COLUMBIA, SC (BP) – We’ve all been there. Or even if you haven’t, people in your church have. You start coming around a new church, you hear wonderful gospel-saturated sermons on Sundays and then you decide you’re ready to join a group. Or, you just start branching out and getting to know people in the church family. And that’s when it happens. The veil gets pulled back and you realize that the gospel so persistently proclaimed in sermons hasn’t quite made its way into the people. You’re met with hypocrisy, apathy, or (most frequently) religiosity and legalism. It’s situations like this that often contribute to the age-old adage “I like Jesus, but not the church.”
Like it or not, what many people will join or leave a church over is their interaction with the people of the church. And if that’s true, our people’s ability to articulate the gospel to each other needs to be one of the central ways that we measure the success of our churches.
NOT JUST HEARING, BUT PRACTICING
I love Tim Keller’s analogy of ministry as a defective vending machine. Sometimes it’s not enough to just drop quarters (read: preaching a sermon) into the machine and hope that the gospel fluency comes out of our people. Sometimes it takes shaking the machine—repetitively and intentionally waking your people up to the reality of the good news—to get gospel fluency to finally come out.
Like it or not, what many people will join or leave a church over is their interaction with the people of the church. Sometimes we as pastors wrongly assume that if our people hear the gospel on a regular basis, that will be enough. But even Jesus repeatedly told us that simply hearing the Good News is not sufficient. Only the person who hears His words and puts them into practice has built a house that will weather the storm (Matthew 7). Unless our people are applying the message of Jesus to their lives in an ongoing way, it’s unlikely that the gospel will be the first thing out of their mouths when they speak to others.
HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
So how do we set up systems in our churches where the gospel is not only preached and heard, but internalized, practiced and repeated? Here’s a couple things I think can help:
1. Practice “tomorrow morning” sermon applications when possible. When you think through your sermon, help give people language and scenarios to help them with immediate gospel application. So maybe, instead of just saying “the gospel is good news for your job” (which it is)–instead say this: “so tomorrow morning, when you’re impatient with your employer, remind yourself of how in the gospel, God showed patience and longsuffering for you.” Give people some language around how the gospel is good news for them, not just that the gospel is good news for them. The more you’re able to do this for people through your preaching, the more your people will be able to think that way in their conversations with others. Unless our people are applying the message of Jesus to their lives in an ongoing way, it’s unlikely that the gospel will be the first thing out of their mouths when they speak to others.
2. Practice gospel fluency in your own life. The more you practice speaking the gospel to others (outside of a sermon), the more you’ll know how to best coach others to do so. With your spouse, your kids, your community, always be thinking “how can I speak the good news to this person in a helpful way?” That will enable you to speak more clearly and realistically to your people about how to do it in their own lives.
These are just a couple of very practical thoughts on the subject. Place sufficient emphasis on arming your congregation with ways to live out their faith in everyday life. Putting these things into practice can help us immensely in our efforts to generate gospel conversations in our church body and community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kent Bateman is a pastor and communications director at Midtown Fellowship in Columbia, SC, and is preparing to plant City Church in Knoxville, TN. He lives in Columbia with his wife Ana and son Whitaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @kentbateman.