In my sermon on Sunday, we talked about how the successful mission of the church demands focus. In a city that ranks #9 on the Barna list of most unchurched U.S. cities, we must focus on good news that leads to good works.
But many Christians get distracted from the main thing. Whether it’s foolish controversies (Titus 3:9) or good things that lose their gospel focus, it’s easy for good people to go sideways.
How does it happen? I offer these three steps as a common way that Christians lose focus on their ultimate mission.
STEP #1: Drift from being moved by the gospel.
Early in a Christian’s life of faith, the gospel is everything. We are thrilled to consider the forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family, and reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.
But at some point — for some Christians — the gospel becomes ordinary, dull, boring, and been-there-done-that. This is often the result of flattening or truncating the gospel, rather than seeing all of it’s beautiful aspects.
Whatever the cause, when a Christian starts yawning at the gospel message, he or she is on a road to missing the point of life.
STEP 2: Experience something particularly meaningful.
When the gospel stops gripping the heart of a Christian, something else will come to take its place. Often this is in the shape of an especially meaningful experience (whether good or bad). It could come in the shape of a health crisis, a child’s passion, a work breakthrough, new friendships, exposure to different cultures, a family change, an encounter with a big social issue, abusive church experiences, or countless other meaningful experiences.
With the gospel nearly forgotten, these big experiences begin to have identity-forming power. Rather than being defined by the gospel and even seeing this powerful experience through a gospel lens, a distracted Christian begins to make this experience a centerpiece of his or her focus.
Soon this experience, rather than Christ, will truly define them.
STEP 3: Project personal passion on everybody else.
When the new experience begins to define the Christian, it becomes their new mission. And they begin to evangelize — toward their new mission.
Not only do they share their newfound passion, but they actually begin to expect others to be as passionate as they are. Drive-by guilting is commonplace.
There is profound disappointment and even anger when others don’t pick up the passion. (When your identity is defined by something, it’s hard not to look down your nose at those who don’t feel the same way — it’s why only a gospel-shaped identity that is defined by Jesus, who forgave his enemies, can lead to loving those who disagree with you)
It looks like:
– Being passionate about parenting and expecting everyone else to care as much as you.
– Being passionate about serving the poor and expecting everyone else to care as much as you.
– Being passionate about confronting abuse and expecting everyone else to care as much as you.
– Being passionate about fighting abortion and expecting everyone else to care as much as you.
– Being passionate about foster care and adoption and expecting everyone else to care as much as you.
– Being passionate about reforming health care and expecting everyone else to care as much as you.
– Etc, etc, etc.
Now, here’s something important: All of these things are good things in and of themselves. And all of them can be done as a person who is focused on good news that lead to good works (they often are).
But too often Christians actually define themselves more by these issues and experiences than they do by Christ. And, all of a sudden, a kind of new legalism springs up in the place of treasuring Jesus.
This may be why so many people who work at non-profit organizations (even faith-based non-profits), don’t really participate in the life of their churches, or even resent the church. When the person is passionate about X and the church doesn’t share X as their primary passion (because the church is focused on Jesus), he gets upset. He disengages. The non-profit becomes his primary faith community, because–after all–it’s centered on the thing that most grips his heart.
We need Christians who are passionate about all kinds of issues. The palette of good works that God is painting from can be wonderfully diverse.
But we need Christians who are passionate about these issues because they are more passionate about Jesus and his gospel. We can’t drift from being moved by the gospel. We can’t build our identities on things other than Christ (even if they’re good things).
Only when our priorities are ordered and the good works flow out of good news will (a) the person be in a healthy spiritual place and (b) the church be in a healthy place, focused on Jesus.