It’s hard for me to be optimistic about church. Even if the pastor is a friend and the congregation is friendly, I always expect to be offended and disappointed at some point during the service.
I guess I’m not alone though. According to Barna Research , the majority of unchurched people see Christians as:
- anti-homosexual (91%)
- judgmental (87%)
- hypocritical (85%)
- old-fashioned (78%)
- too political (75%)
- out of touch with reality (72%)
- insensitive to others (70%)
- boring (68%)
So, as my brick-and-mortar church continues their efforts to make themselves irresistible to the unchurched, I feel my guarded enthusiasm waiting for a reason to throw my hands up and mutter, “oh well, I knew it was too good to be true.” But, so far in Pastor Albert Hung’s series, I haven’t had to do that. He hasn’t staked a claim onto any of the “piss-me-off” issues that usually sink a sermon for me . Instead he’s used one of his strengths — even handedness — to keep this conversation accessible for everyone in the pews.
Albert is a man of conviction, but not, from my impression, a man who needs to win every argument. He doesn’t need you to agree with him in order for him to feel satisfied with his own beliefs. And this is no small gift when it comes to trying to redirect the resources of 200 people who may each have their own budding concerns about the theological, financial, political, and relational impact of this change. It gives him the liberty to leave the divisive conversations for another time, and to focus his time on the pulpit on generating positive momentum.
In his last sermon he preached again from the book of Acts, and he shared three simple points :
- Believers should not make it difficult for people to turn to God.
- People come to church looking for help.
- The purpose of the church is to help unite all of creation.
That first point touches on decades of frustration. It’s always been clear: to become a Christian, in the evangelical sense, is as simple as asking forgiveness and accepting Jesus. But to get to that point requires far more cultural, political and theological adaptation than most Christians are aware of. For instance, it’s problematic to be a pro-choice Christian; also it’s complicated to be a Christian who does not believe in biblical inerrancy; And if you’re gay?
But we see wisdom among the early Christians as they concluded that generations of traditions and rules, no matter how dear, can be set aside for the sake of helping people turn towards God. Because, though not impossible, it’s exceedingly rare for the rules and traditions of a faith to bear meaningful witness to the unchurched. It’s the heart that bears best.
 From unchristian by David Kinnaman
 There are many issues that can fit in this category. At Trinity, Albert rarely preaches on political issues like gay marriage, gun control or elected officials. But I have a long list of theological issues that I can get annoyed by. For instance, the concept of an actual eternal hell where non-believers are sent to suffer a physical punishment for all of eternity.
 Along the way, he unpacked the word “unchurched” as preferable to:
- unbeliever, because people that don’t go to church still believe in things
- nonChristian, because a lot of Christians don’t go to church
- lost, because that’s just offensive
[*] The title of this post takes secular humanist liberties with Acts 15:8, which in the original says, “And God who knows the heart bore witness to them.”