Copyright 2005, Joshua Wood
Author’s Note: I’m less young now than when I originally wrote this. But the couple extra years since have only heightened the sentiment. This article is not written as an attack on truth, “rightness” or the importance sound theology. Just the opposite: if today’s church really embraced sound theology, we wouldn’t recognize it.
I’m young. I realize that there is much I don’t know about many things. But my lack of experience does not make it any easier to hear the accusations of so many (both churched and not) that are disillusioned by the church. It’s not something I’ll grow up and out of; it would be no less painful if I were older to hear the stories of hurt and loneliness from people abandoned by the church.
While denominational leaders and pastors discuss remedies to the sharp declines in church membership growth rates, I play basketball with the 20 somethings who will “never set foot in the church again”. While the Church bickers over worship styles, I hear the guitar store clerks bash religion and the church. The express their frustration and anger using terms like “dishonest,” “hypocritical,” and “judgemental.”
The typical reaction to these statements—by many in ministry—has been to disregard them as irrelevant. We roll our eyes and beg God for an end to the excuses and rationalizations. We say: “Isn’t it that the world hates us and therefore must find some reason for its hate?” “Couldn’t it be that the truth of our gospel is simply offensive?” “Jesus made a lot of people mad, right?” “Besides, they are just examples of a rebellious generation. The culture trained them to be anti-religion and anti-establishment”
I believe in the truth that is the gospel. Therefore, I realize that the gospel will alienate many. Jesus, as the truth, was offensive because he made it unmistakably clear what salvation required. And there is an eternal struggle between what Christ requires and what humanity wants. The church is supposed to be counter culture; counter culture churches will always offend.
But is the church too quick to exonerate itself? Is it really they that are irrelevant?
It is a dangerous and arrogant church that refuses to examine its own culpability. It is an impotent church that will not examine its own motivations; it is a dying church that will not change. It’s my fear that the American church is, in many cases, dangerous, arrogant, impotent and dying.
I grew up in the church. My father was a pastor. I acknowledged my call to youth ministry at age 13. I attended a Christian liberal arts college and studied Youth Ministry. But now more than ever I find myself embarrassed to be associated with the church. I am embarrassed by a church that will not look outside itself. I am embarrassed with a church that will not consider new ways to express the timeless Christ in answer to age-old questions. I am embarrassed with a church that will not acknowledge that it is losing the battle for my generation.
And I’m ashamed of a church that so arrogantly assumes that the world should come to them for their answers. We are the ones that have been recreated by Christ. Therefore, we should be His agents of reconciliation. Too often, however, we will not associate with a world that does not live by Christian standards. We have the audacity to assume that those who do not know Christ must elevate themselves before we will reach out to them. And yet we wonder why….
We wonder why we are hated. We are not hated because of the good we do. We are hated because of the good we don’t do. We are not hated because we care. We are hated because we care more about our theological nuances than the real needs of the culture dying just outside the doors of the church. This is not an indictment of those passionate about sound theology. But our theology should never create in us a sense of superiority; our theology should send us frantically out into the world. There are infinite avenues for ministry, and we need to be exploring them all.
We have convinced ourselves that we are slaves to the truth. Ironically, the truth is that we have become slaves to our pride. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We say we are Christ’s messengers. But somewhere along the way we became more enamored with our status than committed to its functions and responsibilities. We have allowed ourselves to become irrelevant—No! —We have made ourselves irrelevant.
The world has no use for the gospel we preach. They need the gospel Jesus preached. They have no desire to become a part of our church society. They need to be served. They cannot and will not respond to a gospel that only illuminates their sins and shortcomings. We must preach a gospel that, while dealing with the reality of sin, acknowledges the power of Christ to bring about change. And we must model this change. The hope we offer must become something tangible, and that only happens when we make it tangible.
No longer can we allow ourselves to be divided over inconsequential details of “the business of church”. These questions must be answered in light of our deeper passion to minister effectively to those who would otherwise not hear. The question isn’t “What do we like?” The question must be, “What would best demonstrate our desire to serve those we’re called to serve. How do we best demonstrate Christ’s love to those who feel outcast? What would most effectively echo our desire to reach out to a world that needs to know Christ?”
There is a whole world that is lost in the same sin that once ruined us. We must never become so comfortable that we forget: Someone, somewhere in our past was uncomfortable enough to find us and to serve us. We must never become numb to the reality that there are still those who are hurting and disillusioned because of OUR actions or lack of action.
They need to be found; they need to be served.
We wouldn’t care one bit what Jesus said if it weren’t for the crucifixion. Everything the church should be about finds its roots in the cross of Christ. The cross was Christ’s service. Thankfully Christ didn’t learn about service in one of our churches.
Christ said, “They need to be found; they need to be served.” And he did.
Christ says to us, “They need to be found; they need to be served.” And they do.
If the church refuses to act, God will find someone who will.
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How true, Joshua, it seems that many this day seem to want God to act.. but when God's action is to tell us to do the work before us... we sit quietly in the back pew, waiting for some one else to do it for us... God's blessing be with you always. .....JESUSPUPPY