During the holidays, I was reading the Southwestern News, a magazine produced by Southwestern Seminary. A quote from Senior Pastor John Fils-Aime of the Central Church in New York City caught my attention. Fils-Aime said of his church in the heart of this great city, “We don’t want people to feel like the Gospel is our spiel, but that the Gospel is how we live our lives. And the way we communicate that is through our care and compassion for everyone who walks through our doors.”
You can imagine the plethora of people who either just walk by or who enter into the church in the midst of New York City. Prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, street people and the poor to name a few. Here you either minister to those “kinds” of people, or you close your doors. Central is an eclectic congregation of executives and homeless people. Sounds like the way the church should be wherever it is found.
I could not get away from his words: “We don’t want people to feel like the Gospel is our spiel.” Wonder what the people in your town think about your church? What do they think about the Gospel when they look at your church? Would they ignore or blow off the Gospel as just Baptist spiel? When the preacher preaches about the life-transforming Gospel, is it believable by observation of the product of the church, or would people chalk it up as just church spiel? Is the Gospel that is for all people just a spiel, or does your church practice open doors for all?
What Pastor Fils-Aime is trying to do in the sin-infested city is exactly what we must do at our church address. People need to hear the Gospel—no question about it. We should preach the Good News at every opportunity in the church and outside the walls of the church. The Gospel ought to be the single, most-prominent message that rings from the pulpit, Sunday School class and every other activity of the church. People need to hear that Jesus, God’s unique Son, came to die on the cross for our sins and arose on the third day. They all need to hear that He died so we might receive forgiveness, new life and hope for eternity. They need to know that to repent and believe opens a door to a life of transformation from darkness to light.
But words without works is dead. Words that are not demonstrated in changed lives and changed churches become just spiel—just nice phrases. Are we willing to love everyone and walk them to maturity in Christ? Are we willing to love all people with the unconditional love of Christ? Does your church seek to reach the whole community or just those who look like us?
It is natural for churches to grow by reaching their homogeneous kind. It is supernatural when we seek to reach all people of all kinds. It is supernatural to strategically and intentionally seek to reach every segment of the population around us. I call for more than saying, “Anybody is welcome in our church!” I am talking about an intentional strategy to share the Gospel and love of Christ with rich, poor, red, yellow, black and white. People who are morally right and those whose lifestyles break every commandment.
The spiel takes on truth when it is practiced—when the Gospel is not just for a privileged few who look like us. The church should reflect the people in the community—all of them—and this won’t happen accidentally. It will take a strategic and intentional effort for the church to keep the Gospel from being seen as the spiel of the church, but rather the life-transforming truth that shapes its members ministries.
One memory is ever etched in my mind from my days as a pastor. I looked out from the pulpit to watch a multi-millionaire showing a little bus kid from a drug infested, impoverished apartment complex how to find the passage I was preaching from. This gentleman was sitting with this bus kid as a surrogate parent. That’s more than a spiel; that’s the Gospel at work because the foot of the cross is level for rich and poor. All should be invited to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and be a part of the family of God.