So, my last post attracted a lot of attention! I guess it pays to blog about a controversy. I had some very positive responses both publicly and in private. If I have gained any new readers, be warned – I’m in a ranting mood!
Last time I elaborated on how I felt that UCCF Christian Unions were stuck in the 1980s and needed to stop seeing Christianity in the same way as Christendom. We’re no longer the dominant voice in society, and as such we cannot expect people to come to us. Instead we must go to them. This has led to the buzzword missional being ever more prevalent in our church sub-culture. It’s just a shame that we don’t seem to actually know what it means nor how to go about doing it.
Around Christmas time, I begin to remember what it is I find so jarring and annoying about modern Church. I have a great deal of Christian friends on Facebook, and almost all of them attend some sort of Evangelical, usually Charismatic church (deliberate capitals there). Christmas, traditionally, is the time of year most touted (before Easter) as a time to ‘invite your friends’ to church.
Yeah, because that totally makes sense in our world. Totally. Really, really good idea there folks. I cannot emphasise enough just how stupid and farcical the whole idea is. Two reasons:
1) Exaggeration of the Gospel
“But you can’t exaggerate the gospel – it’s the best news there is, Ben!” True. So why on earth do we persist in doing so? As if a traditional carol service wasn’t enough, we now offer them by ‘laser-light’. We use smoke machines, emotive music, annoying worship songs mashed up with old carols, funky stories, big TV screens. We even produce movies and live albums just to show people how awesome God is.
How utterly, utterly ridiculous.
As Christians we are called to mock the host culture of materialism within which we reside. Jesus makes a direct plea to this with so, so many of his teachings: on the poor, on authority, on taxes, on sin. We are to be counter-cultural. We are meant to show that you don’t need to spend money or accumulate it to love people.
Yet we spend countless thousands of pounds each year on flashy presentations of the ‘good news’ of the birth of Jesus. It isn’t even the gospel – by the most conservative of standards! Surely, the good news is so good that we don’t need to dress it up! Surely, we shouldn’t have to wow people with technicolour screens, fireworks, smoke machines, movies, live albums with great guitar riffs… what a deplorable waste of time!
The gospel does not need dressing up. Jesus was unremarkable in appearance (it says so somewhere in the Bible). Jesus did not lead a revolution with a flag, great inspiring speeches, rallies and battle-cries Jesus started the quiet, unending, incremental revolution of the Kingdom of God. He did so through what Mother Teresa called ‘small acts of great love’. We are not called to put on a show. We are called to love.
2) The Show Doesn’t Last
When we insist on building up these spectacles, we don’t only overdo it to the point of parody and ridicule from the secular world, but we also set ourselves up for a fall. We damage both the visitor’s perception of God and perpetually our own as well. We do this in several ways:
- We convince ourselves that evangelism means inviting people to hear someone else tell them about God
- We reduce Christianity down to a decision and then some follow-up
- We encourage one another that we can enjoy the host culture without having to critique it, focussing instead on secondary issues such as homosexuality
- We provide a parody rather than a critique of materialism, and yet preach against it. Thus we appear hypocritical
- We provide people with the notion that God is in a building and we must go to him there each week, even if we preach against that – it is there subconsciously.
- We insist through the subliminal that emotive music, or powerful preaching, are key to our experience of God. We diminish the role of simplicity and silence.
- We fail to be incarnate and instead join the world in being excarnate – we experience via screens, via someone else. We don’t do things for ourselves and when we do we filter the reality through some form of technology.
The Alternative: Missional Life
The problem is that 80’s style bring-them-in evangelism is all too easy. We can give ourselves a pat on the back each time a curious friend comes to church, we’ve done our bit. Even better if they make a commitment to be just like their normal self with a bit of eternity tacked on.
The difficulty is that Jesus calls us to do more. Jesus came to earth from the Heavens – he became incarnate, and, in a way, downwardly mobile, too. We are called to follow his example. We are called to reject the greed and materialism of our culture. We are called to live within the culture but not be of it. That means no more flashy light shows and stunning presentations to draw people in. That’s not the right Jesus. The Jesus we want people to meet resides in the quiet, in the still, in the changing of hearts and the healing of lives.
We are called to live in such a way that the good news is self evident in our lives. You are the gospel most people will hear. Not your words, but your whole person. Start acting like it! That way, you won’t need to bolt on flashy church services to get people to notice you!
To live in this way requires sacrifice. But it’s worth it. Our reward, as Jesus says, will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. And the thing is, people who come to know Jesus through long term relationships with other people are far more likely to be sincere and to stick around! It’s no coincidence. It’s because they’ve seen the whole thing work. They don’t just touch base with it on a Sunday and then try to get through the rest of the week. They know it can be done 24/7/365, because they’ve seen it done.
That’s the good news, folks – the good news spreads itself if only we let it. Then we could save ourselves thousands of pounds and employ community workers and youth workers. Much better use of money…
Remember: the good news is BIGGER than you think. It’s BIGGER than we can ever produce it to be. Let it do its work. Don’t dress it up, don’t clothe it in the robes of materialism. Set it free and watch it change the world…