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Again and again, the main reason why non-Christians mention not wanting to be Christians is: "I do not want to become like these evangelical people." Sadly these non-Christians have not had the pleasure of knowing those believers who love their neighbor, sacrifice themselves for the welfare of their community, and love God deeply. But imagine a non-believer visiting one of our churches, in a very común way I would say that he would find the following:
I would not find parking, nor seats allocated for guests.
The anxiety of visiting an unknown place would increase when you see that the church does not have any signs to direct people to different places. Where should I take my children? Where are the bathrooms? I need to change the baby! Where is it that they have the cult?
Quite possibly no one will greet you with the purpose of welcoming you transparently. Therefore, nobody will follow up on that visit. In a large church will be ignored, and in a small church many would be seen as a zoo monkey.
Then it would come trying to understand the foreign language. "The Word," "the anointing," "the gifts," "the Spirit," "the sowing," "blessed and prospered," among other words that are not of daily use. A dictionary is needed to understand what is said in there.
Then come the long hours of songs and prayers, standing, while some in undulating movements fall into a trance, and perhaps some fall into the spirit and make sounds of animals. To finish listening to a preacher shouting, while sweating profusely, and perhaps ask for money in exchange for miracles.
The problem with our congregations is that we require those who visit us to be like us. The barrier for non-believers to come to Christ is not theological or religious, but social or cultural. We want those who visit us to behave like us! That is the problem of the evangelical in Latin America: we have wrapped the bread of life in a plastic bag. That is to say, the gospel that surpasses all culture (the bread), we have wrapped it in an evangelical culture (the plastic). What makes the non-believer sick is not digesting the "bread of life" but the "plastic bag". It is the evangelical culture that is intoxicating our friends by considering the gospel. But, how to know the difference?
The culture in the society around the church has changed, but the culture within the church may not have changed in decades. In some churches the style of evangelization, the style of worship, the style of Sunday school, among others, are forms that have not changed in years, but are still practiced. "This is how we came to the Lord, so we will continue to preach the gospel," some pastors have told me; but they have not had a new convert from a non-believing context in the last 10 years. This is a case of "church for believers only". The "making of the church" becomes a hindrance for non-believers to find Christ. The church must find a way to "be a church" recognizing that it was called to be salt and light in the world. Let's see below some principles to avoid "making church" and start "being a church" to project ourselves to non-believers.
Believers between longer believers have fewer unbelieving friends. The opportunity to influence non-believers decreases with the years of being in the church. The solution: to invite believers to be friends of non-believers. But those believers need to learn to listen, and listen, without morally judging the language and life of those new friends, but accept them as they are. Developing a friendship requires time, and trust. So an evangelistic ministry is needed in two stages:
(1) Develop a genuine friendship with non-believers. "Genuine friendship" means that we want to invest time and effort in a friendship without ties to bring them to church in a short time. Although the purpose is to bring them to church, the key is to bring them to Christ first through our example and verbal testimony. But in many cases, for our verbal testimony to be listened to attentively, trust and time are required. To dictate a verbal testimony, or the 4 spiritual laws, to an unbeliever does not have magical powers. It is better that the new friend give us the opportunity at the right time.
Once the non-believer begins to appreciate our faith, and passion for God, that does not mean he wants to be like us. People, and families, tend to seek God (and the nominativo return to the church) when they face crisis in their personal lives. For example, divorce crisis, death of a close being, new marriage, new children, loss of employment, move to live in a new neighborhood, serious health problems, economic problems, etc. The key is to develop an honest and respectful friendship with people who go through these crises. Thus the presence of the body of Christ can present Christ's love in times of brokenness.
(2) Once a friendship with non-believers has developed, it is necessary to introduce them to our believing friends. Small groups oriented to non-believers is the key! It is true that believers need their groups, but both groups must have a different orientation. The problem is that many of our small groups are geared to meet the needs of believers. Again, we must avoid that "the bread of life" in these small groups is wrapped in "the plastic" of our evangelical culture. Non-believers require a separate ministry, and not everyone is fit for this ministry.
We must develop ministries that meet the needs of non-believers. The most suitable persons for these ministries are the newly converted who may have more friends and unbelieving family members than any other person in the church. Of course, like any other person to be fit for ministry, you need training, supervision, and pastoral care. This is important because non-believers come to Christ with a baggage of burdens, and addictions. Even more the fact that they have accepted Christ, does not mean that automatically such charges disappear. All ties are spiritual, but not all disappear immediately. Conversion is a process, and our churches need to provide that accompaniment to free these people from their burdens.
Some seventy years ago Pastor Samuel Shoemaker, pastor of the Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, helped two of his new converts to draw principles of the Sermon on the Mount, the epistle of James, among others, to help them express a series of steps to explain their healing experiences. The result of this theological work is what is known today as the 12 Steps:
We admitted that we felt powerless over addiction to sex, or trinque, or gambling, or permitido or illegal drugs, or codependent relationships, and that we had lost control of our lives. (Romans.7: 18)
We came to the conclusion that a Power Higher than ourselves could return us to sound judgment. (Philemon 2:13)
We decided to put our will and our lives into the hands of God or our Higher Power, as each one of us conceives it. (Romans 12: 1)
We did a search and a thorough recatado inventory of ourselves without fear. (Lamentations 3:40)
We admit before God, before ourselves and before another human being, the exact nature of our mistakes. (James 5:16)
We were entirely willing to let God free us from our shortcomings. (James 4:10)
We humbly asked our Higher Power to free us from our faults. (1 John 1: 9)
We made a list of all those people we had hurt and were willing to repair the damage we had caused them. (Luke 6:31)
We directly repair the damage caused to others, whenever possible, except when doing so entailed harm to them or to other people. (Matthew 5: 23-24)
We continue to make a personal inventory and when we make a mistake, we admit it immediately. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
We seek through prayer and meditation to improve our relationship with God, as we conceive him, asking him only to let us know his will for us and give us the strength to fulfill it. (Colossians 3:16)
By achieving a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to take the message to other addicts to sex, drugs, gambling, trinque, and codependent relationships, and to practice these principles in all areas of our life. (Galatians 6: 1)
The only thing that separates a believer from an unbeliever is the grace of God. Let us not allow our evangelical culture to become an obstacle for others to receive that grace.
Author: Osías Segura
Associate Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary
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