What reasons do we give outsiders for being members of the church?
By Don Ruhl
Why should someone check out your congregation? I asked that in a Bible class once and an answer came back that we have the truth. However, everyone claims that.
So then, why should the outsider be attracted to us? Why should they listen to us more than to others? Why did people listen to Jesus and later the apostles? They gave people a reason to listen first. They did good works for people.
I assume that we want people to check us out. Do you want people in the community to investigate us? What does that mean? We will have to greet visitors. We will have converts who say and do the wrong things. We will have people who need teaching. Are you willing to work with these people? Or should everything just stay the same?
Let us look at Proverbs 14 and seek its wisdom that we might see what is required of us, as the church has people investigating us,
Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;
But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.
What is the literal picture in the first half of the verse? You can keep the trough clean, if you never bring any oxen into it. However, what good is a trough, if not used? If used, what will happen to the trough? It will get dirty, which will require work, but it will fulfill its purpose.
What is the literal picture of the second half of the verse? If you have oxen and use them for their intended purpose, you will have a dirty trough, you will have to clean up after the animal, and you will make a profit. Is that not the intention of a business?
How does this apply to the church? If we want to keep the building clean, if we do not want the hassle of new children in the building, if we do not want to teach new converts, if we do not want different people worshiping with us, if we do not want to have to meet new people, then let us not do good works and do not teach the world. Will the church increase then? Will we fulfill our purpose? Do you know what the church is about?
Does the world know about us, whether for good or bad? Notice the accusation against the church in Acts 17, and let us ask if we could be accused of the same thing. If not, why not? “But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too’” (Acts 17.6).
If we are turning the world upside down, let us keep doing the same things we have been doing. If we are not turning the world upside down, what do we need to do to be accused of doing such?
Again in Acts 28 we find out that the church became known. It was a negative thing, but it made people curious. Do we see the same things happening with the church today? “But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28.22).
How does the world know that we preach the truth and how do they know about the things we do? What are you doing? What else can you do? What is the church doing? What else can the church do?
Do you know why people in the first century were attracted to the church? Consider this statement, “God dwelling among His people should be the most attractive force field on earth” (Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, p. 339). (See Isa 45.14; 55.5; 60.1–3; Zec 8.23; Matt 5.16; 1Co 14.25. All these passages talk about God dwelling among His people and the attraction that it causes.)
What did preachers and other members of the church do to draw large crowds? Was it not generally doing a miracle? Acts 8 typifies what we find in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (Acts 8.4–6).
When did the multitudes heed the things spoken by Philip? Miracles got their attention. However, can one do good works non-miraculously and get wide attention? What message did Philip preach? Also, Acts 8 shows that it was the truth Philip preached. Look again carefully at verses 4 and 5, which emphasize his preaching. See also verse 12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8.12). People want to know what God says and so they listened to Philip. They also listened to Jesus, “And the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12.37). “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt 7.28, 29).
If we cannot perform miracles, is there anything else we can do to attract people? We have a greater attractive power than miracles! In John 14, Jesus prophesied that the apostles, and by extension all Christians, would do greater works than He, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14.12). They, and we, do it by quantity. Together we do even more than He did.
First Corinthians chapters 12 and 13 explain something greater than miraculous works. Do you know what it is? What could someone show you more impressive than a miracle? “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1Co 12.31), and that is the way of love as the next chapter teaches.
Note this in John 6. It is not so much the miraculous, but good works through love that gets people’s attention, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled’” (John 6.26).
Remember Jesus attracted harlots, tax collectors, and sinners. Do we attract them today? If God dwelling among His people should be the most attractive force field on earth, and people are not flocking to us, what does that mean? God is not among us? Or is something else wrong?
What can we do in place of miracles? If we cannot do miracles, but we can show love, how can we do it? Take away the miraculous element, what did Jesus and the apostles do for people? Helped them when they were sick. Helped them with their physical limitations. Gave people time and attention.
Miracles grab the attention quickly, but fade. Love shown through good works does not instantly produce large crowds, but the effect lasts longer and in the end there are more people. Miracles done all the time lose their drawing power. Love done all the time increases its drawing power. People do not care how much the church knows and whether the church has the truth until they know how much we care about them.
Give the people you know a reason to come to us. Let us work together, not against one another, to create an attractive congregation (Gal 5.13–15).