“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
Why is that people who were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus?
Why did Jesus like people who were nothing like Him?
I think that the answer to those two questions is found in Luke 15. Figure out that passage of Scripture and you figure out the heart of God and the mind of Christ on the subject of the company Jesus preferred.
I suppose the short answer is that Jesus liked irreligious people more than he did religion types.
Historically, the most familiar part of Luke 15 has been identified as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Shouldn’t it be the Parable of the Prodigal Sons? There were two sons. Both were prodigals. What most people miss is that the son who wandered the furthest away from the Father never even left the house. He lived right under the father’s roof and yet, he was much further from his dad than his more famous younger brother.
The parable was directed at religious people. Jesus tells the parable of Luke 15 (primarily) for the benefit of the “Pharisees and teachers of the law” who were present (15:2). Evidently, they were upset that Jesus was hanging out with “tax-collectors and sinners.” Instead of them, might be inferred. After all, they assumed that if He really were the Son of God, He would prefer the company of the righteous.
While the “tax collectors and sinners” would have surely heard the parable Jesus was telling, it was directed at the Pharisees. The lesson of the oldest son is really the most important theme of the parable (15:25-32). And yet that is the part of the story that gets the least amount of attention.
Perhaps the church is most familiar with the younger son because it’s just too difficult to face the truth about itself in his older brother.
The second son shows us that it is possible to spend your entire life in your Father’s home and never really know His heart. I think this may be more true of the traditional American church than anybody cares to admit.
Very clearly in the parable, Jesus makes sure that nobody misses the point that the Kingdom of God throws parties when lost people are found. He repeats himself several times in the passage (15:7,10, 24).
At Cibolo Creek Community Church, we believe if heaven throws parties when lost people are found, then we ought to be in the party-planning business. We want to be a Luke 15 kind of church.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
So they began to celebrate.
Do you see it?
The father runs toward his lost son. The father was filled with compassion for his lost son. The father embraces his lost son. The father makes an enormous fuss over his lost son. The father throws a party for his lost son.
Unfortunately, the older brother didn’t share his father’s enthusiasm. In his anger, he refused to join the party (Luke 15:25-28). He didn’t care that his brother had come home. In fact, he resented it. He hated that his dad was making such a fuss over his wayward brother.
Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees. They were the older brother in the story. And so are Christians when we act just like them. Religious people who don’t get a church’s fuss over lost people are like the Pharisees who were put out that Jesus favored the company of “tax collectors and sinners.”
A key to understanding the Parable of the Prodigal Sons is being able to read body language. You have the father’s outstretched arms eager to embrace his wayward son. And then you have the oldest son’s arms crossed in anger refusing to celebrate his brother’s homecoming. Both send a powerful message about the state of each man’s heart.
A church either has the body language of the excited father or the angry brother. Here at Cibolo Creek, we choose the arms-wide-open approach. We think it looks more like Jesus.
God possesses an urgent priority for people who are really far away from Him. Jesus came to this earth to do the will of his Father. And for that reason, Jesus preferred the company of irreligious people more than religious types.
“Friend of sinners” his religious critics called Him. Jesus considered that a compliment.
If the Church is called to be Jesus to our world, then perhaps Christians need to rethink what they do and why they do it.
Historically, the church has done a much better job serving religious people than it has irreligious ones. Unfortunately, the church has spent a lot of its time and energy ostracizing the very people Jesus embraced.
Here at Cibolo Creek, we have decided to figure out a way to help people far from God warm up to Jesus. We are doing what we do on purpose. We want people who are nothing like Jesus to keep coming back until they discover just how much there is to like about Him.
We are unapologetically trying to win an audience with irreligious people. To do that, we have to do a few things differently.
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.”
While many churches say they want to serve lost people, few of them understand how to do that or lack the courage to do what is necessary. In the end, they just keep doing church exactly like it has always been done.
At Cibolo Creek, we do different. We are deliberately trying to create a different environment to engage a different audience.
Some church people will criticize what we are doing. We consider that a compliment.
Take music, for instance. Christians want our music to sound like church. We want our music to sound like a concert. At Cibolo Creek, we think a concert is a lot more familiar to somebody who hasn’t spent much time around church.
[Truth be told, we also think a concert is a whole lot more like the worship we read about in the Bible than what many of us have experienced growing up in church. Again, another blog for another day.]
Before we started Cibolo Creek, we surveyed nearly 250 unchurched people. One of the questions we asked them was about the kind of music they enjoyed. None of them told us they loved to listen to the great hymns of the faith played on a piano and pipe organ. They told us their radios were tuned to stations that played something very different from what most churches are performing on a Sunday morning.
Music is a way of creating something familiar for unchurched people. That’s why we choose some of the music we do. We are simply trying to begin a service at a place that is familiar for our unchurched guests.
We could also talk about architecture, decor, ambiance, language, titles, terminology, format, offering, and dress codes. You have to rethink all of them if you hope to engage irreligious people.
We figure as long as there is another unchurched person within thirty minutes of us, there’s a need for a place like Cibolo Creek Community Church.
We might not be for everybody, but we sure like who we ARE for.
As I keep saying, much to the chagrin of many. The Church is not FOR Christians. The Church IS Christians.
Christians exists for God’s glory and His purposes. It’s the job of Christians then, to decide exactly what is God’s purpose for them on earth. (A careful study of the Scriptures is highly recommended in seeking an answer to this important question.)
As a Christ-follower trying to discern the purpose of the Church, I thought a good look at the life of Jesus was the best way to determine God’s answer to that question. We learn a lot about the heart of God by looking at the life of Jesus (John 1:18; Luke 19:10). In the end, I have decided the church (a community of Christ-followers) is FOR unchurched people.
I long to have Jesus be present in the life of our church. I figured if He were going to show up somewhere, it would probably be a place populated by a lot of irreligious people. He had a habit of frequenting places where He’d be surrounded with people who weren’t anything like Him.
We see it all through the Gospels. Jesus had an amazing ability to engage the attention and admiration of very irreligious people. I disagree with the common criticism that the “seeker” church goes light on the Gospel or plays loose when it comes to spiritual purity. I am absolutely positive that Jesus never once dumbed down his message or jettisoned his morals to be popular with “tax collectors and sinners.”
At Cibolo Creek Community Church, we are building a church unchurched people love to attend.
It’s about being CONSCIENTIOUS and CONSIDERATE of unchurched guests; to see church through their eyes and to hear it through their ears. As visitors in our home, we want them to enjoy themselves. We want them to keep coming back until they see just how much there is to like about Jesus.
If you’re new to Cibolo Creek, you’re welcome to kick the tires and look under the hood. Take us for a test drive for a few weeks if you’d like. But after you’re done sizing us up, we ask you to get involved! Engage here or engage somewhere else, but don’t just sit and watch us do all the hard work! People who just sit and watch often feel obliged to criticize. (Don’t be one of those people. Nobody likes them.)
Just to make sure you get my point, let me say it one more time. We are building a church unchurched people love to attend.
We are not building a church Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians or Catholics love to attend. They are welcome to help us, if they’d like. As long as they clearly understand that everything will not be exactly what they would prefer.
Think about it. Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Catholics all have different ways of doing church. If we tried to build a church they all liked, none of them would like it. They’d all want it to be done differently.
Churches for the churched. There are plenty of those in town.
Cibolo Creek Community Church decided to figure out how to serve another audience; the unchurched. An audience we thought better portrayed who the church existed for in the first place; people far from God. People who need the church to be relevant to them and accepting of them when they start needing what the church has to offer them in the first place: Jesus.
Jesus. Friend of sinners. Grace and truth wrapped in love.