Recently, my bishop announced a small-grant program for churches that want to start new worship experiences to engage new people. In his weekly e-mail message to the conference today, he wrote about an unexpected response to the program:
One of the most interesting questions I have been asked about the plan to invite our churches to start 100 New Points of Light (worship opportunities to reach new people) has been the question “Why?”
I expected to hear the question “How?” asked often, and we are preparing to provide ideas, models, support, and advisors to help churches know “how” to start new worship services. That is important because we want this to be a free, Spirit-led movement, but we also want to give every opportunity for these new worship opportunities to be fruitful. I was expecting the question “How?” but I was not expecting the question “Why?”
After further reflection I realize that the issue is soteriology. That word “soteriology” is an academic way of saying that too many United Methodist people and pastors do not have a clear theology of salvation. Or to be put it even more crudely, too many of our pastors and people do not have a passionate belief that salvation is needed or that people are “lost” when they stand outside of a faith in Jesus Christ.
The absence of a clear soteriology is a weakness in many of our United Methodist congregations. Perhaps we bishops, seminary professors, clergy, Sunday School teachers, and others in the church have failed to emphasize and clearly state our understanding of salvation. If so, it is high time we did a better job of teaching, nurturing, and sharing our belief that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior makes a difference in people’s lives.
So, let me state it clearly and plainly: I believe that all people are created for a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and I believe that every one of us needs that relationship in order to be “whole” and “saved” and “complete.” Living without that relationship to God means that our lives are broken, lost, and incomplete. Our world today is testimony to the brokenness, pain, evil, and heartache which results from attempting to live on our own strength and direction. So many people today are lost and wandering through life without knowing their God-given purpose. Without that God-given purpose, their lives become mired in self-centeredness, immorality, and pain.
Finding faith in God through Jesus Christ causes us to yearn for everyone to know that relationship with God. Discovering the forgiveness, grace, and love of God prompts us to share that good news for everyone. No one can be a full and complete disciple of Jesus Christ without also wanting that life for everyone. Whenever any one of us finds new life in Christ, we are compelled to share that joyous opportunity for everyone.
So of course we care about those who are still “lost” – and we want to provide any new opportunity we can for persons to move into a loving, forgiving, freeing relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Why would we offer new worship opportunities for new people to be drawn to God’s love? Because we care about people, we care that they are lost, and we want to help them find their way in life.
An absence of a sound and clear soteriology causes our churches to become little religious clubs of persons who only want their own needs met, who demand their own preferences, and who are satisfied to sit by and watch other people continue to live their desperately lost lives without faith.
A joyful and robust soteriology causes our churches to focus outwardly, to reach out to others in love, and to provide any new opportunity to draw people to God.
Why start 100 New Points of Light? Because we care about persons who are lost and outside of God’s love.