‘Unchurched’ or ‘Unsaved’? Our Words Reveal What We Believe

Posted: January 19, 2012 in Faith/Christianity, Life As We Know It!
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I was recently reading a post from Trevin Wax titled: UnChurched or Unsaved? What Our Vocabulary Reveals About Our Beliefs.  You can click the link to read the entire article, but I’ll just share some things that jumped out and smacked me in the pancreas!

There was a time when we spoke of unsaved people as “lost and dying and on their way to hell”—a phrase that painted a vivid picture of the stakes of being outside of Christ. We spoke of unsaved people in this way for so long that such terminology became something of a cliché.

Today, it seems that many pastors and church members tend to shy away from terms like “lost,” “unsaved,” and “unbeliever.” Instead, we speak of the people we are trying to reach as “unchurched.”  ~Trevin Wax~

For quite some time now, I’ve had a tendency to shy away from using the ‘non-Christian’ or ‘un-churched’ term when referring to those who have not made a Christian faith decision.  There’s a few reasons;

  • it can seem offensive and somewhat crude to those outside the Christian faith network
  • I’m not sure of the relevancy of those terms outside of Christianity…you likely don’t hear the terms non-Muslim, non-Buddhist, non-Hindu, etc… from other religions
  • I prefer using the term ‘not-yet-believer’ or ‘not-yet-Christian’…certainly as opposed to ‘non-Christian’…’un-churched doesn’t seem as offensive or out-of-touch…but I like the above definition better!

Okay, there’s my little slightly off-course rabbit trail…now back to the article at-hand.  Trevor calls to mind some of the reasons why the words/terms we often use, as believers in Christ, can not only have a negative impact on those we’re trying to reach out to, but also within our own framework of what we actually believe.   From the quote at the top of the page, Wax suggests that the change in terminology has impacted 2 main areas of Christian’s beliefs;

  1. People Believe The Goal Of The Church Is To Grow The Church
  2. Our Shift in Vocabulary Indicates the Lessening of the Eternal Stakes of Salvation

Now I love to share the gospel and reach people who have no relationship with Jesus Christ…it’s part of the passion of having the spiritual gift of evangelism!  But after reading this article, I really have to check my motives, as well as my urgency.  Let’s break it down a little here;

People Believe The Goal Of The Church Is To Grow The Church- I know of many people (I can throw myself into this group too) who very much enjoy inviting friends and family to attend church with them…even inviting them to go deeper and actually get plugged into what’s going on at their church.  But so often the goal becomes more about growing the church to bigger numbers than it does about growing the Kingdom of God.  We can get put off if our friends decline our invitation to church, and instead end up accepting the invitation of someone else…or stumbling upon a church on their own after declining our offer.  Pastors, leaders, congregation members/attendees can too often be infected with a spiritual pride when it comes to church, often boasting in the size and scope of attendance, programs and buildings.  This just simply was not the goal or interest of the early church.  Their motivation was about souls…about expanding the boundaries of the Kingdom so that their pride came from knowing Heaven was getting bigger…not their house church or synagogue.

Now unfortunately many people fall into this category simply because the church has no real plan or vision for discipleship.  If everything revolves around the weekend gathering, the speaker and the band…then it becomes fixated on those elements as the primary objectives.  And since the weekend service gives you the most ‘bang for your buck’, it’s all about inviting your friends…hoping they make some kind of decision…and if not…find someone else to fill their spot in the seat next to you.  Many churches are not like this…but sadly, many are.  But we need to know this; the goal of the church is not to grow our church, but to grow His church.  And if that means the church down the street is the beneficiary of a Kingdom harvest…praise God!  It took me a long time to come to this point of maturity in my faith, but thankfully a little late is much better than never!

Our Shift in Vocabulary Indicates the Lessening of the Eternal Stakes of Salvation- This is a personal one for me because my father still does not have a professed faith or recognition of Christ as Lord.  I can also think of many others in my circle of influence and relationships that aren’t ‘there’ yet either…but family is always a trump card.  If we think of people as ‘unchurched’ as opposed to ‘unsaved’ we end up making the means (church as an opportunity to hear the gospel and experience Christ at work in those around us corporately) as the end goal (if I get them to church I can cross the ‘un’ off and now they are at church).  The goal was never going to church, but the goal is someone hearing the message that we are all born into sin…we’re all lost and in need of saving, and we can’t do this on our own…only Jesus can provide the rescue by His sacrifice on the cross and paying the price in our place…and it’s only through faith, belief and obedience in Him that we find true meaning, purpose in life, and security against an eternity in hell.

Let’s face it…no one wants to talk about hell very much, and not many think they would actually have to go there apart from any ‘religious’ decision they make here on earth.  But if we really understood the stakes of salvation…that people are on a one-way ticket to eternal separation from God and eternal torment and agony IF they don’t repent and seek forgiveness through Jesus (owning up to the fact we’re all sinners in need of forgiveness that only Jesus can grant), then perhaps the urgency level would increase.  Every day I have to make a decision in my motivation to share the gospel with someone.  Do I wait for another day…one that’s less busy, awkward, or intimidating?  Or do I seize the opportunities (God will give them to us everyday if we ask for them!) when they present themselves, and start throwing out some life preservers here and there…knowing full well that most people will refuse the offer, and instead continue on treading water in their own limited strength?

So hopefully this is a good reminder to us…not necessarily about getting stuck in semantics, but for us to realize what the real goal of growing the church is, and just how high the stakes really are.  Because what we say really does come back to reflect what we really believe!

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