For our next trick…
Monday is the day I talk about church stuff to my irreligious friends more than any other day. This is in response to the ‘Monday question’: “How was your weekend?”
It’s fascinating to find out what people who aren’t particularly religious think about churches. Sometimes the perceptions are quite surprising. Unlike a few noted missional thinkers I think churches in their current form have a lot going for them and in fact they are often the centre of my conversations with irreligious people – especially on Mondays. I have the privilege of visiting many different Baptist churches and I readily talk about these experiences whilst relating my weekend activities with friends.
Whilst talking about a church I visited that built a leisure/sports centre instead of a sanctuary type building a friend asked me if the church used sport to ‘trick’ people into becoming a Christian. I asked him if he thought he could be tricked into becoming a card carrying totally committed follower of Jesus. He agreed that this wouldn’t be possible but he may well be ‘tricked’ into attending a church at the very least.
We then had a conversation about why churches do so much in their local community and why some churches even choose to build community facilities rather than sanctuaries.
We discussed our differing perspectives: his being that churches were being crafty and finding new ways to ‘trick’ people and mine being that when the love of God drives his followers out to be His hands and feet in their own local community and that this is the natural consequence of their allegiance to God.
My friend is a super intelligent and successful man, not easily given to allegiances, especially of the faith kind. He agreed that it would be impossible to trick him. His basis was his intelligence and resistance to con artists. Mine was that you couldn’t possibly wrap the radical call to discipleship into a ‘trick’.
To become a follower of Christ was a life changing decision that required a whole hearted commitment. That’s not something easily glossed over (although many try). I ended by talking in language he could relate to better as a businessman by saying that Christianity is a ‘hard sell’. Although some try it’s hard to dress up the radical calling to become a follower of Jesus into a sugar coated ‘soft sell’.
The Hard Sell of the Gospel
As much as we as churches are trying to be winsome to the world around us we need to remember that the Gospel is unpalatable to many. The Apostle Paul used of the concept of Jesus followers being ‘fools’ to the world. This is hard to take when you are trying to win friends and influence people! The desire to be accepted can be a temptation that leads to watering down the commitment that the Gospel requires. In Luke 9 Jesus calls his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. There is no concept in the New Testament of being Jesus-lite. It’s an all in proposition that people are called to so however appealing we want to make ourselves to the world around us we must never forget the radical calling that lies at the centre of our raison d’etre.
The Demonstration of the Gospel
It is in the genuine concern and care for the community that churches can demonstrate both that they aren’t into mere trickery and also that the call to follow Jesus results in action. In Luke 6 Jesus talks of knowing a tree by its fruits. In Australian culture your ‘fruit’ is sniffed out pretty quickly. This is where local Baptist churches make great advances in their local community as they are typically heavily involved in adding value and meeting needs. The key connection between belief and these actions needs to be more clearly spelt out, otherwise, as demonstrated by my friends’ notion of ‘trickery’, we’ll blur out the real reasons for practical compassion and innovative community service.
In summary don’t hide the ‘church’ aspect of what you do from your conversations. People are more interested than you think and it’s an opportunity to unpack plenty of the good things your church does and in the process you can confound some well ingrained perceptions that are far off the mark. Breaking down these barriers is essential in helping establish more trust and credibility.
Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager, June 2017