Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Why I don't want to come to your church"

Christian Conversation About Five Tough Topics

Index of relevant posts at the bottom.

I'll host sessions exploring the topics of the rest of this post, with a focus on how to engage unchurched people in Christian conversation, each Wednesday, Oct. 6-Nov. 17. We’ll start at 6:30, after the family meal. I hope you will come and join in!

Did you know that the fastest growing religious group in America are people severing ties with a church, or maintaining their separation? One in six American adults say they are not of any organized religion, many more than that for young adults. More than one-fourth of Americans say they don’t even want a religious funeral.

Where does that put us? In many ways, it puts us increasingly into the same sort of environment that the apostolic and early churches found themselves—a culture that resists the Gospel and is even sometimes hostile to it.

The worst and most faithless thing Christians could do is adopt a bunker mentality and write the unchurched off. That isn’t what the early church did, and Jesus never told us to proclaim the Gospel only to those who say they want to hear it.

On Sept. 21, I spent the day at a seminar sponsored by the Tenn. Conference called, “Spiritual Conversations.” How do disciples of Jesus engage people who do not know Christ in a meaningful way that opens up paths of God’s grace into their lives?

From this seminar and previous study, and my own spiritual conversations with non-Christians, I think there are five main barriers to the Gospel’s acceptance by greater numbers of Americans. They are:

1. Do your own thing.

Our culture increasingly denies that there are objective standards of morality or right living. People believe that they both should and can decide for themselves what is right or wrong and that one person’s opinion is pretty much as good as another’s. One result is that the Bible is not nearly as highly regarded in the general culture as it once was. Increasingly, people are turning to “spirituality” in lieu of “religion,” and spirituality is highly individualistic and opportunistic.

2. Christian claims are intellectually unsupportable.

Much about the Gospels strikes vast numbers of people as scientifically absurd and plain nonsensical. It is partly our fault! Over the last few decades, churches have often shied away from the fact that Christian faith is founded upon the supernatural power of a God who can be illuminated, but not described, by scientific insights. Instead, we have made Jesus’s resurrection more a matter of metaphor than of historical fact.

3. The evil in the world.

This is one of the toughest problems of Christian faith in the minds of non-Christians. If God is indeed all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful, then why does God permit the innocent to suffer? This question admits of no easy or glib answers. Even people of devout faith often do not know how to address it in dialog with another.

4. Christians are just hypocrites.

Evangelical Christian Ronald J. Sider wrote in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,
By their daily activity, most 'Christians' regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal self-fulfillment.
You or I may not agree we Christians are bad as all that, but no matter: when we give our witness of the Gospel, a large number of people believe we are like that, that we do not really mean what we say and do not live accordingly, either. That makes this perception a hindrance to our witness.

5. “I don’t feel welcome or comfortable at church.”

This goes beyond not being greeted on Sundays or not receiving a follow-up call or visit. Unchurched people can feel like strangers in a strange land when they come here. Frankly, we use a lot of “insider” jargon they don’t understand. We sing songs they don’t know with titles they haven’t heard—what is a “Doxology” anyway?

One result of these five factors and the way they inter-relate is that even church people well grounded in our faith shrink from being forthright to others, especially non-believers, about their faith. It’s not so much that we do not know what we believe, it’s that we often cannot explain why we believe it! And the problem is compounded by becoming tongue-tied when another person starts asking penetrating questions!

So come on Wednesday for the family meal at 5:45, then stay for exploration of these topics beginning at 6:30!