EFCA Today spoke with three leaders in our movement’s church-planting arena, to ask what they say when faced with this increasingly common perspective on the church. Consider these responses from George Klippenes, national director of EFCA Start Churches; Jake Brower, pastor of Finding Life Church (EFCA) in Omaha, Neb.; and Mike Jarrell, pastor of The Narrow Road Church (EFCA) in Enola, Pa.
If they are married, the first question I might ask is: “When you establish a relationship with another couple, does it work to say, ‘I like the husband, but I don’t want to have anything to do with the wife’”? I then ask if they have ever read in Ephesians 5 what Jesus says about his bride.
Another question I ask is whether they have been burned by the church. I don’t defend the church at that point. I ask their forgiveness on behalf of the church.
I share how Jesus said this would be a problem right from the beginning (Matthew 13, Acts 5, Revelation 2-3). I try to give them a more balanced picture of a church of imperfect people. I even express surprise that God hasn’t given up on me yet, and I tell a few stories of how the church has ministered to me in my deepest needs.
More important than trying to answer their questions and objections, I echo Jesus’ first challenge: Come and see. My goal is to expose them to a healthy group of people in love with Jesus.
Sometimes I ask people who are complaining about the church what it is they don’t like about the church. They usually like Jesus, because He was perfect and He perfectly loved and served others. They don’t like the church, because the church was imperfect and somehow disappointed them.
I talk about how the church is a community of disciples who follow Jesus together. Yet as disciples, we have not arrived. We fail and fall short.
A better approach, though, to helping change perspectives about the church is to build relationships with people and let them see authentic community. We’ve found that as we do so—inviting them into our homes to watch football or share a meal, rather than trying to convince them to come to church—our friends and co-workers are attracted to the love, the forgiveness, the grace and the mercy. They keep coming back.
We are talking about two kinds of people, and each requires a different response:
People who are far from God
I start by listening without defensiveness and identifying with their frustrations. Then, I apologize. This has a way of breaking down walls and creating space for authentic conversation. The world doesn’t need to see how much we know; it needs to see the humility of Jesus.
This kind of conversation can only happen if we, as church leaders, are modeling a lifestyle of immersion—freeing up time to immerse ourselves in the community and showing people Jesus by the way we love each other and them. Couple that with prayer for the souls of the friends we meet, and we have a recipe for life transformation.
People who profess Christ
This is a completely opposite response, and it is much more direct. I tell them: You cannot separate Jesus from the church. To do so is at odds with Scripture and the God who established the church.
Ephesians 4 does a great job of addressing the importance of gathered community. We cannot be Jesus without gathered church. Plain and simple. Christians choosing to do life on their own are choosing not to align themselves with the heart of God.
I understand that many have been wounded by the gathered church, but ultimately the answer is real connection in authentic community. Be part of the solution rather than a continued part of the problem.