I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of churches being clear with prospective members–upfront–about what they believe.
I think we (church leaders) make a huge mistake when we give in to the temptation to hide our core beliefs from visitors to our congregations.
I think church leaders should be more clear about their core beliefs with people who are interested in joining with their congregations as members.
People deserve to know the facts about what our churches truly believe before they join, but it seems to me like too many churches hide their doctrinal beliefs because they are afraid of losing–or offending–visitors, so they place their statement of faith 12 pages deep on some random page of their website or they keep it safely in some file in the back of a file cabinet in a remote corner of a dusty office next to the janitor’s closet. Afraid that they may lose members these churches treat doctrine as if it’s an unwanted impostor in the church building who must be seated in a dark corner of the sanctuary–out of the sight of the crowd–and ushered out of the building before it can make a scene.
Some church leaders seem to view doctrine as an unimportant barrier that too often keeps seekers, or displaced Christians, from considering their congregation as a viable home for both their souls and tithes, so–with the hopes of unencumbered numerical and financial growth–they subscribe to a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” membership strategy.
I’m all about removing barriers that keep lost people from hearing about Jesus, but I don’t see doctrine as a barrier, but a bridge.
As a minister in a growing congregation I understand the temptation to compromise and water down doctrine–just a little–to keep people from going elsewhere. Trust me . . . I really do, but I also understand that the Bible is crystal clear about the importance of doctrine.
Sound doctrine is the key of our salvation and the salvation of the lost.
In I Timothy 4:16 Paul wrote, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
“Persevering” in doctrine suggests that we hold on to doctrine more tightly, not more loosely.
This suggests to me that doctrine is to be embraced, not released; revealed, not concealed.
All biblical teaching must be consistent with sound doctrine.
In Titus 2:1 Paul told Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”
Church leaders must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.
I must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.
In a previous ministry, when I was in placed in charged of the new members’ class I was pleased to see that–in their curriculum–they presented their “core beliefs” in the first hour of the membership class. I kept that going. I liked the fact that they wanted people to know upfront what they believed, so that prospective members could make an informed decision. They felt that it was unfair to their prospective members to tip-toe around their more “potentially divisive” doctrinal positions.
I’m now leading our membership class here at Journey and I’m presenting our core beliefs in the first hour of the class. I don’t present them in a “preachy” or legalistic (i.e. “agree with me or you’re going to Hell”) way. No, I present our beliefs graciously, but truthfully saying, “This is an important decision and, as you seek God’s will as to whether or not you should join with us, I want you to know our core beliefs, so that you can make an informed decision. I respect you–and this decision–too much to make you guess about what we believe.” Or something to that effect. 🙂
I believe this is the right thing to do.