Pastors — maybe especially church planters — can be masters at pressuring people to get on board and attend events. It’s understandable. We believe that people will benefit by participating fully in the life of the church, and even that the events we’re planning — prayer, fellowship, learning, and so on — can be used by God as means of grace in their lives.
That’s why I was not surprised to hear Ray Ortlund speak of an upcoming event at Immanuel Nashville in one of his recent sermons. The event sounded great: Rosaria Butterfield was coming to speak on Peace in Sexual Identity. Ortlund said, “I hope you’ll come and bring a friend.” What he said next surprised me:
I hope you’ll come and bring a friend. But you don’t have to. I asked some of our leaders recently, Why do you think God created Immanuel Church? Their answer was, To give religiously wounded people a place to heal. That’s an important part of why we’re here. So if you’ve come to Immanuel wounded and injured and you don’t yet have the energy to contribute in any way, it’s a privilege to have you among us. Just come and heal. But if you’ve had time to re-oxygenate, then you can serve. Bring a friend to hear Dr. Butterfield. And as you sit here that evening, pray for the person on your right, on your left, in front of you, behind you. You can add power to the entire event by bringing and praying. But you don’t have to.
As Ortlund spoke, I felt a weight of obligation lifted, and I don’t even go to that church! If I lived in Nashville, his words would make it more likely that I would attend, and infinitely more likely that I would attend for the right reasons.
It’s no secret that Ortlund teaches about creating a gospel culture, and this statement seems to be an outgrowth of this culture.
“I hope you’ll come…but you don’t have to.” The gospel frees us to love and serve our people, even if that means they don’t the great events that we have planned.