I’ve been thinking over the past few days. I know that’s pretty scary sometimes, but this time it was okay. I know I’ve mentioned before that, for me, times at university have been up and down spiritually. And they still are. It’s a constant struggle to maintain that so delicate relationship with my Father, and yet I know how vital it is to my spiritual growth, and so I work my hardest to persevere. Last night was a strange night. I came home for the weekend, and I didn’t feel like doing anything. So I sat there, and for the most part, I thought. It sounds a little weird, but let me explain.
Thursday night was a very interesting night. The local bar on campus known as the Bomber was having an all-ages night, so a couple of my closest university friends were going to that. Afterward, since they were girls, they were going to have a sleepover, or slumber party, or whatever you want to call it. So after they came back, a bunch of people chipped in to get some pizza, and we sat around and just chilled. You know, hung out. Chillaxed. But the conversation turned very strange – and cool at the same time. It started with Brittany bringing up the topic of a bit of, well, I wouldn’t say “degradation,” but something about the bias against women that was going on at rez a little bit. That turned the topic very quickly to stuff like feminism. And then, the conversation ran wild. Now, being in a Catholic residence, many of the people there hold to, at least in word, the Catholic religion. Although I’m not Catholic, and although I’m beginning to learn about the differences between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity, there are still many similarities, and so the topic of religion is not as “taboo” as it might be in other residences.
I participated in the discussion until some of the people there started talking about priests and stuff. I mean, I have a pastor, but I still don’t know enough about Catholicism to really say much about priests. So I sat back and listened. They discussed how the older priests were very different from the new generation of younger priests coming up, and how much more relevant the younger ones seemed to be. And that got me thinking. I mean, in Protestant circles, the same discussion rages onward with heated debate and gossip-like frequency. I’ve caught myself uttering the same words about pastors. And yet, where does this come from? Why all this discussion about pastors who are so obviously just human like the rest of us?
As I thought, the answer seemed to come to me in waves. It seems to me that it is a growing trend among churches. That trend is this: increasing relevance, decreasing action. And while the relevance seems like a great thing, the latter is what disturbs me. As people sit in church and get fed, they get comfortable. And I believe that, while the churchgoers are responsible for some of the blame, the bulk of the responsibility goes to the North American church as a whole.
Now, when I say “the North American church,” please understand that I’m not talking about your church or my church or anyone’s church in particular. I’m talking about the general trend that seems to be occurring. But why blame the church for something that seems to be on the shoulders of Christians in general? Well, before you think I’m just pointing fingers to escape the blame, please hear me out. I believe that, as a general rule, the church has been shifting their main focus away from their primary function.
So what is the church’s primary function? It’s to evangelize, right? Nope. Wait, it’s for missions, right? Nuh-uh. Christians as individuals can do that on their own. And while there certainly is benefit in grouping together to accomplish that task, that’s not the church’s primary function. It’s to benefit believers in collective spiritual growth. All other pursuits, within the church setting, come secondary.
I can hear the disagreement bubbling over already. It doesn’t sound right. But please, hear me out. Churches in North America are becoming stagnant not because they fail to be relevant to today’s culture and bring unbelievers in. It’s because they have strayed from their primary purpose: to help believers grow spiritually. You see, since the fulfillment of that task has been waning, churches are left with pews full of spiritual infants, incapable of doing anything on their own and dependent on the church to spell out everything for them. People sit in the services every Sunday morning and hear the same salvation message over and over again. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with preaching the salvation message. However, why preach it to people who are supposed to already know it? Sermons that promote spiritual growth have been largely forgotten in favour of inspirational messages that sound great, but do little to trigger action. And Christians are here to act.
Yes, that’s right. The Christian’s primary purpose on earth is to preach the salvation message to others. It is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [Jesus has] commanded you.” Christians can do that without the church body. It’s a very individual message that requires an individual, one-on-one approach. See, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to go and make converts. He asked for disciples. People that go up in front of thousands of people and bring others to Christ are great, but if, then, those people go home and are left unsupported spiritually, they will fall, just as the seed in three types of soil in Jesus’ parable never grew. That is the church’s role – to maintain people’s spiritual lives and facilitate discipleship, to bring about strong, mature Christians that can then go out and give the good news of salvation to others.
The churches of North America have fallen into a vicious cycle that threatens the very survival of true Christianity. Churches realized that Christians weren’t doing enough to share the gospel, so they thought that they weren’t being relevant enough to today’s society, and pushed cool, nifty programs to bring people into the church. Great. But at the same time, their Sunday morning messages drifted from spiritual meat to spiritual milk – nourishing a little to get a Christian through the week, but without any real sustenance. This change happened so subtly that I don’t think most people noticed. It seemed to get more people into the church, and so people thought that was great! And then they sat back in their pews and enjoyed the show, thinking the work was already done. No, no, no! That’s not the way it works! The pastor is a shepherd, and he tends God’s sheep – which are His children. In other words, the pastor is meant to help out the Christians. We, on the other hand, have been pushing all responsibility off of us and onto the pastor, saying, “Well he’s the one that went to Bible college, not me.” Pphh. The gospel message isn’t anything you need a degree of theology for. If a child can understand it, then explaining it is not difficult. It’s just that now, most Christians are too weak spiritually to even entertain the thought of sharing the gospel with those they know. And then the cycle perpetuates.
You know how I know that I’m right when I say this? It’s not because I thought it up. (Goodness no!) It’s because when I read the Gospel of John, I see how Jesus never was worried about being “relevant” with his followers. He never tried to water down his message or appeal to as many people as possible. He had a very strict regimen. If you take a look at chapter 6, verses 60-66, envision what happens in your mind.
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’
“Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
These people were complaining, “Hey Jesus! Do you actually expect people to really accept this stuff?” And Jesus says back, “Well, I can’t change the truth, even if it offends you. You follow me for the right reasons, or not at all.” And many of the people that followed him left. Later on, at the beginning of chapter 7, Jesus even separates himself from his brothers after they try to get him to become more of a public figure. He tells them in verse 7, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” Jesus isn’t too worried about offending people; He knows that some people just don’t want to change and will do anything to avoid it. And guess what? As the Church of Christ, the world is supposed to hate us too. Society will never accept us. Even a society which was founded on Christian beliefs is now beginning to turn against us. And why? Because we teach a message of radical transformation that some people just don’t want to hear. The good news is, however, that if we do our part, God will bring the people that will be receptive to the message into our lives, without us having to water it down one bit. This isn’t instant potatoes here; it’s the message of salvation.
So why do I say this? I’m not trying to revolt against the church or start a new one by myself or anything. I’m just hoping that the right people will read this – the ones that need to read it – and will do something about it. We’re losing touch with the people of today not because we are not relevant enough, but because we fail to give them anything of substance. People take a look at Christians and say, “Hey, they’re no different from us, so why should we change? In fact, as far as I’m concerned, I’m better than most of them.” And that’s pitiful, really. Sure, I’m all for missions, and food drives, and homeless shelters, and fun community events, but what about Bible studies? What ever happened to those? A lot of people don’t even bring their Bibles to church anymore. And now we have a group of people who are too afraid to even venture out to share their faith with others. They are not ill-equipped by any means, but they’ve never been taught how to use their God-given power. So, if a church is wanting to organize an event, or help others in need, I think it should be a result of the congregation of the church actually wanting to do this, not the pastor having a great idea and then trying to scrape a few volunteers off the pews to help. We are apathetic, and we don’t even care. And somehow, that’s got to change. Or else, Christianity in North America will continue to be primarily a group of disillusioned people who somehow think that they’ve got it better than everyone else by being just the same as them.
Anyways, with all that said, I just want to make sure that one thing is clear: All I’ve done is have a brainwave. I’m not going to sit here and tell anyone that I’m in any way enlightened or drastically changed because I can sit here and point out problems in everyone else. I know that I am just as useless in the kingdom of God as probably about 80% of the people in the congregations out there. The only difference is that I’m desperately trying to change that. When I arrived at home, one thing waiting for me was an envelope from Compassion International. I sent in a request a while ago to express my desire to sponsor a child. That is the product of several failed attempts to shrug off procrastination, rationalization, and apathy. But the last attempt worked, and I’m determined to finish what I started. $35 dollars more in my pocket per month is nothing compared to what it could be used for, and I’m willing to throw it out there, even though I’m in university and could probably use it. I know that if there ever comes a day when I have every reason to regret that investment, that I won’t. God will provide if it ever becomes an issue for me. Because, at the end of time, when God judges each individual, He’s not going to ask, “How many children’s programs did you lead, how many Bible studies did you run, and how many people did you bring to church?” I mean, those are all great things, but no. The measure of our faith is this:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:34-40)