“Come As You Are” in the Scriptures

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio

Recently at a conference I was attending, I had a conversation with a worship pastor from another church where he insisted: “Sundays are for the saints.”

I asked if it was important for those leading in different church communities to communicate why we do what we do in case someone shows up during a service and doesn’t share our faith. Certainly there are children and family members and guests who come to a service even before they follow Jesus. He felt it was unnecessary since those outside of faith don’t have the Spirit of God to help them understand.Our conversation ended prematurely as the conference shifted back to the main speaker and away from the small group discussion. I hope to continue the conversation the next time we meet up.With instructions from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:23-24 to consider “the unbeliever among you,” I could not disagree more.

The Church is made up of those who follow Jesus, but what we do together should allow people to “come as they are” and help them to change in the process. (See No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come As You are Culture in the Church by John Burke)

Certainly there can be intentional times when we have experiences designed for those in leadership. Too often, I think we expect Sunday mornings to be like the Upper Room experience Jesus had with his disciples, but in our culture Sunday morning services can become much more like the Sermon on the Mount where people came from a variety of spiritual places.

A major theological issue relates to understanding what the church is and how someone who does not follow Christ can and cannot connect.  The Church equals the Body of Christ, those men and women who have repented of their sins and chosen to follow Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.  In the Scriptures, the term “members” refers to those who are “members of the Body of Christ” (See Romans 12:4-5; I Corinthians 6:15, 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:25; and Colossians 3:15).

When Paul wrote the letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, he was writing to the Body of Christ, to those who followed Jesus.  They may have met in different homes or all of the believers in that city may have all met together.  Either case, the “members” refers to all followers of Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive.  Anyone from any background can become a follower of Jesus.  Once you are a follower of Jesus it is then that you are a “member of the Body of Christ.”  All are invited to become a “member.”  No one is excluded, but unfortunately, many choose not to join the Body of Christ and too many do not know how to join the Body of Christ.  The word “member” describes those who have chosen to follow Jesus, but it does not mean that others cannot also become “members” through a personal relationship with Jesus.

In many churches, the term “member” has been in a more exclusive way than Paul intended.  Many churches use the term “member” to designate the specific people committed to a particular local church thereby excluding believers who have not joined that particular church.  In most instances, the “members” also adhere to a specific interpretation of the Scriptures.  In other words, you cannot become a “member” of this local church which has a Baptist worldview if you have a Lutheran understanding of the Bible.  Paul was referring to “members of the Body of Christ” whereas some churches are referring to “members of this local expression of the Body of Christ.”  I would not characterize this as unbiblical or heretical, but it has certainly made the term more confusing and the local church more exclusive.

Further confusing the issue would be the designation of the word “church” to refer to a building or weekly service.  Paul referred to both a universal Church (all followers of Jesus – Matthew 16:18; Eph. 1:22, 5:23) and to local churches (the believers who gathering in a particular city or location – Acts 14:23, I Cor. 1:2; I Thess. 1:1; Rev. 2:1), but he never used the term “church” to describe a building or a weekly service.

The term “church” comes from the Greek word “ecclesia” which literally means “gathering.”  In recent history, we have confused this to mean that the “church” equals the Sunday morning service, but like the word “member,” the term “church” refers to the people who follow Jesus.  We gather together on Sunday mornings, and we should be gathering together for “teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…” along with acts of service (“selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need”) and reaching out to others (“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

By redefining “member” as a more exclusive term and by redefining “church” as a building or a weekly service, we have misunderstood the relationship of the “Body of Christ” to those who are not following Jesus.  Following the examples of Jesus and the early church, the “Body of Christ” can and should befriend, love, and even reach out to those who do not yet follow Him.  We can allow people without faith in Jesus to belong within our sphere of influence, to enter into our buildings, participate as part of our weekly gatherings, and even belong to our broader community.  In the process, allowing people to belong before they have to believe creates the opportunity for people who do not follow Jesus to investigate the teachings of Jesus, experience the presence of Jesus, and even surrender their lives to Him.

Jesus interacted often with people who had not yet followed Him.  Even among those closest to Him, Thomas and Judas belonged to the group known as Jesus’ twelve disciples, yet Thomas doubted for a time before believing and Judas never believed and eventually betrayed Jesus. Two of the greatest messages in history include Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” and Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.  On both occasions the gatherings included hundreds if not thousands of people who did not have faith in Jesus.

Taking the proximity that Jesus and the early church shared with the unbelieving world into account, as followers of Jesus, we have been “set apart” (Hebrews 7:26) and “sent out” (Luke 9:1).  We are “set apart” in our behavior, and “sent out” in our relationships.  Unfortunately, the more religious we become the more these ideas become reversed.  We end up being “set apart” in our relationships, and “sent out” from those we are to love and serve.   We are “set apart” in how we relate to others, not to whom we relate.”

At Mosaic, we emphasized the reasons behind our methods rather than our methods, but in this particular instance I feel that the process we created for commissioning new volunteer staff enabled us to maximize our efforts in raising up leaders (discipleship) and reaching others (evangelism).

Anyone can get connected to our community.  No matter where a person is in his or her spiritual journey, he or she can attend a Sunday gathering, participate in a small group, or serve in a ministry team.  Even if the person believes differently or makes choices under a different set of moral values, he or she can belong.  In order to oversee the lives of other people, a person needs to be mentored through the Staff Process.

During this process, the mentor invests into the life of the mentee.  In many ways, the material gives the mentor permission to interview, build a meaningful relationship, and mobilize the mentee. If the mentor feels that the mentee understands and embraces our core convictions, core values, and staff commitments (See www.mosaic.org/faq), then she participates along with other mentees who have completed the mentoring process in a dinner with some of Mosaic’s leaders.  Over dinner, we emphasize the uniqueness of our local church reminding all in attendance that there are lots of great churches doing great things, but we have been called to live out these core convictions, core values, and staff commitments.  In many ways, we are attempting to convince those in attendance that they do not need to join our staff for us to love, serve, and bless them. The only reason to join our staff is if a person feels called to be a part of loving, serving, and blessing others as mentors, pastors, and servant leaders.

If the mentee chooses to make these commitments to the Lord and desires to serve as part of our volunteer staff, then she is commissioned at one of our mid-week gatherings.  In the same night we commission men and women as overseas workers, we commission our new staff.  Anointing them with oil, those in their small group or ministry team along with some of our key leaders at Mosaic lay hands on them for prayer.  We give them a Bible to give to a friend who does not follow Jesus and a copy of Erwin McManus’ book An Unstoppable Force: Becoming the Church God Had In Mind which includes more about our unique calling.

In many ways we are more inclusive than most churches, and we are more exclusive than most churches.  Anyone can connect to our community.  All of our small groups, ministry teams, events, and weekend gatherings communicate in a way that both followers of Jesus and non-believers would understand.  Since Paul mentioned to the Corinthians they should be mindful of the “unbeliever” who comes to a gathering, we have chosen to do the same.  Not only does this allow the message of the Gospel to be communicated in a way for everyone to understand, this also helps followers of Christ understand how to communicate the Gospel more clearly to those they know without a relationship with Jesus, especially those who came from a church which designed its Sunday gatherings with only Christians in mind.

In terms of being exclusive, there are three areas in which we delineate that someone who is not following Jesus is not ready to participate: the Lord’ Supper, baptism, and volunteer staff.  According to the Scriptures, only those who are followers of Jesus are invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper and baptism. At Mosaic, to oversee the lives of others requires being mentored through the Staff Process – even for those who have served as pastors in other churches, professors in seminaries, or missionaries overseas.

So many churches are fantastic at being inclusive, but too many church leaders resist this mandate to be on mission.

What challenges have you experienced by including others?

How have you seen including others work?


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