Is church for everyone?
This is a complex question with a complex answer.
And in a Post-Christian world it’s an offensive question because it cuts to something many consider distasteful about Christianity: Exclusivity. Ultimately, most Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and therefore by process of elimination, Christianity is “right” while all the rest of the world’s religions are “wrong.”
You may have noticed that I used “church” and “Jesus” synonymously. I already said that the question of church is a complex one. Yes, you can be a Christ follower without church. But most people correlate church as being for people who love Jesus and Jesus followers as being the type of people who go to church.
So is it for everyone?
At our church we use aspirational language to say “yes” to that question. Language like, “We’re a come as you are church. Part of our DNA is that we want this place to be for everyone.”
Now, we’re a good-sized church. But we aren’t really for everyone. We’d like to think we are for everyone but “everyone” is a pretty big target. In truth, we’re a church for a certain segment of the population attracted to that posture that we’re open to everyone while we hold open handedly the reality that we don’t know what “everyone” would actually mean.
I don’t want to get caught up in the idea of “everyone” from a church vantage point. It’s complicated, it contemplative, and ultimately there’s an easy answer for books that says, “Yes, absolutely” and a more difficult one for every day which says, “Well, not really.”
The church question is interesting but not my point at all.
What does “everyone” mean? “Does it mean me?”
I’m not talking about church from the vantage point of church leadership. I’m talking about church from the vantage point of attending.
Is it for you?
Is it for me?
Is it for my friends?
Is it for my kids?
What do we mean when we say “church is for everyone“?
Christians believe that a life with Jesus is better than a life without him. That’s more than about an ultimate, heavenly destination. It’s that we believe that being engaged in the local church is good, it’s a sign of spiritual health and obedience to God. The Bible makes it clear that good stuff happens when we gather together.
But here’s the thing, a lesson I’m reminded of all the time as a dad: “My job as a parent is both RIGHT NOW and IN THE FUTURE.” I can look at my child and say, “You’re going to church. It’s for everyone, you’re part of an everyone, this is what we do as a family.”
But that’s like using a credit card to pay for a vacation, right? It’s short-term awesome. Maybe I can push my kid to go to church and pretend to love it because that’s what’s expected in the context of being a part of a church.
But, welcome to complexity, you might be “solving” a problem by forcing your kid to go to church while creating a bigger problem down the road when they have a choice.
Does “everyone” mean “everyone right now”?
For me, this is where I’ve been on this question of “everyone” most of my ministry– even in the face of pressure by leadership because it means rejecting some implications of the aspirational ideology that we can reach “everyone“.
We say Jesus for everyone but that doesn’t have to be determined at 14 years old.
- Internally, we know that plenty of on-fire teenagers never become on-fire adults.
- Plenty of people who completely skip church until their 20s or 30s radically convert later.
- Plenty of adults don’t go to church today because their parents didn’t love them enough to recognize that they weren’t ready as kids and teenagers.
- We know that any one church isn’t really for everyone.
- We have a theological belief that Jesus is for everyone, that Jesus died for all that believe in him, we aspire to reach as many as possible… But we also know that God’s time is not our time.
“I must bring them also.”
When I desire to control my kids or teenagers in the youth group I need to take a step back and remember that my role as a dad or pastor is lower case. I might be shepherding this child or teenager. But my role in that isn’t capitalized… I am not the Dad and I am not the Shepherd.
Jesus ultimately decides who “everyone” is. Consider John 10:7-16 (emphasis mine)
“Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
If this is true than I don’t have the right to force. I can’t possibly know who “everyone” is. Sheep don’t count sheep! And while I can be cooperative with Jesus in His work– I’d be curious to read some commentaries on who people think is the “hired hand”, He has ultimate authority on this question.
I’ve read this passage innumerable times and missed the text I put in bold. There is the “pen” I hang out in but Jesus has other pens. And whose responsible for those pens? Not me. Jesus.
Church: Is it for everyone? Yes.
Church: Is it for everyone? Really?
I told you it was complicated.