When people have not been to a church service for a while, I think that I will not encourage them to come back to church.
Shocking? I know, I am kind of shocked by this idea as well.
I have been thinking about what I am really worried about when a person has not been to church for a while. I am not worried about whether they have been through our big wooden doors. I am not worried about whether they have sat in one of our pews. I am not worried about whether they have drunk our awesome coffee during fellowship hour. I am worried that they have missed the opportunity to encounter Jesus where Jesus has promised to be present with grace and mercy. Jesus gives us confidence that we will meet Him in the Word of God preached, in Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper.
I do not want someone to become active again at St. Paul to build up our numbers, to help pay down our mortgage, or because we need more volunteers. I do not want someone simply to come back to the church building, so I am not going to invite someone back to church. I invite them to encounter Jesus.
I want the misdirected, lost, hurting, and broken to be where Jesus promises to be present. There are so many doubts and confusions people may have about God and God’s plan for their lives. We live in a time when truth has become negotiable in our culture. I do not have the powerful resources of Hollywood to stage amazing stage productions. I do not have the ability to provide a relentless media push to change your mind. I understand the pressures of the world to abandon the truths of Scripture. As a person tries to sift through right from wrong, truth from error, the voice of God through the Scriptures guides you into truth.
We are all sinners. I am thankful that Jesus welcomes sinners and that he comes to have mercy upon us sinners. I love that at St. Paul there is no doubt about the presence of God. I rejoice that Jesus is present with words of forgiveness for broken sinners. I am overjoyed that through the public reading of the Scripture and the sermon the Holy Spirit delivers to us the good news of Jesus Christ. The body and blood of Jesus is given for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
The grave concern for me when a person is long absent from the worship services at church is that they have become long absent from opportunities to encounter Jesus and receive from Him the promise of everlasting life. We go to worship to receive the good news of God. Jesus comes among His people through the preached Word and the Sacraments. Jesus told His disciples, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). When you consider your attendance at St. Paul, I want you to rejoice that at our worship services you have the opportunity to receive Jesus.
I want you meet Jesus at our worship services, because I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
C.S. Lewis was once asked, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?”
This is how he answered:
“That’s a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house.
If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.
I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.’”
C.S. Lewis — God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, pg. 61-62
I encourage you to be fed by God’s Word. I encourage you to be fed by Jesus’ body and blood. Meet Jesus.