Good news for exiles

My morning routine is pretty standard. After my alarm goes off, I hop in the shower, fix some breakfast, and head to work. Sometimes I find a few minutes to read my Bible and pray, but even then, I have yet to wake up in the morning and think to myself, “Man, I just love critiquing the institutional church. It’s just so much fun.”

By lunchtime, however, I have usually thought of at least four things that my church, your church, and every church could do better. I guess I’m just that good. Not many people can uncover a growing edge in every church, but I seriously have a knack for it.

But not everyone appreciates my gift, and sometimes I forfeit the opportunity to be a catalyst for change because I choose to wrap my perspective in sarcasm, which most people don’t enjoy near as much as, well, anything wrapped in bacon. I guess I just watch too much Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and I thought I might inject a little sarcasm here and there for comedic relief, except that it’s not nearly as funny when a vocational minister is sarcastic, at least not when the joke is on them.

Thankfully, I’ve become more self-aware, and I’ve learned that sarcasm isn’t an effective leadership strategy.  At the same time, I’ve learned what a struggle it is for most church folks to take an honest look at themselves. There exists a serious gap between who we think we are and who we really are, and we do everything we can to avoid what is obvious to everyone else.

And you know what everyone else thinks…Christians are good Americans, but they don’t really look like Jesus.

Now, I know you probably have no reason to care about what I have to say, but in case you do, I want to be completely honest with you. I really don’t have much interest in joining others on an adventure in missing the point. Maybe I just care about God’s mission and the message of God’s Kingdom too much, and I need to get out more. But there’s something seriously wrong when I’d rather hang out with my unchurched friends on Friday night than most of my churched friends, and not because I want to party hardy but because I feel like we understand each other better. Isn’t that sad? I mean, I know it’s not worth getting depressed over, but isn’t that just a little bit sad? Just a little bit?

It’s not like I’m on a mission to be critical. Matter of fact, I don’t even consider myself a critic. I simply enjoy excavating the world around me, and the world around me includes a whole host of beliefs, traditions, structures, ideas and perspectives—all of which need to be taken seriously. I mean, why settle for concrete answers and conversations about things that no one really cares about when I can give my life to the exploration of paradox, mystery, and the unknown?

The truth is I’m not ready to settle down; I want to create something that matters. Life is too short to talk about heaven, only to do nothing about the hells people live in every day.

And you know what, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m bumping into people everywhere I go who grew up in the church, but now they feel like exiles. They’re looking for a community that embodies the Good News because they want their lives to be characterized by passion and purpose, but they’re not ready to marry themselves to a community that is majoring in the minor things.

Perhaps we, the body of Christ, should do some more reflection. Could it be that we’re gathering every Sunday to preserve an artifact rather than joining with God in God’s ongoing and ever-expanding creation? Are we spending too much of our time talking about the Good News and not enough time brainstorming ways we can become the Good News for our neighbors?

I believe something is afoot.

A significant change is happening around us.

Opportunity is before us.

And God is the driving force.

I sure hope we don’t miss our chance to join in because we’re too busy doing what we’ve always done.

There’s a young man in my youth group who, like most young people, has made it his mission to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. It doesn’t matter who you are—all it takes is five minutes, and you will discover that he doesn’t want to miss out on anything.

A typical week for him includes class, band, choir, football practice, two afternoons at the community teen center, church, and whatever else comes his way. He is it at all times a yes man!

Needless to say, he’s too busy (in my opinion). Whether he recognize it or not, this young man needs a community where he is known, a place where he can rest and reflect. He needs a community that engages his whole being and provides him with a story to live into. I would hope that church is that place for him, but I have to wonder if he sees church as just another social club.

Thankfully he’s the only one I’m concerned about (that’s sarcasm, sorry).

Surely the work of Love requires something more from us than church attendance, and surely church attendance is about more than having our spiritual needs met.

I’m not happy about the decline in church attendance and the near absence of young adults on Sunday morning, but I get it. We live in a consumeristic culture, and we’re all looking for a return on our investment. Whether you’re willing to see it is up to you, but I’m afraid there are tons of people out there who see church as a poor investment. While some may stand ready to give up their Sunday morning, most people aren’t sure if Christianity is worth giving their life to.

This doesn’t mean ministers have to get a marketing degree and spend all of their time planning flashy programs. Actually, I think the solution is probably as simple as committing ourselves to the Way of Jesus and inviting others to do the same. Though if we choose the Way of Jesus, we must recognize that this decision has implications for absolutely every aspect of our lives.

This is exactly what Kendra Creasy Dean is getting at in her book Practicing Passion, when she says,  “Adolescents are searching for something, for someone, ‘to die for’…a cause worthy of their suffering, a love worthy of a lifetime and not just a Sunday night. In short, they are searching for passion, even—maybe especially—in church. Teenagers will not settle for a God who asks for anything less. If we are honest, neither will we.”

Christianity is costly. After all, it was Jesus who called his disciples to give their lives to him and his message, and when I say give their lives, I quite literally mean, give their lives. Of course, we must also remember that Jesus gave this invitation to his disciples after building a relationship with them for two years; however, he wasn’t about to let them sit on their haunches for the rest of their lives. As his followers, they were expected to become like him.

Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25).

What are we giving our life to? Is it worth the investment?

Believe me, I get it. Obligation, commitment, and faithfulness sound like dirty words to me too. But we aren’t giving ourselves to an institution. We’re not even giving our lives to a list of doctrines or a rigid set of beliefs. No, we are giving our lives to Jesus, a decision which has the power to save us, to free us up. Sounds worth it to me! Matter of fact, it sounds like something others might want to give their life to as well.

We’ve got to paint a bigger picture for people to step into, because we can’t afford to segment our lives anymore. Jesus invites us to stop building boundaries and start crossing them. He invites us to become a new creation and to participate with God in reclaiming and reconciling all there is, seen and unseen.

The decision is ours. So let’s create something beautiful, together, in the name of Jesus, and in doing so, join the legacy of Jesus’ early followers, a group of men and women who we’re so countercultural they had people saying, “Look how they love each other!”

Chris Robertson

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Chris is the Minister of Students and Outreach at Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, GA.

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