Dr. Anthony Jordan, the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, recently preached a thought-provoking sermon at Riverview Baptist Church in Bixby, OK. He made the following comment (which I summarize): "International Mission Board President Tom Elliff says that the most difficult place to share the gospel is the United States." Jordan (and perhaps Elliff himself) attributed the dynamic to our hesitancy to share the gospel personally. "It's easier to write a check or even go to another country than go across the street," believers think.
I am convinced that there are some other factors that contribute to the difficulty of sharing the gospel in the United States. (I'm sure Jordan does as well, but a sermon typically does not allow a thorough examination of issues that are beyond the scope of church members to address effectually.) I believe one of those factors is a general lack of receptivity to the gospel.
However, some other major factors may have to do with differences between churches in the United States and the rest of the world. Here are a few ways in which churches hinder the gospel:
- A ministry accomplished by "experts." Pastors are to "equip the saints (regular believers) for the work of ministry" (Eph. 4:12). Instead, many churches have a culture in which the pastor and staff are the spiritual errand-boys who do all the work. (Self-absorbed pastors do the church no favor when they create an "all about me" environment.) As a result, believers become observers.
- An overemphasis on buildings. Rapidly reproducing discipleship movements occur in those places where the gospel doesn't have to wait on buildings to be built. The 1st-century church exploded in growth in part because it followed the "household" methodology Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 10. The result was a "house to house" multiplication of believers (cf. Acts 2:46-47; Acts 5:42).
- A "come and see" attitude. Having well-run programs is certainly better than having poorly-run programs, but we need to be careful not to develop an attractional mindset. When we do, the message people in our communities hear is: "Come be a part of us. Help us increase our buildings, budgets, and salaries." People are not impressed with that. Instead, their hearts will be opened to the gospel when they encounter a church that produces an all-too-rare message: "We'll come be a part of you. How can we help you fulfill your God-given dreams? What can we do for you?"
- An escape from the world. For many, "church" is not about training and sending believers, but providing an escape from the world. Sundays are a "retreat" (think about that term militarily) instead of an equipping of a spiritual army. If disciple-making occurs, it usually occurs by the hands of paid staff or a few super-Christians--and it almost always occurs within the building.
- Wrong pastoral priorities. Too many American pastors are more concerned with job security than fidelity to the Bible and the mission Christ has given us. Pastors face a constant temptation to be content "coasting" in ministry. Once a pastor gives in, he no longer is a biblical shepherd, but becomes a chaplain, caretaker, or undertaker.
The good news is that these (and other) problems are capable of being addressed. If we will examine the Scriptures (like the Berean Jews in Acts 17:11) and make an honest assessment of our shortcomings, the necessary changes will become obvious. And when we begin to make these changes, I believe we will become less of a hindrance to the gospel.