Everyone seems to think their own issue is perfect for the local church to support and advance. Unfortunately, that assumption assumes that the church’s mandate is a mile wide. The truth is that churches have to say no to good things all the time. This is in order to prioritize the few things Jesus has called the church, and no other institution, to do. Namely, preach the gospel, make disciples, and administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
With these biblical mandates in mind, here are a few things we’ve said ‘no’ to as a church.
A Certain City Event
We said no to something called “Love Elgin Day.” Can you believe that? An event that had “Love” in the title, and the name of the city where our church is located. And we didn’t participate. What in the world?
To make a long story short, we discovered that all the churches that participated in this event were either liberal Protestant churches that held unbiblical views about the content of the gospel and the identity of Jesus, or they were churches that preached something equivalent to the prosperity gospel. We certainly considered that our own participation might be distinctive. However, we were unsure that the community would see it that way, regardless of how clear we might try to be on the differences between our church and the others. And then there was the issue of what it might say if every conversation we had was about how different we were from all the other churches. Would the community simply walk away thinking that Christians are divisive?
As much as we love our city and want to see more of its people come to faith in the gospel, and as much as we wanted to use our participation on that day to let people in the community know about our church, we decided that the best way for us to “love Elgin” was not to participate in this event. Could it have helped us make disciples for Jesus? Maybe. But there was also the possibility that it would have hindered that same goal. By cooperating in this way with these churches, we could have confused the community about what the gospel is, the kind of life it requires of us, and, in short, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
A Particular Soup Kitchen
We urge our members to serve at a particular homeless shelter where the staff encourages people to teach the gospel. We believe this is a more effective ministry than serving at soup kitchens or food pantries where gospel proclamation is discouraged.
Could it be a good thing to serve at a local soup kitchen where gospel proclamation is not appreciated by the staff? Of course! Feeding the hungry is a noble cause whether the gospel is preached or not. But there are plenty of non-Christian agencies, both governmental and charitable, that are passionate about feeding the hungry. By contrast, the church’s primary mission is not to feed all hungry people everywhere. The church’s primary mission is to distribute the message of the True Bread from Heaven (John 6:26-27).
As God’s providence would have it, one of our elders who retired from his secular employment now serves part-time on the staff of the first homeless shelter I mentioned. He regularly leads evangelistic Bible studies while helping the homeless to get back on their feet. In a similar vein, we encourage women in our congregation to volunteer at a local pregnancy center. In which, the management encourages its workers to share the gospel with women considering abortions. Again, if there’s a choice between two similar ministries in the community, we always choose the one where long-term gospel proclamation seems most sustainable.
A Missionary’s Funding
It may sound shocking, but we have even said no to some requests for missionary funding (both short-term and long-term). We did this, not because we’re anti-evangelism or missions-misers. Rather, we did it because we want to focus our missions’ money on evangelistic efforts that are moving toward church planting. As well as on pastoral training efforts that are developing faithful expositional preachers and godly pastors to serve in local churches.
We think discipleship happens most biblically and most effectively in the context of a commitment to a local church. For example, we’ve said no to a godly non-member who’s on staff with a campus ministry in order to say yes to a member of our church who is training for his doctorate in Old Testament so that he can train pastors in exegesis and exposition. Are we against campus evangelism? Of course not! I myself used to be a campus evangelist with Cru. Has our church supported campus missions in the past? You bet! We are simply making decisions based on the biblical priority of making disciples who love and commit to the local church, and training pastors to lead those churches based on the gospel.
Saying no to Good things…
Saying no to the good things I’ve mentioned above may incur the judgment of an inclusive culture or even the misunderstanding of a well-intentioned missionary. To many, drawing such distinctions sounds unloving. Each church will have to decide how best to steward its resources in light of the teaching of Scripture. However, if the mission of the church is making disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), then faithfulness will often trump popularity.