This is a letter I wrote to members of the community around a church I pastored. It is specific to a particular church but could be used by anyone at any church. I place it here for anyone thinking about beginning church attendance. Feel free to use this letter and tailor it to your own church or ministry—Pastor Mark Oaks.
For those of you who might not know Jesus as Savior and those who have not attended church regularly, I want to let you know why we exist as a church. Our church is not this building, or the grounds surrounding it. Our church is the people who are members of our church. Think of a church as an assembly. In fact, the Greek word translated church, actually means an assembly. The word, ekklesia (έκκλησία), is the word the ancient Greeks used for their political assemblies like our city council meetings. The church (including this church) is an assembly of those who believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. I’ll talk a little later about why we need a Savior.
As a church, or an assembly of believers, let me tell you why we are in existence. One of the main reasons we exist is you. There are other reasons, but you are the reason I want to discuss here and now. I want to talk about what we want for you, what we don’t want from you, and what we can and cannot promise you.
Let me start by discussing what we don’t want from you. I would like you to know that I have only been a committed Christian for part of my life. I was raised in a church-going home, and when I came of age, let me tell you, the first thing I did as an adult was to stop attending church. My reason, or so I thought, was to prove my independence from my folks, and from God. I joined the Air Force and for seventeen years I tried to assert my independence from God.
Looking back, I failed miserably. I became a large consumer of alcohol. I had a foul mouth, I looked at pornography, I fought, I lusted after women, I tried pot (I did inhale); if you can think of anything bad, except adultery, I did it. I almost committed adultery too, but I was extremely drunk, and my wife caught me and stopped it before it happened. I tell you all this so you will know where I am coming from.
I was no pick of the litter for God. In fact, I felt so unworthy of God, that I began to hate Him and everything He stood for. I would not even go into a church because I accepted all the stereotypical myths about church.
I believed that all that the minister wanted was either my money, or another addition to the roles to report to his superiors and make himself look good. I figured that the church wanted perfect people for members, and I sure didn’t fit that. I felt that they wanted me to believe the bible 100%. I felt they would want me to agree with everything they did and accept everything they did–like being a cissy. I figured that any man who went to church was a cissy, and if I went they would expect me to become a cissy. My worst misconception was that I would have to change my lifestyle (read give up every fun thing I could do, especially my drinking).
I want to tell you that when I finally did go into a church searching for answers, I found out that they did not mention any one of those things to me, they just told me how much God loved me and how to seek His forgiveness.
So, here are some of the things we DON’T want from you: First of all, we don’t want your money. Let me be plain about that. Yes, we do pass the offering plate, but we don’t want you to give any money to us if you don’t want to. An offering is just that. It is a gift you offer to the church.
Yes, churches need money. They have electric, water, phone, and gas bills. They have mortgage payments, and most must pay their staff. But, there are many Christians who are members of this church, and they pay the bills, most of them joyfully. We do not want you to come to this church because we want your money. If you don’t want to give, don’t. No one will look down on you because you don’t. It is as simple as that. Here, we are not in the business of making money.
Another thing we don’t want from you is for you to change your lifestyle. Yes there is a lifestyle in the Bible that Christians are supposed to strive to live, but none of us, no not one of us, is able to actually perfect. I’m not saying that Christians don’t have a standard to try to achieve. What I am saying is that you don’t have to change your lifestyle to come to this church. We sing a hymn often here which goes like this: “Just as I am without one plea.” What that song means is that Jesus will accept you just like you are, and if He will, so will we. After all, Jesus hung around with prostitutes, uneducated fishermen, and tax collectors that were viscerally hated by the general public. Why, He even ate with sinners! This may be a bit clichéd, but a church is a hospital for sinners, not a club of perfection. You are welcome here, whatever your lifestyle.
We don’t expect you to believe that the bible is the 100% perfect words of God. We do believe that here, but we don’t expect you to. We don’t expect you to agree with us 100%, or accept everything we believe.
We don’t require you to become a member here. You are welcome to come and worship with us and not become a member. Your official membership in this church is not necessary. We would love to have you, but it is not required that you be a member.
Now, let me tell you some of the things we cannot guarantee you. We can’t guarantee your success. There are some preachers, especially on TV, who preach that if you become a Christian and join their church, you will have unbridled success in everything you do. We cannot guarantee success. By success, I mean business, personal, or monetary success. I will tell you that if you are doing what God wants you to do, you will have success in that endeavor. If God wants you to be a Bible teacher, for example, you will have success at that. Becoming a Christian does not guarantee you will succeed in everything you do.
Along those same lines, we cannot guarantee your prosperity. There are those who preach that if you become a Christian, you will have all the money you will ever need and you will prosper in all that you do. Yes, God does promise to look after your needs, but not necessarily all of your desires.
We cannot guarantee you that you will never have a worry. Yes, the Bible tells us not to worry, to turn our worries over to God, but most Christians have some worry sometime.
We can’t guarantee you will be in perfect health, we can’t guarantee you will never have any sorrow, and we can’t guarantee you will never be involved in controversy. In other words, to quote a popular song, we can’t guarantee you a rose garden.
What we can guarantee, is what the Bible promises. If you become a Christian, here are the promises God makes. They are guarantees.
God promises always to take care of your needs. He will provide you with shelter, clothing, and sustenance. Those are needs. He guarantees always to meet your needs. What we need and what we want is sometimes hard for us to differentiate, but God knows the difference. Since I have been a Christian, God has always come through on this promise. When the business I owned failed, I still had a home, not a fancy one. In fact, I had to move from a very nice house to a mediocre one. But I still had shelter. I still had food on the table, I still had transportation, and I was warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I had clothes to wear and shoes on my feet. Even though I sometimes did not know where the next dime was going to come from, God always met my needs. God keeps His promises.
We can guarantee you a changed life. Becoming a believer will change your life. Remember, I did not say you had to change your lifestyle to come to our church. That is still true. But when you become a believer, you become a new creation. Old things pass away, and all things become new. When you become a believer, you will desire a change in your life, and it will be a change for the better. Those things you crave now will lose their importance. My personal testimony is relevant here. I was an alcoholic, and when I became a believer, the church didn’t ask me to quit drinking. But I did give it up. One night, I poured all the booze down the drain, and I haven’t needed it since. I had not planned to give up the booze, but after becoming a believer, I had a desire to quit. That desire did not come the moment I was saved, but a few months later. We do guarantee a change in your life if you become a believer.
The most important guarantee of all is that you will lose your worry of death. God promises eternal life for those who believe in Jesus Christ. When this body finally gives up and dies, I will still live. I will be conscious, with all of my memories intact, and I will be alive. After my body dies, I will never experience death again. A well known hymn says, ” when we’ve been there [heaven] ten thousand years … we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” Eternity. It never ends. We will have endless life. There will be plenty of excitement. God has a plan for us when we get there.
The freedom from worrying about death is the greatest freedom anyone could ever have. It beats freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and freedom of religion. This freedom from worrying about dying is called the peace that passes all understanding by the Bible. If anyone asks you, “if you die today, do you know where you will spend eternity,” what will be your answer be? Mine will be a definite “yes, I will spend eternity with my savior, Jesus Christ, in heaven.” That is real peace. That is real freedom.
Here is what we want for you. This is the main reason we exist as a church. We want you to have real peace, real freedom, real joy, and real hope, just as we do. And we want you to experience the love that God has for you just like we do. That’s what we want. We don’t want your money, attendance, membership, perfection, agreement, or lifestyle change. What we want is for you to have those things we have: security, joy, hope, peace, and love.
How do you get those things? Do you remember that I told you I would let you know why we need a Savior? Well, here’s why. We are all sinners. Yes all of us. None of us is perfect. Have you ever sinned? You know that each of you has done at least one thing wrong. Have you ever disobeyed your parents? That is a sin. Yes it is a small sin for us here in the world. But it is a sin. God tells us in the Bible to obey our parents when we are children. That is a sin, but so are murder, adultery, robbery, and deceit. In fact, anything we do that we know is wrong is sin. The bible tells us that we all have sinned. The Bible also tells us that if we sin, we can never be near God. We can never come into His presence, so we can never go to Heaven because He is present there and He is perfect. To allow sin into His presence would tarnish His perfectness. This means that by ourselves, we are sunk. All of us have sinned, and sinners can’t get near God, so what do we do? We need someone to save us. We need a savior. God tells us the penalty for sin, any sin is death. So, we are under a death sentence. What we need is for someone to pay our penalty. God has provided that someone. He is Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how, but somehow, God took on human flesh and blood in the form of Jesus Christ. He never sinned. He was perfect; He was not guilty of any sin. Even though he was not guilty, he was executed. He died, even though He was not guilty. Yet, being God, he died, but he came back to life, and he is alive today, right now, in heaven. Since he was not guilty, he is the perfect one to pay my penalty for sin. He is our Savior, and we do need a Savior. In order for us to come into God’s presence, that is to get into heaven, we need a Savior who paid our penalty for sin. Jesus Christ is that Savior. For Him to be your Savior, all you have to do is believe the fact that he died, and was raised back to life so you could have your sin penalty paid, and trust in that fact. But you must prove that belief and trust by telling others that you believe. It is that simple. Believe that Jesus died for your sins and was resurrected from the grave, and confess that belief to others, and you have a Savior. It is easy to do. If you now trust and believe on Him, confess that fact now by attending a Bible believing church, like ours, and tell the believers there that you believe. If you would like to have Jesus as your Savior, but you don’t quite know how to do so, talk to me or the pastor at any Bible believing church, and he or someone there will help you to do so. If you have trusted Jesus sometime in the past, there is no time like the present to acknowledge that fact and start from this day forward to live the Christian life.
(1) He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (2) I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. (3) Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. (4) He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. (5) Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; (6) Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. (7) A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. (8) Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. (9) Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; (10) There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. (11) For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. (12) They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. (13) Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. (14) Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. (15) He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. (16) With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.”