I know how hard it is to communicate with nonbelievers who visit our assemblies. That is especially true when we talk about sin. It sometimes seems that we struggle more with how to talk about sin than we struggle with sin itself. We will condemn sin in the abstract by condemning culture or attacking laws that do not fit with our Christian values. But we do not talk about the fact that many of our members may be in a real battle with their sin demons at any given time. If we ever do talk about individual sin struggles, it is generally kept very generic: “We want to pray for Brother Jones who has confessed he has sinned.”
If we are not careful, we come across as people who have it all together and who are now perfect. We all – including our visitors – know that cannot be true, but it does foster an environment where sin is not addressed. The seeker among us might conclude that we welcome his or her conversion as soon as the seeker gets his or her life together. This leads to a real “cart before the horse” mentality: get right and be saved instead of be saved and let Jesus make you right.
But I have also heard us stress so much that we are all sinners and strugglers that the visitor might very well conclude that we are not much different than anyone else, so what is the point of following Jesus?
So how do we communicate that we are not perfect, that we still struggle with sin, yet at the same time we are forgiven and are being transformed into the image of Jesus more and more each day? Here are a few suggestions about our communication that may prove helpful.
We must frame that idea of holiness as an act of God rather than something based on our actions. We know this is true and we believe it, but we must say it. We are holy because of Jesus, not because of us. Stress that belonging to a community of faith is more than just going to church. It is a way to connect so that we are able to help each other do life in a way that honors God.
Extend open-ended invitations for members to connect with elders and their wives when they are struggling. Have an elder do this publicly. This communicates that sometimes we need help, and it is available. Stress that we are on a journey. Baptism is a beginning, not an ending. Emphasize that we are all being transformed. Talk about the “…and such were some of you” members. Acknowledge that in our church there are sober alcoholics and pure sexual addicts and sweet people who no longer lose their temper. This is really powerful when we share testimonies. Not everyone would be comfortable with this, but for those who are it is a powerful way to communicate the message that we welcome those whose lives are messy and hurting because so were some of us. We found healing.
We must be the living proof that Jesus changes lives. We celebrate healed marriages and conquered addictions. We live intentional lives full of joy, peace, and purpose. Our redemption gives hope to those who are yet lost.
We have been where they are. We have found the power to change, and that power is through Jesus and the Holy Spirit living in us. So we are getting better every day. And when we stumble and fall, we are sorry, we get help, and we move forward.
So if you want your church to be a hospital for the sick (to use a popular analogy), then we must remember that we have all been in need of healing ourselves. So be welcoming to the sick, but extend healing. Show your scars. We are not what we were, and we are not yet what we will be . . . but we are getting there.
That is the good news of Jesus.
Steve loves to tell the story of Jesus. He is the Director of Ministry for Hope for Life, a Herald of Truth Ministry, and serves as an elder at the Southern Hills church of Christ in Abilene, TX. He is a popular speaker for Lectureships, seminars, and retreats, and his latest book is “Can I Tell You a Story?” He and his wife Marsha have two children and five grandchildren.