underwater). Marc, thanks for letting me give some thoughts in response to your post.

First, he made some good points about integrity when using illustrations. Some illustrations used claim to be factual when they aren’t. Bad deal. As Marc implied, telling a story while claiming it’s true could “damage our credibility” (keep in mind that half your congregation can google the story as you’re telling it!).

Also, he is right that illustrations do have an emotional impact on people. I agree that a sermon based entirely on getting people to make an emotional “decision” is likely misleading and unhelpful to people. Illustrations can be abused, and based on the post, it appears Marc has observed quite a bit of that.

I gather that Marc’s post is intended to warn against the dangers of illustrations being abused in preaching. I concur with those dangers. At the same time, I want to affirm some things I’ve been learning about illustrations, especially from Bryan Chapell’s book Using Illustrations to Preach with Power.

First, it’s not necessarily bad that illustrations have an emotional appeal to them. Chapell points out that people are not just thinking beings, we’re also feeling beings. Chapell said, “Not to control emotions is wrong, but not to experience emotions is warped.” I think he’s right. The goal in preaching is not simply to help people learn new information, it’s to help people experience God so their lives are changed. This includes informing and urging, convincing, prodding, and even motivating. Preaching void of emotion (using illustrations falls into this) is not preaching that engages the whole person.

Chapell continued to note that people need to “walk in” an idea before they made a decision. They need to picture themselves there. This is why colleges want potential students to visit the campus and why realtors work to show the house to potential buyers–those people are more likely to enroll or buy because they picture themselves in the new situation. As Chapell says, illustrations in sermons serve the same purpose. They help listeners picture themselves in the way God’s Word is urging them to live before they actually change. In turn, this helps them make the change they need to make.

This is not a lack of dependence on God’s Spirit to use God’s Word. Of course, it is only by these two things that anyone is changed. However, pitting dependence on God’s Word and effective communication against one another is a false dichotomy. Communicate as well as you can in the parameters that preaching allows, and completely depend on God’s Word and Spirit in the mean time, realizing it is God who creates by His Word. The gospel is what holds the power, but if people don’t understand our explanation of the gospel because of poor communication, then the power is held hostage.

I take Marc’s warning and affirm it. There are dangers in using illustrations as he has mentioned. I want to also mention that I don’t think that means we shouldn’t use illustrations, just that we should use them intentionally.

I welcome Marc’s feedback on this, as well as other preacher friends of mine as we think through this together.

On Hell as Motivation

Golden-Eagle-Silk-Road-The-Door-to-Hell-in-Darvaza-TurkmenistanI’ve heard people tell me they got saved “because I didn’t want to go to hell,” only to affirm that decision as a false conversion.

You’ve likely heard of similar stories. I remember one time a man preaching about hell at 9am at a chapel service at camp . . . to a bunch of 10-year-olds. “Hell is hot, and you don’t want to go there.” Certainly true. Maybe not the best time of day to scare the crap out of a bunch of elementary age school kids though.

Often the stories I hear about people “getting saved” out of a fear of hell happened when someone was young. It does seem a little disingenuous, doesn’t it? You know, using hell as a motivator on the people whose imaginations are most vivid.

It’s easy to see red flags with this approach. Real conversion happens by God’s grace through faith. That’s not necessarily the same thing as praying a prayer because you don’t want to burn forever in hell. No one wants to do that. This approach can lead someone to have a false assurance. I’m sure there are other issues with this approach as well–not to mention there is no gospel in simply telling someone, “You don’t want to go to hell, do you!?! Muahahahah!”

However, lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are numerous examples in Scripture of God’s coming judgment being used as a warning to motivate repentance. See the Ninevites with Jonah, Jesus in a few parables and other places, the entire book of Hebrews, and many other places.

Hell is a motivator, but it can be used as a displaced motivator. It can motivate someone’s selfish desires–“I don’t want to go to hell!”– without that person actually having a love for God Himself.

How then should we use coming judgment as the right kind of motivator? Use coming judgment to point to the one who already suffered God’s judgment in our place.

Hell is a poor motivator unless it is used to tell of the one who went through hell to keep us from it. Using it in this kind of way actually exalts Christ in a powerful way because it helps show how much He has truly done. This kind of preaching and teaching about hell should lead people to see how glorious the King over hell is. By God’s grace, they would then avoid hell not in an effort to save their hide, but to worship and love an incredible Savior.

It is possible to use the reality of hell in a poor way, but there is also a way to use it to exalt Christ and tell of His glorious gospel.