Sinner-Sensitive: One Man's Dream of What the Church Should Look Like

Dave Burchett
The morning perambulation (bonus vocabulary word) was lovely today. The sun was shining brightly and the air was brisk. The iPod was cranking with a playlist that featured songs from my brief career as a disc jockey in the early 70’s. Yep, that was one more failed career on my resume. I remember that I used to play songs each day based on my mood. If I had just broken up with my girlfriend you would hear songs like “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” and “Alone Again, Naturally.” I feel sorry for any listeners on those days.

“Did you listen to the radio today?”
“Yeah…I feel really depressed for some reason.”
“Me too. I wonder why?”


On my current DJ playlist is a song that generated some spiritual reflection. Bill Withers had a big hit with the song “Lean on Me” in 1972.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don't let show

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

God designed this journey to be lived in community. Remember the description of the early church?

And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity-- all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. (Acts 2, NLT)

We were created to be in community. A community of believers that accept and embrace those different from us because of Christ. That is what makes church dynamic to a person who experiences grace and acceptance for the first time. And that is why church can be devastating when the congregation becomes selective, judgemental, and legalistic. When we become “professional Christians” something seems to happen. We lose touch with our former brokenness and sinfulness.  I wrote about my dream of the Sinner Sensitive Church to replace the seeker sensitive approach in When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.  Here is an excerpt from that book:

The sinner-sensitive church (SSC) is my proposal for a new church movement toward making everyone feel welcomed and loved. The SSC would model nonjudgmental attitudes. Issues like having tattoos, body piercings, weird hair, or ugly shoes would not necessarily denote demon possession. The SSC would pledge not to gossip because we would realize that it is only by the grace of God that we are not the current targets. The sinner-sensitive church would value every spiritual, physical, and financial gift, no matter how big or small. This church would appreciate but not elevate the person who built the new wing with the large financial endowment. The SSC would make it a practice to reach out, touch, and care for one another sacrificially because we know that we all fall down in life and in our Christian walk. At the SSC we would have executives holding hands in prayer with laborers and not thinking twice about it. Blacks and whites and Hispanics and others would break bread together because we are all sinners in the eyes of a color-blind God.

The sinner-sensitive church would give freely out of profound gratitude to a God who somehow saw fit to give us an undeserved chance. The sinner-sensitive church would practice the prodigal son ministry, running to welcome those returning from mistakes and bad decisions and sin. Our members would get involved in other people’s lives. We would hold our brothers and sisters accountable to godly standards. Marriage would be cherished. Families would have a community of support during problems and trials. The congregation of the SSC would not be so self-centered that we would demand the undivided attention of the pastor at every little crisis. Other believers would help meet many of those needs that we now prefer to leave to the "professional Christians" on staff. The people of this church would come with hearts ready to be fed but also realizing that God has provided resources beyond any available in history to meet our spiritual hunger. And should we walk out the church doors still needy, we would know we can draw from the marvelous resources of Christian books, music, radio, video, tapes, Internet, and studies to meet our needs. Any one of us could be filled to overflowing if that were our desire.

The sinner-sensitive church would also delight in the company of other spiritual travelers and make it a priority that no one ever felt alone. We would make each other feel valuable but, on occasion, a little uncomfortable. Being comfortable in church is not the primary goal. I am not always comfortable at the dentist’s office. I often arrive in pain because I have neglected to do what I should have done. The staff always makes me feel welcome and even cared for. Then the dentist confronts me with the truth: "You have let this go too long, and I must hurt you (a little) in order to heal you. You will have to pay a financial price and spend time recovering before you are completely well." Those are the facts of my dental hygiene sin. The sinner-sensitive church would not back off the truth either. Decay in the enamel or soul must be addressed. We will tell one another the truth and explain that the process might be a little painful. We would participate in ongoing preventative maintenance and help one another deal with problems as soon as possible, before they become even more painful and expensive to fix.

The SSC would worship with enthusiasm, whether singing hymns or praise choruses, because God is worthy of that praise. The sinner-sensitive fellowship would have a sense of profound reverence because we have received God’s grace, the most amazing gift ever offered. The sinner-sensitive church would be so excited about this grace that the incredible news of the gospel would be as much a part of who we are as our jobs and our families.

Sinner sensitive was the ministry style of our Lord. He was always available to people who realized their need. Merely being a seeker did not necessarily merit His time. The wealthy young man came to Jesus seeking what he lacked to receive eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). However, the jarring truth of Christ’s answer to sell his possessions and give to the poor revealed to him that he was not ready to follow Christ. But when sinners came with a humble confession of need and a willingness obey God, Jesus never turned them away. The church of Acts was sinner-sensitive and functioned much in the way I have described above. (I’m not sure about the praise choruses, though.)

Frankly, sometimes we try a little too hard to "attract" the unchurched. A church that functioned like the one described above would be such a societal miracle that you couldn’t keep people away if you barred the doors. And while the majority of my idealism has been beaten out of me, I still believe that such a church will be possible when we finally reach the point of actually wanting it. That will not come until we decide we are willing to pay the price for such a church. The harsh reality is that most of us are afraid to commit to this radical type of fellowship because we aren’t sure what it would require of us. My own natural reaction is "Praise the Lord but keep the Lexus!" I’ll hazard a guess that you are the same.

That is my dream of what church should look like. A place of grace. A place where others can sing these lyrics and mean it…

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through

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