There is a fascinating book called, unChristian (Kinnaman and Lyons) that declares Christianity has an image problem. I’ve known it for years but did not really have any research to support it. I often heard stories like:
- The church is only after my money
- Look at the lifestyles of TV evangelists
- Church is boring or irrelevant
- Remember Ted Haggard and Jim Bakker?
- The church is full of hypocrites
- I don’t need to go to church to worship God
- Too many priest sex scandals and cover-ups
- Christians are too narrow-minded
Once teenagers get their driver’s licenses, it seems participation in church activity is usually the first item scratched off the list. Remember that Christianity is a relationship more than it is a religion. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit, so believers not living out what they say they believe is one of the greatest barriers to outsiders giving Jesus a try. Believers in Christ are the church; it’s not the building or an activity we do on Sundays. It seems I read that Gandhi would have become a Christian, but he could not find any of His followers.
So how has the Christian faith portrayed itself to a skeptical generation? What does Christian mean to you? For many, it means very conservative, indoctrinated, anti-gay, anti-choice, angry, violent, judgmental, illogical, hypocritical, too political, building their own empires, trying to convert everyone to their way of thinking, who cannot live at peace with anyone who believes differently than themselves. So, what did I leave out? A lot of this originates from the hurtful past of former believers.
How are Christians to overcome this negative stereotype? Today’s Christians are known more for what they are against than what they really stand for. Its one thing to know about Jesus, it is another to really know Him. Assent to a set of propositions is not what Jesus desires, but that we become His disciples, followers who live out what we believe. We are not alone, there are other authentic pilgrims on this journey.
I heard Greg Stier of Dare2Share Ministries tell a story of when he was a pastor, about being in a coffee shop, studying at a table with all his Jesus books in front of him. As he was leaving to pay, there was a Goth looking kid wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt behind him who noticed all his books. “Are you religious?” he asked, “Because I don’t like religious people.” Greg looked at the guy and said, “Me neither, I can’t stand religious people! You know who else didn’t like religious people? Jesus! Eventually those religious people had him killed.”
So, there he was with this kid with the Manson gear, both agreeing that religious people made them sick. But Jesus showed them by rising from the dead! Greg then went on to tell him about Jesus being into relationship rather than religion. In some ways people may be into spirituality or even into Jesus, but they don’t like the church. Sad reality, since believers ARE the church.