Each year on Easter weekend, many tune in to see who will win one of the most prestigious tournaments in professional golf. The Masters attracts golf enthusiasts, as well as those who follow the sport only on occasion. Augusta National, the course where the tournament is held, has become a shrine in the world of golf, adored by many, accessible by only a few who are invited to join.
In the past, protestors have raised their voices in opposition as Augusta National only accepts men as members. Again, this year, the controversy has come to the surface as the CEO of IBM, one of the corporate sponsors of the tournament, is a female. In previous years, the CEOs of IBM were granted membership, but now to continue that practice, the club would have to reverse its previous stance on who is elligible to become a member. Their restrictions are causing the limelight to be cast on them again, but in this instance it is a negative light in which they are featured, just as it was when Martha Burke protested years ago.
Wouldn’t it be easier if membership was open to everyone, regardless of race, gender or age? Immediately, my mind shifts to the status of the church today, which has become much like Augusta National. Do we realize the modern church has adopted the same mindset, becoming a shrine to those who are qualified and closed to those who do not meet a certain set of criteria that a few members have established as paramount to inclusion? Do we see how exclusive we have become rather than inclusive? This mindset has weakened the church of today and has left the church much less effective than it was in the past. We see the decline in the church of America today; and for those who are completely blind, we wonder how this has happened. The mindset and overall vision of the church changed. This mindset started with the Pharisees, but its existence today tells us how far we have slipped away from the teachings of Jesus.
We see this in action today. Many churches are closed to those who are in real need as the church is more concerned with dress codes and useless traditions that never have glorified God. Churches shun people based on their past, the way they dress, their social status and the color of their skin. Churches hold tight to their traditions, in the name of how-we-always-have-done-things, exclude countless people who are in desperate need of hope. While churches closes their hearts to the lost in their own backyards, lost souls are dying and entering a Christ-less hell for eternity. Such inward thinking and lack of compassion only breeds another generation to be a mirror image of self-concern for years to come. The population of hell increases as the compassion and outreach of the church decreases.
Jesus opened up to those who were lost, sick and outcast. He responded to the Pharisees’ question by saying, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” (
Look at your church. Is there diversity within your church? Is there a group of people who seem to welcome certain individuals while they shun others? Now, see who your church’s perspective is more aligned with—the perspective of the Pharisees or the outlook of Jesus. If your church thinks as the Pharisees, shunning the sinners and outcasts, your church is going to die. If your church has the mindset of Christ, your congregation will grow numerically and spiritually.
How do you get from the perspective of the Pharisees to the outlook of Jesus? Many pastors feel they are handcuffed by tradition and by a lack of compassion within their church. Here are a few things you can do that will help you transition your congregation from one that looks inward to a family who looks outward for growth.
1) Preach the truth. In today’s world, pastors often feel the need to pacify the congregation in order to keep the job. Expose the heart of your congregation. Be specific. As pastors, we are called to lead our congregations as Christ led the disciples and those who came to faith in Him. Ignoring the problem will not make it any better and inevitably will cause the cancer to spread. Some may not realize how inward they have become; others may not care. The important thing is to put the truth of the Word of God in their minds so they cannot say they didn’t know.
2) Stand on truth. Words easily can be spoken, but if the Word of God teaches us anything, mere words are not enough. Do not expect to preach the truth of the heart of your congregation and not receive backlash. As leaders, we must stand on the truth, rather than backing down when criticism comes. Changing from the mindset of the Pharisees to the outlook of Jesus will require change, and change never comes with ease and without controversy. Remember the payoff, a more Christ-centered church, is worth any controversy or struggle that may come along the way.
3) Act upon truth. Lead the congregation as you identify what can be done to reach out to various groups of people in your area. Be creative in your approach to reaching out to each age group in your area. Preaching a sermon and standing behind that sermon is great, but taking action on the sermon is what is needed. How will you reach lost children? How will your congregation reach out to teens in the area and young adults? How will the church effectively minister to families that are not following Christ? As you begin to lead, some will follow while others will not. Spend your time focused on the ones who are with you and on the ones who are in the community who need the Lord.
We need fewer churches that adhere to the mindset of Augusta National. We are in desperate need of churches that reach out to sinners with the truth of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, calling all people of all backgrounds to come to the cross and join the family of God. The world cannot afford for the church to continue its existence as a social club; the world will have hell to pay for it if we retain that mindset.