Published: 5 years ago

The Gospel Is Offensive. Nothing Else Should Be.

Recently our church hosted The Gospel Summit, a two-day intensive conference for pastors and church leaders from around the country. During one of my breakout sessions, I talked about some of the previously-unwritten “plumblines” that guide the first impressions ministry at the Summit. Each Monday I’m unpacking one of those plumblines for an expanded discussion. This is the first of a five-part series.

The Gospel is offensive. Nothing else should be.

Let’s face it: most of us live in a Christian bubble. We only listen to K-Love, we only watch 47 Kids and Counting (being careful to fast forward through the icky TLC commercials), we only eat at Chick Fil A on Tuesdays from 10:00-11:30 AM, because that’s when we’ve determined that most pagans don’t visit there and thereby risk infecting our kids with pagan cooties.

That’s why it’s important to step back from time to time and think about what we’re saying at our churches. If you are a part of a church that presents the full gospel, then you are not presenting an “I’m okay, you’re okay” message. You’re presenting an “I’m a wicked sinner who was rescued by Jesus, and unless he rescues you you’ll split hell wide open” message.

That’s not very touchy-feely. As a matter of fact, it’s downright offensive. Paul noted that offense in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Many churches have chosen to reply to that offense by dumbing down the message. Rather than talk about sin, they talk about shortcomings and character flaws. Rather than present Jesus as the truer and better anything, they present 12 keys to a better you. The seeker-friendly movement has produced quite a few good conversation points that I would agree with, but one of the key problems is that it’s robbed the gospel of its power.

Flashy programs and sparkly Sundays will only last so long. As Mark Dever says, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” There’s a balance between seeker-driven, attractional services and a more reformed, fundamental style of weekend planning. I don’t believe that you have to choose between “I’m okay, you’re okay” and checking the length of sinners’ hemlines as they come through the door.

That’s why we say that though the Gospel offends, nothing else should. By the time a guest gets to the seat and listens to the message being preached, we should have done everything possible to pave the way with rose petals and puppy fur. In other words, we should take a biblical virtue (hospitality) and put it together at an institutional level.

For us, that means a parking team that attempts to place people in the same zip code as the service they’re attending. It means a First Time Guest tent that’s staffed with our very best greeters to act as advocates for the guest. It means a team that is trained to anticipate, design, and respond to every part of the guest experience. In some venues it means a hot cup of coffee and a Nutri Grain bar. It means an eye-catching, warm and friendly kids area so that parents don’t feel like they’re dropping their kids off to gray cinderblock walls and flannelgraphs.

Some would argue that this caters to (or worse – creates!) consumers. But move it from a corporate to a personal level, and you’ll see that this argument doesn’t wash. God is not glorified in your personal hospitality when you invite someone to your home, but give them poor directions, a cold fast-food meal, and a half-hearted conversation. You would never treat a guest in your home that way. Why on earth would you treat a guest at your church that way?

The hospitality of a church can adorn the gospel and encourage faith. And on the flip side, a cold, unfriendly church contradicts the gospel message.

Pastors, continue to preach the unfiltered gospel. Run the risk of offending people with their sin and shocking them with the unending love of Jesus. But equip your people to set the table in such a way that nothing else offends them. Seek to create the kind of environment where your guests will say, “I don’t necessarily agree with what I heard, but I can’t argue with how I was treated.” That environment will eventually turn cold hearts warm and lead people to the gospel.

I’d love to hear your comments and start a dialogue. Jump in below.

Check out the rest of the Plumblines series: Part Two. Part Three. Part FourPart Five. 

8 Comments.
  1. Back Pew Baptist says:

    What if putting up a section of pipe to block off seating offends a guest or a long time member? I understand the concept of filling the seats in the front, but some people honestly prefer sitting to the back (im not branhhing off to the sides. I concur with this being sectioned off until needed). What if they find the music too loud? What if they need to duck out early to go serve on another team for the next service? What if they know they will need to use the facilities halfway through and don’t want to cause commotion? What if they focus on the sermon more by being a “Back Pew Baptist”? I know this is a touchy topic for some. I am just looking for insight. Some will argue that where you sit shouldn’t matter because the focus is God, but others might have trouble focusing on God if they aren’t comfortable.

    Release the hounds. Or comments.

    Sidenote: The Summit does and excellent job on making people feel welcome. It is very comfortable and inviting. From parking to greeting to seating to leaving, it’s a very wonderful experience. And we don’t dumb down the sermons. So it’s good to be comfortable everywhere else.

    • Danny says:

      Jon, that’s actually a really good question. For a guy who makes so many lame pirate jokes, I’m proud of you for being so astute (that’s another word for pARRRRceptive).
      This is a tension that we wrestle with, and did so recently with the change up of some of the new “crowd control” barricades in the back of the North Venue.
      On the one hand, blocking off back sections allows us to move the early arrivers towards the front, thereby eliminating the need to walk latecomers down in front of a crowd of people. It also gives us wide-open spaces that we can open a section at a time to deal with the late-arriving rush (they always seem to come in waves).
      But what we know is exactly what you’ve observed and felt: how do we deal with those who prefer the back? That’s why we’ve intentionally left some spaces open in the back of both middle sections. Those spots are not “piped off,” they’re just open for anyone to sit there.
      The key is in training otherwise-eager First Impressions team members to “anticipate, design, and respond” to folks with that preference. While we always need a plan to seat the crowds, we can’t overlook those with a particular need. I hope that’s what you’re seeing and experiencing, but if it’s not, I’d like to know about it so I can make someone walk the plank.

  2. Joshua Pearce says:

    I’ve done seating a few times, and that’s a dilemma. The easiest way for people who want to sit in the back to achieve it is to wait until after the first song to enter. But that’s difficult to communicate and they probably don’t want to miss any part of worship.

    One problem is that there are a lot of people who’d like to sparsely populate the back and when you let two or three people by the pipe, it can quickly turn into a stamped.

    If there were a visual clue for when a particular section would open that would help — maybe a digital countdown timer on each pipe.

  3. Joshua Pearce says:

    Seriously though Danny, God’s revealed to me that this concept also applies in my life. I don’t think my co-workers and acquaintances are inclined to hear the gospel from me if they’ve been on the receiving end of a bunch of my wise cracks or hear me make offensive remarks about others. I’ve come to realize that real relationships are based on trust rather than trying to get people to think I’m cool. Folks want to know that they can be themselves around me and trust that I’m not going to use, take advantage, or make fun of them.

  4. Jon Thommarson says:

    Danny,

    I completely understand. I just like stirring the pot sometimes.

    I actually used to get a little ticked off when I couldnt sit in 201-26-C and 201-26-D with my wife (yeah I just named my seats like at a sporting event) but then I decided I needed to focus on worshipping God and he doesn’t care where I sit. I sitll think some people can struggle with this as its more of a comfort or convenience factor for them.

    I apploaud our church for making it about the Gospel when you come in. If we have all the tiny distractions/annoyances throughout the course of any given Sunday (not the movie) gusets and members alike will miss the Gospel being preached.

    Sidenote II: Online ticketing for your seats. Win.

  5. Jon Thommarson says:

    Sidenote III: I need spellcheck.

  1. By Worth a Look 5.22.12 – Trevin Wax on May 22, 2012 at 3:10 am

    […] The Gospel is Offensive. Nothing Else Should Be. Pastors, continue to preach the unfiltered gospel. Run the risk of offending people with their sin and shocking them with the unending love of Jesus. But equip your people to set the table in such a way that nothing else offends them. Seek to create the kind of environment where your guests will say, “I don’t necessarily agree with what I heard, but I can’t argue with how I was treated.” That environment will eventually turn cold hearts warm and lead people to the gospel. […]

  2. […] The Gospel is Offensive: The gospel can be a bitter pill for some to swallow. It is offensive, but that doesn’t mean that we can be offensive. […]

  3. […] Recently our church hosted The Gospel Summit, a two-day intensive conference for pastors and church leaders from around the country. During one of my breakout sessions, I talked about some of the previously-unwritten “plumblines” that guide the first impressions ministry at the Summit. Each Monday I’m unpacking one of those plumblines for an expanded discussion. This is the second in a five-part series. You can catch part one here. […]

  4. By Everything Speaks « Connective Tissue on June 4, 2012 at 7:32 am

    […] expanded discussion. This is the third in a five-part series. Missed the earlier posts? Catch up! Part One. Part […]

  5. By Make Outsiders Insiders « Connective Tissue on June 11, 2012 at 9:07 am

    […] expanded discussion. This is the third in a five-part series. Missed the earlier posts? Catch up! Part One. Part Two. Part […]

  6. By Redeeming Religion « Connective Tissue on June 25, 2012 at 9:23 am

    […] just like that, the First Impressions Plumblines series disappeared last week. It went the way of a ship in the Bermuda Triangle and the Roanoke Island […]

  7. […] expanded discussion. This is the last in a five-part series. Missed the earlier posts? Catch up! Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part […]

  8. By Making The Most Of Every Opportunity « Connective Tissue on February 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

    […] evangelism, it’s also true that the end goal of a weekend First Impressions team ought to be connecting people towards the gospel. That means that every weekend, with every guest, in every conversation, and at every opportunity, […]

  9. […] Develop some plumblines. A plumbline is simply a short, pithy statement that illustrates a big value. This took me a painfully long time to recognize and implement. As a matter of fact, it’s only been within the last year that we’ve built ‘em. But they have done more to help us figure out what we value (and don’t value) than anything we’ve ever done. My goal is that every member of our team will be able to rattle off these plumblines in their sleep. The plumblines will be the thing that helps them define the right thing to do and the right moment in which to do it. We’re still clarifying and revising these, but you can see the starter series here. […]

  10. […] Sure, we’ve talked about building an organic culture within your church. I believe in equipping the saints and empowering your team to lead well. But when it comes down to it, there will have to be one person who owns, champions, and protects the guest services culture within your church. That’ll be the guy (or girl) who defines the language, sets the tone, and keeps a close eye on the final goal, which is to take away every offense except the gospel. […]

  11. […] For our guests, we don’t want to lead the sermon off (in the parking lot) with any offense other than the offense of the basic truths of the gospel that will be on display through the worship and spoken truths of the worship gathering.  This is why our number one plumbline for what we do on the first impressions team is, “The Gospel is offensive, Nothing else should be.” […]

  12. […] a two week orientation: week one is a 75 minute classroom setting where we cast vision, define our plumblines, and assess the best fit for the team. Week two is hands-on training, where Team Members are […]

  13. By Thursday Three For All | Connective Tissue on October 17, 2013 at 9:02 am

    […] out here for a while, you know this lines up perfectly with our First Impressions plumbline: The Gospel Is Offensive (Nothing Else Should Be). I’m grateful to David for describing the “offensive” part so […]

  14. […] Every now and then a dull, blunt object is just what you need. If we really believe that “the gospel is offensive,” then we need a few more people that make this their specific […]

  15. By Danny Franks | What Are Your Rules for Ministry? on May 18, 2015 at 7:06 am

    […] ours track along a combination, the most important “rules” we have are our plumblines: five sticky statements that clearly explain the why behind the what. Those set the boundaries and […]

  16. By Danny Franks | Prepared and Authentic on June 24, 2015 at 7:01 am

    […] trying to determine what these things look like in a smaller church, I have come up with a few plumblines myself. We say around The Bridge that we want to be both prepared and […]

  17. By Redeeming Religion - Danny Franks on July 20, 2017 at 9:11 am

    […] just like that, the First Impressions Plumblines series disappeared last week. It went the way of a ship in the Bermuda Triangle and the Roanoke Island […]

  18. By You Don't Get To Define The Offense - Danny Franks on October 3, 2017 at 7:00 am

    […] The gospel is offensive. Nothing else should be. […]

  19. By Thursday Three For All - Danny Franks on October 5, 2017 at 9:09 am

    […] out here for a while, you know this lines up perfectly with our First Impressions plumbline: The Gospel Is Offensive (Nothing Else Should Be). I’m grateful to David for describing the “offensive” part so […]

Have a Comment?

Some HTML is OK
%d bloggers like this: