New Members’ Class: Tell Men the Truth

New Members’ Class: Tell Men the Truth July 29, 2019
Betrayal and treachery concept. Silhouette of a sad man with a knives in the back on a sunset background

Here’s an excerpt from my previous post, titled How the New Members’ Class Sets Men Up to Fail:

New believers are told that church is going to be NONSTOP AWESOME. When it’s not, they feel betrayed. Many new members cut back on their involvement, stop attending or depart for another church, simply because their congregation failed to live up to its own hype.

So how should we handle the New Members’ class? How can we present the good, the bad and the ugly of church life without scaring people away? Here’s my suggestion.

If I were leading your new members’ class…

I would start the class off the same way you normally do. Welcome the inquirers. Present the mission and vision of the church. Talk about what it means to be a member of a church and set some expectations.

After a few minutes I’d separate the men and the women. Here’s the talk I’d give to the men:

What I’d tell the men

Hello men. Now that we’re alone, I want to give you a choice.

I can stick to the script: telling you all the wonderful things about our church and the benefits of being a Christian. Or I can tell you what it’s really like to follow Jesus as a member of our church – warts and all.

Who wants me to stick to the script, raise your hands?

(A few hands may go up)

And who wants to hear the real story, raise your hands.

(Almost everyone will raise their hands)

OK, you asked for it.

In John chapter 6, Jesus said something so offensive that every one of his disciples abandoned him – except for the twelve.

(Walk over to the door and open it)

The things I’m about to tell you will offend some of you. They may cause you to want to walk out this door. Church membership is not for everyone, so please feel free to step out. There’s no shame. No judgment. No condemnation.

I just want to make sure you understand what’s being asked of you, and the gravity of the decision you’re about to make.

So let’s begin. I’m going to tell you three things you need to know before you join a church.

Number one: Jesus is not interested in churchgoers – he wants disciples. Followers. There is a difference.

Jesus’s mission is to change the world – but first he must change your heart.  A lot of men resist this heart change. They don’t mind learning about God, or serving God, but they resist when God tries to change them from the inside out.

This was my story. I was a churchgoer for many years. I tried to be a good person, read the Bible and follow its commands. I kept failing. I looked good on the outside, but my personal life was a mess.

So one day I prayed, “God, I am messing up my life on my own. From now on, you’re the boss. Whatever you say I’ll do.”

Instantly God began changing me from the inside out. First thing I did was call up a friend whom I had wronged and asked for forgiveness. All these gracious words started to pour out of my mouth – words that were not my own. This was the freakiest thing that had ever happened to me, but it felt so right.

Over time my desires began to change. My habits changed. My obsessions changed. I said goodbye to some friends who dragged me down. The way I spent my time and my money changed too.

Change is never easy. Like a drug addict going through withdrawals, my old nature continually fought to reassert itself. But over time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and the support of my church I won more and more of these battles.

This is what discipleship means: letting Jesus change you every day. Even when you don’t want to. And this is what church membership means: surrounding yourself with brothers who will tell you the truth about yourself, even when you don’t want to hear it.

So, if you want to be a churchgoer, but not you’re not willing to let God change you, then I suggest you NOT join our church. There’s no shame if any of you would like to leave. There’s the door.

(10 seconds pass in silence)

Number two: Jesus doesn’t want a partial commitment – he wants total commitment. Once you let him in, nothing is off limits.

Let me tell you what this could mean. When I was a new Christian, one of my youth leaders said something I’ve never forgotten:

The Christian life, properly lived, will result in your death.

Christianity may literally kill you.

Church members follow Jesus into war zones. Into drug, crime and disease infested places. To dangerous lands where Christians are tortured and killed. Every day people lose their homes, their possessions and their very lives because of their faith in Jesus.

Be warned: the commitment you are now considering may lead to poverty, dislocation and death.

But even if you’re never called to do something dangerous, I can guarantee you’ll be called to do something courageous.

You’ll have to pray for that person who makes your life a living hell. You must forgive that person who abused you – or who abused someone you love. You’ll have to give up your prejudices and love everyone, no matter how they look, where they’re from or what they believe. You’ll have to learn to spend less and give more. And you’ll have to have speak up for Christ and his church even when it’s embarrassing or costly to do so.

So, if you have no interest in dying for Jesus, then I suggest you NOT join our church. There’s no shame if any of you would like to leave. There’s the door.

(10 seconds pass in silence)

Number three: If you join this church, you will be betrayed. And your betrayer will be a fellow church member.

Betrayals will come. Some will be large. Most will be small. After each betrayal you’ll be tempted to quit.

Many men join the church thinking, “I’ll stick with this church as long as it does right by me. As soon as things go sideways, I’m outta here.” If that’s your attitude, you may want to rethink your decision to join.

You’ll experience small betrayals practically every week. A pastor or teacher will say something that rubs you the wrong way. The music might be too loud or too soft or too modern or too old fashioned. The person singing beside you might be tone deaf, or cry “AMEN” at the wrong times. And some of the sermons will land like a dud.

At times you’ll feel like the church won’t leave you alone, while other times you’ll feel ignored. A fellow churchgoer will say something unkind. Your ideas might be dismissed or you may feel patronized. Christians will ignore your advice — or give you unwanted advice.

If you join a small group or ministry team the possibility of betrayals multiplies. The leader will choose a dull curriculum. Somebody in your group may be weird, or says offensive things, or doesn’t wash his hair, or always wants a hug. The prayer time will go on too long thanks to that member who’s in love with her own voice. You may feel your gifts aren’t wanted or needed. You may be assigned tasks you don’t want to do.

You’ll lend a fellow churchgoer something – and never get it back. Your kid will get in a fight with another kid in the youth group. A fellow parishioner will give his 7-year-old a smartphone – and now your 7-year-old wants one. Members will spar over trivial things – coffee and carpet color and dress codes. You’ll be caught in the middle of a power play between rival factions.

These betrayals are particularly painful because the church is supposed to be perfect. After all, we’re representatives of Christ, the only man who ever lived a sinless life. When the church fails to meet this lofty standard, it’s natural to want to dismiss it.

After each of these little betrayals a voice in your head will whisper, “You need to find another church.”

Or maybe the voice will say, “Church is toxic. You don’t need organized religion to be close to God.”

Here’s my point. Betrayal is not a sign that something is wrong. Instead, it’s a sign that God is at work.

Almost everyone in the Bible was betrayed. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. David. Paul. And of course, Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, walking in his footsteps, why are we surprised when we too are betrayed?

And who betrayed these heroes of the faith? Not some stranger. Someone close. A fellow traveler who shared their faith.

These small betrayals and irritations are tests of your resolve. They are allowed by God to help you grow in patience, perseverance and forgiveness. Like a muscle that grows stronger as it is tested with exercise, your faith will grow stronger if you persevere through betrayal. God uses these betrayals to teach you how to stay in relationship with people who hurt or disappoint you.

So that’s my question to you: will you stick with us even when we disappoint you? When you feel betrayed?

I’m not saying you have to endure terrible abuse or false teaching. I’m asking, “Can you persevere through the normal tension that arises when people get together?” The church is full of wonderful people, but they’re people. They have their differences, their faults and their idiosyncrasies.

Jesus spoke of a narrow, difficult path that leads to life. Think of your church as your hiking buddies – fellow travelers who can help you stay on that path. And as you mature in your faith, your job is to help others find and stay on this difficult path.

Hiking with others can be difficult. But hiking alone can be deadly.

So that’s the reality of church life.

  • Jesus wants disciples – not churchgoers.
  • Jesus wants total commitment.
  • And you will be betrayed by this someone in this church.

If you are not willing to walk this path, then I suggest you NOT join our church. There’s no shame if any of you would like to leave. There’s the door.

(10 seconds pass in silence)

All right, those of you who remain, you’ve learned the truth about church. Your job is to help your wives and kids and friends persevere when the going gets tough. As the men in their lives, they are looking to you for strength. Steadfastness. They will take their cues from you. If you choose to join this church, then commit from this day to love it, to support it and defend it from all who would weaken it.

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