Church planters know that you only get one guarantee when you start a new church: At some point in the ﬁrst ﬁve years every nutty Christian within 20 miles will visit your services. Sometimes they all show up on the same day.
After services one day I had one weird churched visitor after another greet me. As I turned to the next person in line after encountering some of these lovely folks I prayed, God, please let this person be normal. Is that too much to ask?
There stood a man with a huge smile on his face.
“Great service today!” he said. “I was wondering if you had time to talk. I’d like to know how to become a Christian.”
I yelled, “Yes!” and hugged him.
“What did I do?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing. God just answered a prayer of mine. How can I help?”
“The world is so cruel,” he told me. “I want to believe in God. I want to believe in everything you’re talking about. But I can’t. People are so cruel. Just look at the way people drive—cutting people off and screaming at each other in traffic—I just can’t believe God would create a place like this.”
“Look,” I said as I checked the time on the clock. “I really hate to do this, but I have to race over to a baptism service we’re having at a local apartment complex swimming pool. I can see God is really working in your heart. Can I give you directions to the baptism service? We can talk after that.”
“Absolutely. I’ll meet you there,” he said.
I walked him to the lobby and introduced him to my wife on the way out. As I hopped into the car with my wife and three daughters, I knew I was going to be late to the baptism service, and whipped through the parking lot like I was on the tea cup ride at Disney World.
Suddenly, traffic slowed down. It was obvious someone was blocking the intersection ahead.
“I can’t believe I’m going to be late,” I said.
“Relax. We’ll get there when we get there,” my wife said.
I slammed my ﬁst on the horn.
“What’s taking so long at the light?” I yelled to no one in particular. “Some idiot up there in the middle lane isn’t turning.”
Infuriated, I floored the gas pedal, whipped the car into oncoming traffic, pulled ahead of the other cars, and into the turn lane right behind the person blocking traffic.
“Are you insane?” my wife asked. “You’re going to kill us! It’s a baptism service. We’ll get there when we get there.”
“Well, we’d be ﬁne if it wasn’t for this moron in front of us blocking the entire intersection!”
I shoved the palm of my hand on the horn and sat back in my seat. The driver looked into his rearview mirror, unable to hear what I was saying, but clearly able to see my arms waving around like a madman, and the angry expression on my face.
Then my wife leaned over and asked, “Hey, isn’t that the guy you introduced me to as we were heading out of church today?”
One of the most frightening passages in the Bible is 1 Timothy 4:16:
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
What scares me about the verse is the implication: We can be responsible for other people going to hell by how we live and by what we teach.
Most Christians intuitively understand that the way we live can turn people away from Christianity. The apostle Peter tried to counteract this among ﬁrst-century believers by advising them to be a godly example: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
Living a godly life among non-Christians is pretty simple to do:
- Be kind.
- Don’t gossip at work.
- Don’t blow past jittery ﬁrst-time church visitors like some NASCAR driver on crack, especially if you’re the pastor.
Generally, it’s an easy principle to put into practice. What’s not as readily understood or obeyed among Christians is the “what we teach” part. Our words can be responsible for propelling another person headlong toward the gates of hell. Potentially misdirecting someone through wrong teaching, possibly for all eternity—that’s a heavy responsibility to lay on someone, especially for those who are still brand-new Christians trying to ﬁgure out this whole Christianity thing for themselves.
But it’s true. As Christians, not only can we save ourselves and our hearers by what we teach, we can damn ourselves and our hearers as well.
But there’s something even worse than that.
Christians can negatively impact what another Christian believes.
We can influence another Christian to stop believing in hell. The end result of that action is much worse than directing one non-Christian to hell. When one Christian influences another to stop believing in hell, it has ripple effects throughout that person’s life.
If you rob a Christian of apocalyptic urgency, you lose every single non-Christian that person could have reached in his or her lifetime. Instead of becoming a Christian who multiplies 30, 60, or a 100 times, like Jesus talked about in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:23), this person will become a believer whose influence is metaphorically buried in the ground.
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