For all the talk that goes on in Christian churches today about reaching “the lost,” I would love to see a little more emphasis on reaching “the found.” When people who identify as Christian but are mired from month to month and year to year in pornography, gambling, addictions, and bad marriages (at nearly identical rates to those who do not claim to be Christians), something is profoundly wrong.
There are several directions we can go with this. 1.) We can say that the reason Christians are nearly identical to non-Christians in terms of how we actually live is because what we believe is not actually capable of bringing transformation; 2) We can say that we’re missing a critical piece of the whole thing — something upon which the promise of transformation itself rests and without which there can simply be no significant transformation; 3) We can say that the problem is that we just aren’t trying hard enough. (As some popular writers are in fact saying. See my post “Not Crazy about Crazy Love“.)
I think the answer is #1 and #2. I think the reason Christians en-masse are not experiencing significant life transformation is because we missing a critical piece of what Christianity actually is. Therefore, what we end up believing in and practicing as Christians is in fact not capable of bringing significant transformation. The solution that is always offered to this problem? #3. Try harder. Think hard and grasp the amazing love of God. Get out there and accomplish big things for God. Look in the mirror and realize your apathy, then get with the program. Realize what a slacker you are and do something about it. Get “fired up.” These are more or less all versions of the “Come up to the altar after the service and say a prayer and God will magically change you in an instant, and you’ll never be the same” approach. (Of course though this has been known to happen, it usually does not work that way.)
I wonder what would happen if in the church we decided to stop that whole range of activities that goes by the name “evangelizing,” “witnessing,” “sharing our faith,” etc. What if we stopped trying to “get people saved”? I mean really, if you look at the statistics about how “saved” people actually live, what are we actually saving people from? Better yet, what do we think we are saving them FOR? If we say we’re saving people from hell, I would simply say, “Really?” If the stats are true, then Christians are living in precisely the same “hell” as most other people. So we’re just saving people from hell after they die? Is there no connection between hell in the next world and hell in this one? Are we really saving people from hell? When Jesus said he came to proclaim freedom for the oppressed, did he mean that if we just grit our teeth and grin and bear it, this life will be over soon enough and we’ll somehow avoid going to hell? No wonder our efforts at evangelism aren’t very successful.
Just forget for a minute about esoteric stuff and theology and all that. Just think about plainly, on the level of how many of us actually live (and I don’t mean even just morally – I mean in terms of living free from fear, experiencing peace and joy, etc.). What message do we send by what comes out of our lives? If I could sum up the message that many Christians are, unfortunately, putting out there, I’d say that message is:
HOLD ON — THIS IS GONNA SUCK!!!
Not only does a person coming to Christ have to swear off so many things they used to consider fun before, but apparently there is no substantial change in life that happens because of it. All the “perks” happen after we die. New believers must plan for their marriages to still be as bad as they would have otherwise been. They might as well plan on staying addicted to pornography or whatever else they’re addicted to. Most everyone is judgmental (almost always including those who are most convinced they are not), but the newly “saved” person can count on learning new ways of being judgmental!
Is this the life we are calling others to? If so, why are Christians so gung-ho about evangelism? I know, because Jesus told us to evangelize. But wait — the same Jesus who told us to evangelize also said,
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
The known sky-high rates of Christian dysfunction is all the evidence that is needed in order to conclude that, in general, Christians are not generally living freely and lightly. Should we really be calling others to live lives that we ourselves are not living? Isn’t this getting into the hypocrisy our founder often talked about?
So what if we just called off efforts at evangelism for a while? What if we asked ourselves hard questions about what it is we’re actually calling people to? What if we focused on getting our own houses in order? What would happen if the criterion for whether or not we are a Christ-follower was not whether we prayed some prayer in some church service, but whether we’re actually living in the freedom and lightness Jesus said is available to us? And what if we didn’t stop seeking until we found exactly that? What would happen if we did this?
Our lives would begin to change. Drastically. We’d suddenly find ourselves living what we say we believe (without even trying). People around us would see it and wonder why and would ask questions. Some would want the freedom and lightness we were living in and we’d have a chance to let our lips speak from the same platform from which our lives had already been speaking.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we need to try harder. That’s the last thing we need, and is part of our problem in the first place. Nothing is more embarrassing than when someone is well-intentioned, but trying too hard. What is needed is something else entirely. I will begin to deal with that in my next post.