If you’ve never gotten a chance to hear a message from Sinclair Ferguson or read one of his many written works, I’d definitely recommend you start today. Ferguson, a theologian and pastor for decades, will definitely kick you up a notch or two with respect to your view of God’s majesty.
Ferguson says that over his many years of ministry, when it came to shepherding those in his church or others who came to him for help, he found the situation usually developed into him doing one of two things: comforting those who were disturbed or disturbing those who were comfortable.
The former is unquestionably a strong focus of the Church today and there are good reasons for that. Coming alongside those who are struggling with loss, illness, and other life difficulties with one-on-one pastoral care, support groups, lay counselors, etc., is part of Scripture’s “bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
But what about disturbing the comfortable? How well does the Church do that?
Unsettling the nest
First, let’s get on the same page with what’s meant by “disturbing the comfortable.” It involves having the almost-always awkward encounter with another person where you attempt to call into question something that’s wrong in their life of which they seem unaware.
Not easy to do and rarely is a good time had by all.
Sometimes this process is the other side of the “comforting the disturbed” coin. Perhaps an insensitive spouse needs to be confronted over the harsh treatment of their partner who has asked for help. Maybe parents are looking for a third party to step in and assist with their offspring’s destructive behavior.
Without a doubt, those can be delicate situations where a strong mixture of wisdom and truth are needed. But there’s a circumstance that’s even more sticky to handle, and it’s the one that Ferguson is primarily referring to when he speaks about disturbing the comfortable.
It’s the person who thinks they’re a Christian but actually isn’t.
Dr. Ferguson and other evangelical leaders assert that the Church does a lousy job today at unsettling the false, comfortable nest many unsaved, self-deceived people are in and as a result, their eternal lives are in jeopardy. The Church, they say, takes an almost hands-off approach to the situation believing that as long as the unsaved join in on Sundays, sooner or later they’ll realize their unsaved state and receive Christ.
But what if they don’t? What if they never experience anything that motivates them to change?
From even my lowly perch, I’d say a convincing case can be made that if the Rapture occurred on any given Sunday, the majority of most congregations would be left intact wondering what just happened. How many more-of-the-same surveys that show most who claim to be Christian don’t believe even the most basic doctrines of the faith do we need to see to wake us up to the fact that today’s Church is at near capacity with chronic-case unbelievers?
If this is truly the situation, then how do we turn things around and disturb the comfortable who need ejection from their cozy but deadly nest? Let me suggest two approaches that are really one in the same.
First, from a corporate Church standpoint, enough of the “I’m alright, you’re alright, so let’s love and things are gonna be alright” pep talks from leadership. These types of messages do nothing to confront the lost over their current position and instead leave them in a prideful state of, “Of course God loves me; why shouldn’t He?”
And before you start in on me, no, this doesn’t mean having repetitive Sunday church services where Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in hands of an angry God” is played on a continual loop. But it does mean that preaching gets back to an exegetical format where all of God’s Word is proclaimed, including the parts that are going to challenge the conscience of the comfortably unsaved.
On this subject, my former pastor Bob Russell says: “Anxious pastors become concerned that Old Testament lessons about God’s wrath are too abrasive for seekers, so they skip those passages. Or, if the New Testament teaching about sexual purity would be considered offensive, they avoid or navigate around the Scripture.”
Let’s put a stop to that — agreed?
Second (and this is probably going to make some of you squirm), you and I need to stop waiting for local church leadership to disturb the comfortably lost and do it ourselves. The last time I looked at Matt. 28:19, Jesus told all of us to go into the world and preach the Gospel; not just our pastors.
Years ago, I got a front row seat example of this in action that was very personal to me.
After I got married, my father-in-law and my dad became good friends. My father-in-law was a Christian and my dad was not.
Although I had tried multiple times to talk to my dad about Christ in the past, he dismissed me — not in an unkind fashion, but more in a head-patting, yeah-yeah kind of way. My father-in-law saw that my dad was unsaved and decided to disrupt his world, and perhaps their relationship, by going over to his home and sharing the Gospel with him in a personal and decisive way.
Now this is the part in the story where I’m supposed to tell you that my dad received Christ that day and was baptized. Unfortunately, he didn’t. We shouldn’t be shocked; the Bible makes it clear that not everyone will accept the prickly truths that accompany the Gospel message.
However, my point in telling you this is not to highlight my dad’s refusal of Christ that day, but rather the impressive courage of my father-in-law and his obedience to Jesus’ command for us all to confront the lost.
Oftentimes such actions are not seen as loving by the other person, but they are actually the highest form of love. As one Christian put it regarding a “non-disturbing” church he left, “They would have loved me right into Hell.”
Let’s you and I agree to not be like that and instead disturb the comfortable who need disturbing.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.