Aaron Pennington – Queen Creek Campus Pastor
I grew up in a very conservative church where hell was often used to scare people into a relationship with Jesus; maybe you can identify with that. I mean for goodness sake, as a 10-year-old boy (when I accepted Jesus) what would you choose, an eternity with golden streets, mansions, and hi-fiving Jesus everyday, orrrrr, a place of eternal fire and damnation, with weeping and gnashing of teeth and eternal punishment? Let me think about this one…I’ll take the mansion! Have you ever wondered why some churches don’t talk as much about hell anymore? Let’s take a look at a couple of things that may help you understand the position of churches who choose not to “Preach Hell with the Heat On.”
First, one of the focuses of every church should be to minister, lead, and teach the way that Jesus did. It’s a pretty high bar to compare ourselves to, but He is our example, and we should do our best to reflect His spirit in all that we do as a church. Now, when we look at the passages where Jesus is speaking on hell, there is one essential thing of which we need to make note. The Greek word He used sometimes for hell is “Gehenna,” which was actually a physical place that existed in Jesus’s time; some know it as the Valley of Hinnom. It was a place known for a very horrendous history where pagan worshipers did all sorts of vile and wicked things, including burning children alive as sacrifices to the idols Moloch and Baal. He was using a physical place on earth to describe a spiritual reality. Therefore, we could conclude that Jesus’s audience would have been Jewish believers who would have known about Gehenna. In other words, when Jesus talked about hell, He was talking to believers about the implications if we fail to put our trust in God. He never used it to scare people into believing.
Second, in Romans 2:4 we read that God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. I love this because it offers us a magnifying glass to look into the heart of God. No scare tactics, no threats, no dooms-day preaching. Follow that up with this verse:
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Are you starting to see the direction God may want us to take in communicating His message? Now, don’t miss this next part, because there is one instance where Jesus mentioned hell that should get the attention of all preachers, teachers, and church leaders. You see, some of the religious leaders during the time of Jesus were not practicing what they preached, so Jesus told His disciples not to do what they do. Later, He had a few choice words for these hypocritical Pharisees:
Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
At Central, we do not avoid the topic of hell because it is a Biblical truth that we need to communicate. But, our leader (Jesus) made it pretty clear that His love, grace, mercy, and kindness should be what draw people into a relationship with Him. This is why you hear these things so often at our church, and why they are woven into our DNA. As you continue to reach out to people and get more comfortable sharing your faith, I would encourage you not to use hell as a scare tactic. I am not saying never to bring it up, but be smart and pivot off of the example Jesus left for us. So, turn up the AC, grab your Bible, and let’s learn about the love of God together!