One of my favorite stories in the gospels is about the guys that tore the roof off the house and lowered their paralytic friend into the presence of Jesus. It has moved my heart since my days in Sunday school when it was acted out on a flannel graph by my teacher. I’ve always wanted to be one of those guys on the roof. I am still committed to removing stuff that gets between people and Jesus.
To sign up for this job, there are really only two requirements. First, you must believe everything depends on getting people to Jesus. Not to our doctrines, to our denomination, or to our politics. Second, we must love people enough to do anything to get them to Jesus. Often we care more about our comfort and personal preferences than the people who need to meet Jesus.
The result is Jesus-centered flexibility. I don’t mind the church being seeker-friendly if we are Jesus-centered. Tear off any tradition if it gets in the way of people coming to Jesus. My nostalgia for old hymns (I have it bad) has never been as important as people entering God’s presence during worship. Style does not matter to me. I can enjoy high church liturgy, back-hills pentecostal, and rock and roll contemporary. I just want Jesus touching people. It’s not about me.
We have to be so radically Jesus-centered that we are constantly examining all our traditions and personal tastes to make certain none are keeping people from Him. We may discover that amplified rock concert worship is actually eliminating congregational singing and worship. We might discover the Spirit moving in the simplicity of Quaker silence and waiting on God. Who knows? Again, I don’t care about the style—I want Jesus moving and working in our services.
But here is something I do care about. I believe bringing people to Jesus means letting the church be the Body of Christ as described in I Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. In these passages Paul teaches that all the members have gifts that should be used for the building-up of the church. After extensive teaching on how these gifts work, Paul sums up:
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue. Let all things be done for edification. I Corinthians 14:26
Now, I don’t believe every gift has to be used in every gathering of believers. But if we made experiencing the Body of Jesus (I Corinthians 12) central to the ministry of the church, it would tear the roof off the way most of us do church.
First, the paid (sometimes barely paid) pastor might not be the center of attention at every meeting. Or he might not be the only one teaching. Or teaching might not be the only gift exercised. We might have to retrain people to become active participants in the meetings. Since this can’t be done in big meetings, small group gatherings would become more important than the big traditional Sunday morning service. In which case we might not even need church buildings. See what a mess you make when you start tearing open the roof?
Body life, however, is not optional. Bringing people to Jesus means bringing them to a fully functional Body of Christ that is filled with the Holy Spirit. All those gifts described in I Corinthians 12 are just a breakdown of the ministry Jesus had before He left and sent the Holy Spirit. It’s not about being charismatic or pentecostal—it is about being Jesus to a lost and hurting world. We can’t be Jesus-centered without opening up to the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Jesus and through whom Jesus indwells us. We need to tear off anything that keeps the church from being the healing hands of Jesus.
But the demolition of the roof gets worse. Jesus doesn’t dwell just in the Church’s gatherings, He dwells in each believer. That means that as our culture becomes increasingly secular and unchurched, we can’t get people to Jesus by inviting them into church building. We might have to actually be friends with people. Go out for coffee. Sit and talk at Starbucks, no matter what their cups look like. We can’t just depend on the hired help to share the gospel. We may discover that we need the full ministry described in Ephesians: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists. The one paid jack-of-all-ministries might become obsolete. Pew warmers might have to take Jesus into their communities.
Another thing that gets between people and Jesus is our tendency to preach Jesus-plus. Jesus plus our politics. Jesus plus our faith in capitalism. Jesus plus our favorite and often narrow list of moral issues. All of which may be good and even important stuff. All of which isn’t Jesus and which hands people excuses for not considering Him.
Another way we tear off the roof is by destroying people’s stereotypes of Christians. Many of these stereotypes are genuine faults that have been magnified and generalized to all Christians. For instance, I know some Christians are easily offended by sinners acting and talking like sinners. I’m not. Some Christians can be mean and self-righteous, so I try to be kind. Some Christians are intellectually lazy, so I try not to be. You name the stereotype; I’m against it. That’s because I have noticed that in Scripture, the sinners liked Jesus—the religious people not so much. Somehow people have to see Jesus—not just all the stereotypes nourished by hypocrites.
But we must be careful not to get too fond of demolition. I am ready to do radical things to get people to Jesus, but not for the sake of being radical. Some Christians have become so committed to creating genuine Christian community that community has become an end in itself. Community should be what happens as we follow Jesus together. It is always about Him.
This post doesn’t have a proper ending. We could probably write a book on tearing off the roof to get people to Jesus. There is no end to the work, but nothing beats seeing Jesus touch people. It should be what we live for. We should remember, however, that it took four people to lower the man to Jesus. We need to do this together.