The Popularity Paradox (Effectively Reaching Lost People without Compromising Truth)

Today I read a newspaper article discussing how a particular denomination is wrestling with certain decisions pertaining to their heritage—things like whether they should change their name or drop their denomination’s name from their title entirely, past strong political ties and turmoil over race-related issues.

The article I’m referring to was written by a pastor in this particular denomination, which added an additional layer of honesty and pointedness.

Reading the article reminded me of several things I’ve been thinking about lately, so I decided to share them with you here.

As I read the article, I was struck by a variety of emotions.

On one level, I can relate to the author’s points.

I know what it is like to feel like you have to overcome the past history or negative perceptions (often misperceptions) associated with your congregation when you try and share the gospel with someone.

On another level, I find the specific points that congregations and denominations are wrestling with both humorous and sad.

It’s humorous because people often seem to miss the point so incredibly badly that you can’t help but laugh. It’s sad because, too often, believers and congregations appear to be running a popularity contest where the goal is a full building and overflowing bank accounts. These are precious souls we’re talking about!

Evangelism is crucial, no question about it.

One of the primary reasons why we’re still here on earth is to preach the good news so that more souls can be saved.

Jesus told the Jews who complained about His association with Zaccheus (a <insert condescending tone> sinner) that He had come “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Likewise, Jesus sent the apostles into the whole Roman world for the purpose of making disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:45-49).

As Christians and soul-lovers, we need to be concerned about our effectiveness.

We need to put forth the effort to be as effective as we possibly can in sharing Jesus with the lost. (In fact, too often it seems Christians and congregations put virtually no thought into how effective their methods are.)

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
(1 Cor. 9:19-23 NIV)

In our quest to be effective, however, we must never compromise the truth.

This is where believers have gotten way off track in our history, and the danger is ever-present for us today.

Friends, it’s way past time for us to accept the reality that true Christianity is not popular. It never has been, and it never will be (in this life).

Jesus promised that His followers will suffer persecution and be hated by the world:

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 
(John 15:18-20 NIV)

In the parable of the sower (see Matt. 13:1-23), Jesus clearly says that the majority of those who hear the good news will not accept it and remain faithful.

Jesus, GOD the Word, taught for over three years and after His ascension we find there were only about 120 disciples (see Acts 1:15).

What?!? What happened to the massive crowds that followed Jesus, had their sicknesses healed and loved ones raised from the dead?

The apostle John answers this question for us. After feeding the 5,000+ by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus crossed over to the city of Capernaum where, the next day, the crowd found Him.

John wrote:

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
(John 6:25-26 NIV)

After saying this, Jesus began teaching the crowd about spiritual things and about true discipleship. These things weren’t met with the same zeal as the physical miracle from the previous day:

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered… 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” … 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” … 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
(John 6:41-43, 52, 60, 66 NIV)

As Jesus’ disciples, we need to be more concerned about getting souls into the kingdom than we are about getting bottoms in our pews and dollars in our collection plates.

There are countless people who fill the church buildings across the world every Sunday who will not enter into heaven because they are outside of Jesus.

Rather than strategizing and spending countless dollars on studies and committees and other man-made ideas in an effort to draw more people in to a particular denomination, we need to go back to the New Testament and start being the undivided, undenominational church that belongs to Jesus Christ.

Too often believers argue over things that don’t matter.

We’re focused on whether our church sign should have this phrase or that word, when instead we ought be studying the New Testament church to see how things were done then, before all the man-made ideas like church signs even entered the picture.

As Henry David Thoreau has famously said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

Let’s get back to focusing on what matters.

Let’s follow the Bible and only the Bible and, instead of debating which man-conceived idea is better than the next, let’s simply rely on GOD’s ideas and quit trying to improve upon them.


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