I’ve been a little lax on my posting lately, as I’m in the thick of preparing for the WorshipGod06 conference. I’ll have the privilege of teaching three seminars and one main session there, and appreciate the opportunity to meet and serve those who are coming.
In the midst of my preparation, I came across this quote from a book I read a while ago, called The Future of Protestant Worship, by Ronald Byars.
“Here is where we put a finger on the weakness of the marketing approach when it comes to matters of faith and worship. It presumes that people can tell you what they’re looking for. Most people can’t.” (p. 23)
Later on he writes:
“Even those who know themselves to be for something are not likely to be able to say exactly what it is. Even if they can state their need with some precision, their sense of need cannot anticipate what’s given in the Gospel.” (p. 25)
Byars’ words remind us that non-Christians, though well-intentioned, don’t have a clue about what they need until they recognize their need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Because what they really need is a Savior – from their sins, from their deception, from God’s righteous judgment.
“Their sense of need cannot anticipate what’s given in the Gospel.” How true. Unbelievers come to church thinking they need closer friends or better money management principles. They may be seeking a place to feel comfortable, a community to belong to, or a cause they can devote themselves to.
The Gospel gives us more. So much more that it can seem scandalous. All our sins are mercifully forgiven. We are set free from sin’s enslaving power. We are given new desires, new hopes, and a new way of thinking. We are invited to become part of God’s plan to proclaim and demonstrate His truth and mercy to all peoples. Most of all, the Gospel brings us into a loving relationship with the God who created us, who will spend all eternity lavishing the immeasurable riches of his grace upon us through his Son.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with telling unbelievers that they’ll meet friendly people at a church, or that they’ll learn how to be better parents or control their anger. When you think about it, there are plenty of needs that are met through the church – friendship, encouragement, support, accountability. But the church was never meant to mimic organizations that exist to help us live happier, more fulfilling, and more meaningful lives apart from God. The meaning of our lives IS Jesus Christ (Col. 3:4).
When unbelievers visit our church, may our songs, words, and lives loudly declare that their greatest need and our greatest need is the same. And it has been met in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We have no better news to offer.
Great post, Bob. What a timely word! There is a big difference between “felt needs” and ACTUAL needs. There’s a great quote by John Piper related to this. He says,
“There is a sad irony in the seeming success of many Christian churches and schools. The irony is that the more you adjust obscure Biblical doctrines to make Christian reality more attractive to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive… If you adjust your doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world, sooner or later the world realizes that they already have what the church offers. That was the story of much of mainline Protestantism in Europe and America in the 20th century. Adjust your doctrine – or just minimize doctrine – to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth that alone can set them free.”
Looking forward to Tim Challies’ liveblog of the WorshipGod conference. Sorry I can’t be there! I’ll pray for your sessions, though. In Christ,