Archive: The Missing Magnet

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

The word from Mary Lee Clark Church in Oklahoma City is: “If you can’t stand before God and be proud of our church, then we have nothing to offer others.” So said the North Texas United Methodist Reporter for Dec. 5, 1975 in a lengthy article about evangelism.

She seems to be saying that the church is its own best attraction … that the church is a magnet which will draw people and somehow meet their ultimate needs.

As the Body of Christ, the church is important—but not in itself. The church’s importance is that of the candlestick which holds forth the light. The One who is the light of the world, Jesus Christ, is the glory of the church. Without Him being emphasized in all the church is and does, then the church is unattractive as a lampstand without light.

One barrier to effective evangelism is evident here: substituting the church for Jesus Christ as Christianity’s primary attraction. Stressing the church rather than Jesus Christ we offer people an empty lampstand instead of the light of life.

Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.” (John 12:32) HE is the church’s magnet!

HE provides the drawing power! Often the church forgets this. Often we get to lifting up other attractions, expecting they can increase attendance, membership, contributions, and committee activity.

Late in 1975, newspapers across the country printed a story about an “advertising blitz” used first by the First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield, Maine.

“We think the church has got to become more aggressive,” said the Rev. Robert Hannum, 44. “All types of institutions are competing for people’s time. We have to make them sit up and take notice.”

The local newspaper published three ads for the church each week with pictures and slogans including: “Same Day Service: In by 10, Out by 11.” Also advertised were free babysitting and transportation for churchgoers and the fellowship available at Sunday morning services.

How shall a church make its appeal? Shall it lift up its preacher as the big attraction? Some do. The trouble is, preachers change and the next one may not be a crowd-pleaser. What then? More serious, preachers are human. Having clay feet, they make poor objects of veneration. For when the preachers’ faults become evident, then disillusionment quickly comes.

Only Christ is perfect. That is why only He can be safely lifted up with no fear of disillusionment or letdown.

Shall a church advertise its warm, cozy fellowship? How, then, will it differ from a civic club, a garden club, or any worthwhile community organization? (In fact, their fellowship may be cozier and more profitable from a business standpoint.)

The uniqueness of Christian fellowship is Jesus Christ, alive and real among us. He said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) Unless we praise Him openly and acknowledge His presence frequently, then church fellowship sinks to the level of mere religious cordiality.

Shall we appeal on the basis of well-furnished nursery and classrooms? Elegant sanctuary? Rich-voiced organ and mellifluous choirs? These are means, not ends. They are vehicles for transmitting and enlarging faith, for facilitating worship of the living God. No matter how elegant, church facilities cannot answer the deepest need of human hearts. Jesus can, and does!

Shall a church offer pride in its tradition? Shall it boast of 1, 000 members (but don’t admit that half are nominal!)? Of having on its membership rolls the richest and most influential people in town? Shall it lift up its perfected organization charts, its well-oiled machinery, the awesome size of its budgets and the diversity of its investment portfolio? Shall its programs for justice and human betterment be lifted up?

In none of these can the church compete with the world, on the world’s terms. Trying to outdo the world is always the church’s undoing.

Actually, the church has only one exclusive attraction. Only one reason for commanding people’s attention and loyalty. That is Jesus Christ, the church’s rightful Head. He is eternal. He set aside His glory and was virgin-born into a crude country stable. He became like us in all ways, except that He did not sin. For He was equally God and Man combined. Thus He participated fully in our sorrows; He was punished for our iniquities, and He tasted death on our behalf. Yet the grave could not hold Him! On “the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the [living] and the dead.”

With such a One to exalt and elevate, how foolish we would be to rely upon other appeals! Unless He is, indeed, lifted up in all the church is and does, then the church has little to commend it—to the people or to God.


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