I have seen a lot of people come and go from church and from Jesus. Every church I have pastored I have brought new people in or welcomed them as they walked in but I have also seen a number of these people walk away. Is it because I am not a great preacher? Perhaps I don’t tell enough jokes or not entertaining enough. Maybe it’s the music. Is it too loud, too fast, too slow, too quiet? Maybe it’s because there are not enough chairs or perhaps the chairs are too old. It could be because the message we preach is too hard, too demanding, too personal. Or maybe it’s because these people got what they wanted and moved on.
We all remember the story of the ten lepers right? Jesus sent ten men with leprosy to present themselves to the priests. On the way they discovered they had been healed but only one returned to worship and thank Jesus. The one who returned wasn’t even a Jew. This is how so many people are who come into the church out of desperation, needing something from God. They come in all sincerity but once they have what they want they are off again, not understanding relationship, intimacy and the need for worship. I see this portrayed in the masses who almost crushed Jesus with their needs:
When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 9:8-10)
These people knew there was truth in the actions of Jesus. They could see the power to meet their needs but there was no desire for relationship. Our churches have a revolving door for these people. They come in out of desperation but they leave out of boredom. It is wrong for us to try to hold on to people using the trappings of this world, with entertainment and programs. It is wrong to bring the Church down to the level of this world when she is a house of prayer and intimacy with Jesus. It is wrong to hold on to people who fill the pews with no sincerity in their seeking.
There were those who achieved intimacy with Jesus. There were the eleven disciples and the women who supported the ministry. There were people like Mary and Martha who were friends with Jesus. There was Lazarus who also became a victim of the Sanhedrin’s plotting simply because of association with Jesus. But these were the people who saw greater worth in Jesus then what they could get out of him. They had received a lot from Jesus but they stuck around because they had fallen in love with him, the Son of God. They had realized that God gave to them out of love, not because he was some kind of wish granting god. That love compelled them into a deeper place with Jesus.
Just like with those lepers, we need to live with the reality that not everyone is going to understand the invitation to become intimate with Jesus. There will always be those who come in all beat up from life, who get doctored and healed by Jesus, and who do not feel the compulsion to return to his feet to worship. But that does not give us an excuse to stop teaching and guiding people to this place of intimacy. It does not give me license to lower my expectation. It does not give me just cause to change my church into just another entertainment alternative in the hopes of holding on to more people. The Body of Christ is about intimacy with Jesus or it’s not the Church.
So go out to the highways and byways and invite them in. Those who get it will stay and those who don’t will move on. Celebrate with those who seek greater intimacy and pray for those who lack the maturity to understand but don’t stop pressing on. Don’t try to hold on to people for the wrong reasons. Don’t dilute the message of the cross and the hope of the empty grave so a thankless people can fill the Church. Let’s celebrate the sincerity of the one who returned and desired intimacy with Jesus. Forget the numbers and let the Church be what it was always meant to be: a place of intimacy with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.