By Scott Linscott
The story goes like this. Moses sends a delegation of spies into the land that God promised. They go and spend 40 days scouting things out. They study the people. They take soil samples. They carry back some crops. Their report back to Moses is, “Woah, this is the place! But …”
“Buts” are always getting in the way. People tend to think with their “buts.”
It was no different in this story from Numbers 13. The delegation of spies return blown away by how great the land is. But 8 of the 11 think with their “buts.” They admit the land has everything they could want but that there are big, warrior guys living there. Sure, they’ve been following God and watching water come out of rocks, pillars of fire, food from sky and an escape from Pharoah’s army but they’re scared of the guys they call giants. They’re so scared they start telling people scary stories and get the people all wound up.
Two guys, Joshua and Caleb, see things differently. They give the same report except they aren’t derailed by the big guys. In their thinking, if God is sending them and telling them to go, He’ll do what He does to make it work. Caleb is jazzed and wants to rush right out and take the land. Joshua is more of a planner and recommends waiting until God gives the green light. The rest of the spies, with their big “buts,” start working the system to derail the plan and even get it to the point where the people want to kill Joshua and Caleb.
You’d think things might have changed in the faith world over thousands of years but, no. It’s the same.
God calls us to go and make disciples, trust Him, take risks. We get some people who want to do that in our churches every now and then. We spiritual types say these folks feel “called.” When they start getting ready to take risks, it’s often the same 80% like in Moses day who start thinking with their “buts.” It’s especially true of attempts to revitalize historic churches.
* But I like it this way.
* But we’ve never done it that way.
* But we tried that once.
* But if we attract new people, they will take over.
* But this has always been my church.
* But God gave us that money for emergencies.
* But I don’t like that style of music.
* But I like it better in this room.
* But I don’t like that style of preaching.
* But we need to protect our sanctuary.
* But it will be too expensive and we need new siding.
* But we’re tired
* But they are too radical
Why are we thinking with our “buts” rather than following the Great Commission? I think I know how Joshua and Caleb would have responded. Caleb would have wanted to charge out and just get started and do all the planning later. He would have been pumped. Joshua would have been pumped too but would have stepped back to put a team and a plan together to follow God in His timing.
The American church is facing some tough realities. While it has withdrawn to its brick and mortar fortresses offering a variety of programs for Christians to enjoy, each generation is less and less likely to encounter Jesus. Churches have been closing their doors at a rate of 3500 per year and new church plants have not put even a dent in affecting the growing population of the US.
Here in Greater Portland, 59% of people have been classified as “post-Christian” with no involvement in the Christian community. That’s even with the “halo effect” where people tend to exaggerate religious involvement for some reason. We are the third least Christian city in the United States. (See http://cities.barna.org/the-most-post-christian-cities-in-america/)
What does that mean? It means that nearly 2 of 3 people you meet in Greater Portland are totally disconnected from a faith community. They are not experiencing the belonging, the support, the friendship and family of this faith community we love.
It’s time to stop thinking with our “buts” and start trusting God. It’s time for the churches of America to grab hold of a pioneering mindset once again and actively plant churches in every community and aggressively re-plant declining churches. It’s time to call men and women to follow Christ with everything. It’s time for the American church to live out its mission statements of sending, planting and building in neighboring communities.
I recently heard of a historic church that had dwindled to less than a dozen people. They made the difficult choice to sell their building and give all of the money to their network’s church planting fund. The funds they provided planted five new churches meeting in schools and shared spaces. Three years later only one of those churches failed to survive. The other 4 have a combined attendance of approximately 250 people and are growing, winning and baptizing. Do the math. From 12 people making a painful, kingdom-minded decision to 250 people now gathering to worship because of their support. Three of those churches are actively planning plants of their own. I am so thankful for the faithful example of that dozen senior citizens moving to build the kingdom rather than continue maintaining their own.
I think I’m a Joshua (planner) looking for my Caleb (charger). I refuse to give any more time worrying about all the people with their big “buts” restricting us from impacting people with the Hope and Rescue of the gospel. We simply don’t have time to fight with each other about our own likes and dislikes while our neighbors are set adrift.
3500 churches close every year. Are we willing to do whatever we must to help people discover life in Christ or will we sit on our “buts” until we become just another statistic? Reaching our changing community will take changes in our methods and approach. Like missionaries, we must become students in our culture and learn how to better connect.
Look at Paul in Acts 17:16-34 when he used the prevailing culture and philosophy to introduce life in Jesus. He used the very message from one of their idols to make his case for Christ. That’s like us being willing to use a Lady Gaga song or a popular movie or television show to help people see the love of our Lord. Can you hear yourself thinking, “BUT that is not godly! A Sunday message has no place for anything by Lady Gaga?” But, but, but …
We can continue with our Christianese jargon, we can continue to speak a different language or we can change and, like Paul, find a connecting point to begin life-changing conversations.
The only question facing us in moving forward is, “What am I unwilling to change in order to advance the gospel here in Greater Portland?”
If your answer includes anything beyond the unchanging gospel message it is likely that your buts are an obstacle that must be overcome. Format, method, structure, location and style must continuously be reevaluated to make sure we are culturally relevant and have a voice.
I appreciate the church I heard about in the midwest that started a men’s service on Saturday nights. It was entirely designed to appeal to men who had no church connection. It included no music, a good amount of humor and messages that were always relevant to their daily lives. What impressed me most was the pastor would stand to deliver his message and have 20 minutes put on the scoreboard. When the buzzer sounded, he was done.
Terrible, right? Except that it grew and men loved it. Some came to Christ and became active in the life of the church even bringing their families to Sunday services. The church grew and lives were changed because of that pastor’s crazy idea that received mostly criticism from churches and Christians all over the country.
BUT it had no music, BUT the message was too short, BUT humor has no place in church, BUT they didn’t take a collection … and on and on…
I think it’s time to get off our “buts” and do whatever it takes to impact our community with the hope and rescue we have in Jesus!
Who’s with me?
Acts 17:22-28 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’