Do you know anyone who cringes when you say the word “church”? Are you one of those who says, “They’re just a bunch of hypocrites, and not even connected with reality. It’s not for me!’
If so, you are part of a growing population who shakes their head, and says, “I stay FAR away from places like that!” Check out the links below.
How did an institution which once wielded vast world power and influence, come to increasingly be regarded as a farce? Why are many still under it’s grip, but recognizing it’s a false authority, motivating people by fear? True, some segments are growing, but nevertheless, there is an increasing dissatisfaction, and a growing hunger for something personally meaningful.
We’ll explore a couple of thoughts, make a few observations, and invite your thoughts and comments.
As I talk with many people, I hear several recurring themes regarding the church. Here is a compilation of real comments :
“I see the negativity, the criticism, the lack of joy, and the ‘fakeness’ of the Sunday smile, and it sickens me”
One police officer I knew said, “Funny how the same people I see in church on Sunday are the same people I’m arresting during the week.”
Others say, “They’re not even in touch with the real world! I ask real questions and get ignorant answers, I want to deal with relevant issues.”
“I get a lot of, ‘come join us at church’, but see no effective social action outside. ”
“I see a lot of close-mindedness and negativity. ”
“No one ever returned my calls.”
“I ask real questions, and all I hear are pat, religious answers and no action!”
“No one there really cares about me. They only want me if I can do something for them. If I need help, they leave me alone.”
How much we need to hear the message in these comments!
In comparison, look at the dynamic in the story in of Jesus and Zacchaeus, in Luke 19: 2-10. Contrast the hope and redemptive way Jesus treated him, and the way the Pharisees criticized and condemned. Look at the effect on Zacchaeus. In less than one day, he changed from being a man known in the community for his cheating, thieving ways, to offering a stark reform. How many times do you see a scoundrel give up his riches, his income, and his vice – voluntarily?
Could there be something in Jesus’ attitude towards this man, that offered him life? Jesus never denied that Zacchaeus was corrupt, but He always spoke into the potential. He did not require church attendance, but welcomed him as a person, and invited Himself to join his life – as is. Jesus was REAL. This was His pattern. He never condoned what God called unacceptable, but He always offered a better way, except to one group.
Sadly, today we see little attempt to help people deal with real issues, and invest into their individual giftings and callings- except as they are useful to building the church structure. Yet, we are called out, into a world which has desperate need of hope and reality, with a plan for healing, optimism for the future, and faith that there is a reason to anticipate good things.
In over thirty years in positions of church leadership, I have rarely seen this much needed dynamic, of meeting people where they ARE, and speaking into their potential. What can we learn from this?
Another statement I hear about, is the church’s lack of world vision. They tend to be focused, yes, but very self-focused. Outreaches to ‘the unsaved’ are treated as a project, not a lifestyle, and the end goal is usually to add numbers to the church. There is very little awareness of actual needs in the community, and little attempt to teach a global realization of current world issues. Consequently, we see unchurched people with a heart and a concern for the needy, the down-and-out, expressing anger at political and social corruption, yet they are belittled and ignored by the much of the church.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and it’s a grievous neglect!
Jesus said, “I’ve come to look for and to save the lost”, yes, but He never demanded that they raise a hand, sign a card, or attend regular synagogue meetings. Instead, He said, ” Love Me, because I love you! Follow Me – I’ll lead you into life, not death, and I want every good thing for you!!” His message was one of truth, reality, healing and hope – always presented to evolve people into a good destiny. In contrast, the religious system unfailingly opposed Him, never tried to understand His position,and spun an opinion of negativity, fear and death. You may remember that to these leaders, and to this institution, Jesus shot His harshest words. This was the one group to whom He offered no hope. What can we learn from this? And yet, He was not blindly prejudiced. You notice that to the individuals in this system, who dared to meet with Him, who listened and even questioned their own tenets honestly, He conversed openly and willingly.
The first, and simplest message I take from this is: God is not an institution. God IS love, and His actions always display hope and redemption for those who want it. Whatever we may or may not feel towards the church, we are all in relationships of one sort or another. Do our attitudes and actions display criticism, or do they offer love, forgiveness, hope and redemption towards each other? This is a really good starting place!