Shallow and Callow Faith
by Ted Schroder
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…. some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because it had no moisture….The seed is the word of God….Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:5-13)
How many people do you know who were raised in the church with you, went through school with you, got married, raised a family, and today, hardly ever darken the door of a church? They are our friends, and our children. They may even have started out in the ordained ministry, and then lost their faith.
They were the bright young faces who were in the children‘s choir, the Christmas pageant, the Easter egg hunt, the youth group, and the college ministry. They went on mission trips, and helped out at the homeless shelter. Their lives were filled with promise, they seemed so committed and so joyful. But somewhere they lost their way. They got in with another crowd. They found the church dull and boring. They were confronted with moral temptations they could not resist. They wanted to find themselves. They began to look at the church with cynical eyes. They thought that the church crowds were hypocrites, and conformists. They believed for a while, but in the time of testing, they fell away.
This is the profile of so many who grew up in the church, but whose roots in faith were shallow. They conformed to their parents’ faith while they were minors, but rebelled when they came of age. When they faced their first temptations in the world, they, like Adam and Eve, fell, and experienced spiritual alienation from God.
It is also true of many church members who are still on the church rolls but stopped attending worship regularly when they experienced a time of testing. It may have been a divorce, family or career challenges, a financial reversal, or some other embarrassment. Their faith was not strong enough to overcome their troubles. The roots of their faith had not gone deep enough to sustain them through their difficulties. Instead they dropped out, withdrew, and fell away from the church.
Today they are confused and searching. They may offer arguments of passion and persistence in defense of their absence from the church, but often they are hurting and questioning beneath the veneer of self confidence.
They are not unspiritual or anti-God. To the contrary they tend to be very spiritual but also very confused about their spirituality. They often believe in some kind of life after death, though they cannot identify it with specificity. The door is open to speak of eternal matters, to speak of God, but their concept of God is fuzzy. They still retain images of God from their childhood. Their conception may be a Sunday School one. It is comforting, but has little substance. To them all religions are the same. They cannot see any differences between them, and do not like the arguments of those who press their way as the only way.
They have tremendous respect for Jesus as a human being, and as a witness to the accepting love and forgiveness of God. But they are not able to accept his claims to be the way, the truth, and the life, or the final Judge of all the world. They have been raised in a world of unconditional love, which gives the highest priority to the values of tolerance, individual expression, and self-discovery.
They find it hard to submit themselves to any authority outside themselves. They want to be in control of their own lives, and don’t want to be told what to do by anyone, any authority figure, whether it be a parent or a preacher. It is hard for them to admit that they need help. They try to solve their problems on their own. Like the alcoholic, they have to come to a place in their lives where they are able to admit that they are powerless to help themselves, and are willing to seek help from others and God.
Most of these unchurched are now uncomfortable entering a church alone. They would rather be taken to church, or be met there by their hosts. But the surprising fact is that the vast majority of this group will come if invited. They may welcome the opportunity to return if they are given it.
The probing question for you and me is: “When is the last time you invited an unchurched person to church?” When speaking of those who would enter the kingdom, Jesus said in the parable of the dinner, “Go out to the roads and country lanes, and make them come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:23)
We have been mandated by Christ to urge people, to invite people, even to bring people to come to church and to hear the gospel. What have you done to obey the Savior? When asked why they do not attend church these people mention the following excuses: laziness, too busy, church is not relevant, or Christians are hypocrites. But deep down they know they are excuses, and long for someone to reach out to them and befriend them. People in this group of the unchurched prize relationships. They are hungry for friendship, and will join you for any occasion that gives them the opportunity to receive affirmation and to feel valued.
David M. a formerly unchurched businessman from New York said that he never was antagonistic toward the church and Christians, but he was resistant to anyone trying to convert him. “I look back on those years, and the best way I can describe it was a time of fog. I didn’t think or see much clearly in those days. Most of the time religious matters were not at the top of my agenda, but they were kind of hanging in my conscience. I guess the Holy Spirit was trying to get my attention.
The most amazing thing about that period is that I don’t recall one person over several years who ever said anything to me about Jesus or even the church. I had Christian neighbors who never opened their mouths. I had Christian coworkers just two offices down from mine. Never a word from them.
Looking back now, I think I would have welcomed a word from a Christian. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was hurting deep inside. And I probably would have put on some act of bravado to let people know I didn’t need God as a crutch. But still I would have loved to have heard something from a Christian.
I guess I moved to a more neutral position, after watching a Billy Graham crusade on television. I bet if someone invited me to church then I would have gone. I finally visited a dynamic church in town and became even more receptive to the gospel. Finally someone from the church asked me to lunch. Mike, who is now my best friend, shared with me how to receive Christ.
But do hear what I am saying. I had to go to a church before someone talked to me one-on-one! For the first 42 years of my life, no one witnessed to me or invited me to church. I pray that I will never make that mistake. You know, the mistake of keeping my mouth shut. No, it’s more than a mistake, it’s a sin.” (Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door, p.123)
Who can you bring to church next Sunday? Who can you reach out to who is longing for an excuse to come to church? Who can you ask, who may have turned you down previously, but needs a second chance? They may have moved, like David, to a more neutral position than before. You never know what has happened in their lives which may make them more open to your invitation. Invite them to join you next Sunday.
July 20, 2008
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