The church I pastor is notorious for hanging out with notorious sinners and other scum (Luke 19:7; Mark 2:16). We never shrink back from announcing the whole Gospel of transformation to them and walking with them toward this transformation, but the genuine affection that we have for them stems from a sense of our own notoriety.
As a matter of the journey we often get to hear people’s faith and lack of faith stories and their church and why-they-don’t-go-to-church-stories. Over the thirteen years of leading The Orchard and walking with notorious sinners and other scum I have come to the conclusion that there are five kinds of churches and I am beginning to think five kinds of Christians as they relate to outsiders.
The first kind of church is the one who guards the doors to the community of faith and announces to the notorious, “We know how you act, we really don’t want you here. Find somewhere else to go, or don’t go at all, but you can’t come here.” This church announces to the world that as long as they are “ok” the rest of the world can go to hell.
The second kind of church is the one who guards the doors to the community of faith and announces to the notorious, “you need to get your life in order before you can come in here.” This church announces a law-based legalism to be made right with God.
The third kind of church is the one who hesitantly opens the doors to the community of faith and announces to the notorious, “you can come in and get your life in order, but if you misbehave while you are in here, we will ask you to leave.” This church announces a performance-based love of God.
The fourth kind of church is the one who flings open the doors to the community of faith and announces to the notorious, “I’m ok. You’re ok. Everyone is welcomed here just as you are. We will share what we think, but respect what you think as we grow on this path of spirituality.” This church announces…well honestly they don’t announce anything, and therefore they offer no hope to the person in desperate need of hope.
The fifth kind of church is the one who flings open the doors to the community of faith and announces to the notorious, “We have been notorious too and except for the grace of God we still would be. We would love to have you come here as, by God’s grace, together we are transformed and walk the path of life that really is life.” This church announces the Gospel, the only hope for the transformation of the human heart and life.
Now I know I am being a bit of a generalist, but I hear these stories over and over again from the people who come to our church. And in their stories I have found not only churches that act in these ways, but people who call themselves Christian who act in these ways too. What has formed for me from the distilling of these multiple stories into five representative types is a framework through which to examine OUR church and MY personal life.
Anyone of us, or the churches we serve, can degenerate into a “less than gospel” announcing church. I am convinced that one of the primary barriers to reaching the unbelieving world is the type of church we are, or the type of person we are is announcing a Gospel that is at least unattractive and at worst unbelievable. With this framework constantly in my mind, I ask myself and our leaders—who are we? And what do we need to repent of to become the church of Jesus Christ in the world?