Skip Cadorette, Pastor
Prior to Stephen's death the church in the NT was looked upon favorably by its society. It was respected and this respect drew more and more people in to a life-changing experience with the risen Christ.
The church today is considered by our society as powerless, mean-spirited and irrelevant. The letters in your August readers forum (in response to Rick Warren's article) are a perfect illustration of why that is so.
Each of these letters shows a fortress-mentality. Church walls exists to keep us "good brothers & sisters" safe from those "evil heathens" out there. They can come in but only after they've learned to love not only Jesus but hymns and organ music too! I am dismayed at how utterly wrong this kind of thinking is!
No wonder church attendance is dropping off. No wonder the media makes such fun of us. No wonder that hundreds of thousands of people who were in church are seeking out meaning in Eastern religions and cults. Because we have been unwilling to meet people where they are and approach them in ways they will understand.
It's like Grandma sending us some of her world-famous-life-changing-chocolate chip cookies. We could take them out of the UPS box and put them on a plate so people would know they were available to be enjoyed but instead we're busy wrapping and rewrapping and wrapping the package again to keep them safe and intact.
Like any missionary the church must understand and work from within the culture of the people group with whom they hope to share the gospel. We must earn the respect of our audience by listening to them and participating in life with them FIRST. Then, when trust is earned, the gospel is shared in a way that will make sense to that culture. If the culture you hope to share with is 60-90 year olds then you can safely keep doing things the same old way. If not then change is needed. Not necessarily change as Rick Warren describes it, but change nonetheless.
One letter accused Pastor Warren of compromise. Jesus, as you may recall, was accused of compromise too (by the pastors & preachers of his day). Jesus went to lots of parties and feasts thrown by sinners. He spent most of his time with the multitude (wheat and tares). He hung around with the non-church crowd more than the good religious types. If we are the body of Christ on earth then shouldn't we be in the places He was, doing the things He did? Shouldn't we make our sanctuaries and services into places where people expect acceptance and love instead of condemnation and derision?
There are really only two choices: A church can be a museum for religious tradition and antiquities or an emergency room where the spiritually battered can receive the healing Jesus offers. As for me, I choose the latter.