I cringe every time I hear the testimony of a Christian who grew up in the church and only later came to understand some fundamental article of the faith. Granted, some things are hard to understand. We have to drink milk before we get to meat. I’m not chagrined about the folks who never learned the word propitiation or never knew the difference between Christ’s active and passive obedience. Those are incredibly important concepts and we ought to teach them from the ground up. But I’m talking about the basics, about the things that every Christian should know backwards and forward, the things we should hear in church all the time.
Granted, people do not remember all they should remember. It’s possible the fault lies with the hearers as much as the speakers. But still, that’s only more incentive to make certain thing crystal clear. We must not assume our people know what they need to know. We can’t assume they’ve heard what we think we’ve told them.
As a pastor, there are certain things I hope the people at my church will never say they never heard. These are not necessarily the most important doctrines of the faith (though some are). Rather, these are the things we easily assume our people know, but often still miss.
And when they miss these things they can end up missing everything.
1. “Being a Christian is more than going to church and being a good person.” We have to make this one absolutely and repetitively clear. I promise you there are people in your church (and mine) who think Christianity consists of attending religious services with some regularity and not screwing up in major ways. Make sure they know the gospel, that Jesus Christ lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we deserved so that by faith alone we can be made right with God. Make sure they can articulate the gospel too.
2. “We must be born again.” I’m struck that the history of revivals shows that awakenings often follow when preachers return to this theme again and again. Do your people know that they are dead in sin and need the miracle of regeneration?
3. “We need to develop a personal relationship with Christ.” We may tire of the phrase “personal relationship” but it’s trying to get at something crucial for the Christian life. We must really know Christ and love him and walk with him and listen to him.
4. “Mature Christians develop lifelong habits of Bible reading and prayer.” It may be completely my fault, but somehow I didn’t know this until I met some good fundy Baptist friends in high school who started each day with something called a “quiet time.”
5. “Christians suffer.” Our suffering is made worse in this country because no one tells us it is coming.
6. “God can be pleased with me.” The Christians who understand numbers 1-5 often struggle to embrace this truth. Tell your people often that God delights in their obedience. Tell them that God is a loving Father who is pleased with his faithful, though imperfect, children.
7. “Beware of false teachers.” We have not trained our young people well if they leave our safe environment and assume that everyone who goes by the name of Christian or publishes a Christian book or teaches at a Christian school can be trusted.
8. “There is one God in three Persons.” What’s more foundational than God himself? And yet, how many churches adequately, frequently instruct their people in the Trinity.
9. “There are many people in the world who don’t think Christianity is true and some of them are very nice and very smart.” If we are around church our whole lives we may learn that others disagree with us, but their beliefs and arguments are often presented weakly. It’s easy for people to grow up in the church figuring that other worldviews are pretty dumb and/or those who espouse them are obviously bad people. Prepare your people that they will encounter decent and intelligent people who disagree with them. Get them ready to think beyond stereotypes.
10. “There is a reason we worship the way we do.” Granted, this may not be the case in every church. Some worship services are thrown together under the basic rubric of “whatever I like and seems to work.” But probably your church is better than this. Take time to explain why you still sing old hymns, why you try new songs, why you have a prayer of confession, why there is a pastoral prayer, why the sermon is the way it is. Worship goes goofy when church members have never been taught why we worship the way we do.
If you are a pastor, parent, Bible study leader, Sunday school teacher, or anyone who instructs others in the faith, don’t assume your kids or your people know these things. Repeat then. Sing them. Pray them. Ask people to say what you just said. Make them raise their hands. Make them repeat after you. Do whatever it takes to make sure your people can never say they never heard the most important things from you.