Recently I was listening to a sermon by Justin Grunewald, pastor of the College Ministries at Buckhead Church, and he made this startling statement, “Church people keep people from church.”
Before he made that statement, he referred to a well-documented incident in the life of Mahatma Gandhi, an illustration that I have used myself on many occasions. In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.
One Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people.
Gandhi left the church and never returned, “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.
That’s a perfect example of a church person keeping people from church.
When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi, he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”
Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Gandhi reminds us that there’s a huge difference between being Christ-likers and Christ-like. Sadly, he is also a flesh and blood example of how “church people keep people from church.”
This is not a new phenomenon. Jesus, speaking to what would have been the church people of His day (had the church existed then), said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13, NIV84).
“You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” I have been in pastoral ministry now since 1987 (with a brief foray into it from 1977 to 1980) and I have to tell you that much of what we do as a church culture is designed either purposefully or accidentally to “shut the doors in men’s faces.”
Case in point, I know of a situation where people have been told not to come back to church until they can dress appropriately. Really? We would jeopardize people’s eternal destiny just to make a fashion statement?
How effective do you think Jesus would have been with the woman at the well (see John 4), had he started off, “Why don’t you go home, get into something more appropriate to be talking with me and then come back so we can talk!” She would have been lost at that point and so would have the whole town she was from.
I’m going to be very direct here — those of you thinking about arguing with this, I guarantee you are one of those church people who keep people from church.
It is time we in the church realize, we are not going to reach our modern world by talking about what we believe; we will reach them if we learn how to properly behave as Christians. I hope it can never be said of me, “He is so unlike his Christ that he proclaims.”
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org