Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jesus and the Seeker

If we really followed Jesus, we would respond to unbelievers in the way He did. In our current sermon series at WBC, we're looking at encounters Jesus had with people who didn't yet believe in Him as Messiah. On January 20, we'll explore His encounter with Nicodemus, a highly regarded religious leader, from John 3. As you read this passage, notice that Jesus didn't use any slick evangelistic technique; He wasn't trying to manipulate this man into making a commitment. Instead, He laid out a brand new way of living for Nicodemus, then left the ball in his court. We'll follow Nicodemus after that encounter, as he wrestles with his decision. I'll be preaching this message in a very different way than usual. Be in prayer for me, as that means getting out of my preaching "comfort zone." Pray also that we would all be inspired to take this New Way to Live to our friends who have not yet discovered it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

I have had many friends outside of the "Christian bubble" and found dialog with them to be very good UNTIL I actually took them to a worship service at a Baptist church. What I detected was that they didn't feel the services were worshipful.

I take people with the hopes of hearing a clear gospel presentation, and nowadays, that's almost never presented in a sermon, and if it is, it's done with "bumper sticker" language.

What happened to the gospel, anyway? Are we afraid it will turn people off...ashamed, of it, in other words? Faith is by hearing, and it's time we let them hear, instead of trying to attract them by our winsomeness as though we were some sort of cult. Preach the "truth in love," but always the truth. Let God be responsible for the results. We should never tire of hearing the old, old story. It gets sweeter every day.

I will remain...

Jeff Berger said...

Why don't churches seem to present the Gospel anymore? One trend I see in preaching today is an overemphasis on preaching to "felt needs." It's sort of a "Christian self-help" type of preaching. Preachers offer five tips on parenting or six steps to reaching your financial goals or four ways to overcome the discouragements of your past, then tack on a Scripture or two, along with some "God made you great, so you can do it!" inspiration, and that's called a sermon.

It's true that people need to hear how Christ wants us to live right here, right now...much more than hearing some lecture on theology. But we preachers are producing spiritually malnourished believers...and we aren't presenting seekers with any compelling reason to give their lives to Christ. Based on most preaching today, a seeker would conclude, "God loves me and approves of all that I am doing. He just wants to make me more happy and successful."

Thanks for your post. It is a good word of warning for me. I will prayerfully make sure the true Gospel, including the need for repentance and the presence of Grace, is in every message I preach. And keep on dialoguing with those friends outside the "bubble." It will bear fruit in time, if we don't give up.

Anonymous said...

I read the comments from "anonymous" earlier this week and, upon reflecting, I have been somewhat troubled. I do not know if he or she was inferring that his/her previous experience with taking non-believers to "a Baptist church" is what they are currently experiencing at Westbury. Surely not. But, if so, I needed to write. First of all, I know that great care, prayer and planning go into making the services at Westbury worshipful. I have never been at another church where clearly more effort and concern has obviously gone into the preparation of each service. Secondly, it is abundantly clear that your message preparation is deep, prayerful, biblically based and thoughtful. You relate the "old, old story" in a way that my children understand and are drawn to, as well as unchurched people we know who have come. There is nothing apologetic in your lifting up Jesus alone as THE solution. In fact, your theme this year on contrasting "following Jesus" with Christianity as a religion is powerful and Spirit led and applicable to anyone at any place on their spiritual journey. While "religious" people might not like the sharp and sometimes uncomfortable contrast you are drawing, those whose deep heart's desire is to know Jesus will be stirred.

I am concerned that we can confuse "style" with "substance" in preaching. Jesus was clearly the most compelling teacher of His day. He mostly preached using illustrations (parables) to, yes, winsomely engage his listeners and teach them Gospel truths. But the powerful love he lived out and the Truth expressed in no way dimished the raw power of His life and words. The most vile sinners outside the bubble of any religion were drawn to him like a magnet--never turned off or ashamed. It was only the religious people who were bothered by his winsomeness, non-conventional style, associations and turned off by him.

Thank you, Jeff, for your faithfulness to telling the old, old story with power, with insightful illustrations, humility and for so effectively lifting Jesus up.

Anonymous said...

Hi again,

No, I probably wouldn't have even mentioned it, had I been thinking of Westbury or of Jeff. I'm sure I would love being there if that were possible, but then I'm a believer who is highly used to our cultural norms.

Sometimes it's just difficult to realize how our way of doing things, in general, is interpreted by others, who didn't grow up in our Baptist culture.

However, it is all too easy to write off others' reactions to things by assuming a legalism or insincerity in their reactions, and no, these were not religious people, but previously, very seriously interested in finding out more.

Since I have found this to consistently be an issue for so many of them, I cannot ignore it, particularly since they had shown such an interest immediately prior to attending any services.
I may not always understand them, but at least I'm trying.

Jeff hit the nail on the head about what has been going on in so many of our "traditional" Baptist churches. People have a need for the gospel and God's grace whether they "feel" it or not.
I can remember the days when a person could hear the gospel at least once a visit, either in the Sunday School or in the Sunday morning worship service. Nowadays, it comes up once in a while, if we're lucky.

Guess these are really two separate issues, but the discussion seems to fit in with what Jeff is confronting the church with at this time. Is that right, Jeff? Maybe close? Ha!

I would be interested in delving deeper into this topic if anyone is interested or has had similar experiences.

Best option I have now is mentoring outside the walls of the church.

Have a great Sunday!

Jeff Berger said...

This has turned into very thoughtful and fruitful discussion. Thanks for that, and for the compliments...one can never receive too much encouragement. Certainly this is the kind of stuff we should be discussing. This is one reason I started the blog. One thing I would add to the discussion is that I know far, far too many people who have given up on church completely. They still have faith in Christ, but have been completely turned off. Many of these people are exactly what churches need more of. The revival that is needed in the American church today would be greatly helped by people such as these. I am encouraged when I talk to young Christians. I pray for revival, and think I will live to see it.