How to Change the HEART of a Church
A church in need of revitalization often suffers from a lack of three vital traits a healthy church possesses: faith (they must believe God’s Word is true and His promises are dependable), hope (they must believe the God of the Bible is capable of doing great things among them) and love (they must share a deep, passionate belief that every person needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and be reconciled to God). The revitalizing leader knows to focus his/her attention on developing these three qualities in the hearts of the people they lead; but, unquestionably, “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) We can all agree these are complex and confusing times when it comes to sharing the gospel with people we meet. If we accept conventional wisdom, we are in danger of offending others by telling them anything they do not want to hear or by suggesting a truth with which they disagree. If the future of the good news of salvation is dependent upon our success in not offending those who have offended God by their sins, the Great Commission will most certainly fade into insignificance with our generation. It is impossible to present the cross without offense. (Galatians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:7-8) Having said that, we must avoid being unnecessarily offensive in how we relate to people who are still living “in darkness.” (Ephesians 5:8) The message of sin and salvation is provocative enough; we need to be skillful, wise and compassionate in earning the right to share what we know to be true. We have all seen the painting of Jesus standing outside a door gently knocking, seeking entrance to a person’s heart; the problem with this generation of people is, they have added some locks of self-interest and protection to their hearts and we are not allowed to enter. At least five separate keys are needed before they will open the door. The acrostic H.E.A.R.T. gives us those keys. H – Humility People in our culture are skeptical of anyone who declares something to be absolutely true. Their skepticism scales upward when that person speaks with a grandiose sense of hubris and incorrigibility. Since our faith is based on absolute certainties, we face a dilemma; how do we present the truth of Scripture to someone who is convinced we cannot be certain? There are many good books on Christian apologetics which can strengthen our knowledge of how to present truth. While some may be converted through rational arguments, most people will be won by our winsomeness; by presenting truth in a spirit of humility and real love. Ed Stetzer, in arguing his case for much-needed humility in gospel presentations, shares this: “The willingness to lower yourself by listening and understanding the culture, worldview, and background of those you engage opens doors for communicating the gospel of love. It reveals that you are interested in winning the person instead of the debate.” [i] E – Empathy Are you ever curious about a person’s story; what circumstances and decisions led them to this place in their lives? If we take time to hear about their lives, we develop an empathetic love for them. I often ask someone whose tattoos are noticeable what the story is behind the tattoo; it is usually about someone who is significant to them. In listening, I gain an understanding of who they are and look for an opportunity to talk with them about Christ. Empathy goes a long way toward winning a hearing when talking with someone who belongs to one of the groups that have been mistreated and ostracized for their lifestyle by ill-advised Christians: homosexuals, addicts, transgenders, ad infinitum. It amazes me, as someone who came to Christ and the church from outside the faith, that well-meaning Christians really believe they can convince someone to change their lifestyle through anger, rejection and condemnation. It is possible to love someone, to treat them with empathy, and not approve of their lifestyle. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived out this truth boldly and intentionally before the disciples. He never met a person who had not sinned; yet He entered into each person’s suffering and exhibited His authentic love for them. As Isaiah described Him in advance, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4); that is the language of empathy. He was careful not to affirm or justify a sinful lifestyle, but He also cared deeply for those who were “lost.” Paul incorporated empathy without affirmation into his epistles; “God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) There is a danger associated with empathy, however; we must avoid becoming so empathetic toward a person’s situation that we fail to speak the truth of the need of redemption to them. Empathy without truth becomes implicit affirmation of sin and disobedience to Christ’s command that “repentance and forgiveness of sins” should be preached to “all.” (Luke 24:47) Humility and empathy are two keys to the multi-locked door to a person’s heart, but these alone are not enough to gain an honest and open hearing of the gospel. My next blog will give the last three keys.
[i] Stetzer, Ed. Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst (Kindle Location 4073). Tyndale Momentum. Kindle Edition.