Deep and Wide or Narrow and Hard?
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many."
14 "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
Dear Church Family,
After a few years of living in the Philippines, Myra and I had “reverse culture shock” upon our first return to the States. For example, we couldn’t believe the space in Walmart. “Where is everybody?” we thought. “Why are the aisles so wide?” The stores in the Philippines tend to use every available nook and cranny for products, and any remaining space is filled with people.
Jesus uses space as a metaphor in Matthew 7. He isn’t talking about a literal gate, but about what it takes to enter the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is all about the kind of person that will enter into God’s eternal kingdom. Now, he’s not preaching salvation by works, but throughout these chapters he does emphasize that following him requires real commitment. Being his disciple requires choices (see Matthew 6:24). There are several such passages in Jesus’ teaching (see Luke 14:25-35).
There is a trend among contemporary pastors that concerns me because it doesn’t seem to harmonize with the New Testament emphasis on repentance, on making a choice to turn from sin and follow Jesus. You’ll hear different expressions, like “seeker friendly church” or “emerging church.” Some of these movements have good intentions, and even some good insights. We should absolutely, for example, seek to make non-Christian visitors to our churches feel as welcomed as possible, without compromising biblical truth.
I don’t usually “call out” any particular preacher, but Andy Stanley, a very popular preacher these days, has proposed a few ideas that I find troubling. My questions begin with his book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love To Attend. There is certainly a sense in which the church is “for” unchurched people, but some of his biblical support for this and other ideas is questionable. The crowds that followed Jesus around because he fed and healed them are NOT a good model of what the church should be like; those same crowds eventually called for Jesus’ crucifixion. Only those who commit themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus are “the church,” and they are taught to expect persecution (Matthew 5:11; John 16:33).
So what would it mean, biblically, to be “seeker-friendly” as a church? That’s complicated, but if people are really seeking something different than they currently have in their lives, then offering them an enjoyable experience may be the very opposite of what they need. They can be comfortable at Walmart; they can be entertained at the movies. What they are seeking is something to fill their emptiness. Jesus cared for the masses, but he unapologetically called them to repentance and faith. He cast his net wide, but the invitation was to the narrow road of commitment. I think there are a lot of people who, whether they know it or not, are seeking that.