Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished~ 1st Chronicles 28:20 NIV
Recently, I have found myself in a number of conversations with other Christians where the discussion ultimately devolved into an analysis of the church and culture. We were all trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact. All of the obvious causes were debated in grim detail. We discussed powerless-preaching, mean Christians and the pathetically low moral standards of many churches. During each discussion, I would listen intently, chime in from time-to-time and nod along enthusiastically.
Later it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually symptoms of bigger problems no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It occurred to me that until we get to the place where we are willing to acknowledge the real problems as the real problems we will never find solutions to the symptoms the real problems are causing.
One major problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that Christians have created. Those problems include:
We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God wants to tell them the opposite-
I have been guilty of this from time-to-time. The scenario always goes something like this: I will be talking to someone and out of no where they begin to confess in excruciating detail exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they are. Then they tell me how guilty they feel about their sin (James 5:16). Then, because I love people and I hate to see anyone suffer, I would then proceed to tell them how awesome they are. Then I would give them a big hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. Every single time I did this, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in the people I was trying to “help”. We must keep in mind that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember the only way to get free of our guilt and self-loathing is to confess sin and repent of it (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we fall all over ourselves to tell others they are awesome when God or their circumstances are telling them something different we are assuming in a kindhearted but prideful way we know the person better than they know themselves. We are also saying we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or by heaping on of even more guilt. That would be cruel. That said, rather than attempting to talk people out of their guilt we need to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with God.
We care more about how people feel about themselves than the state of their souls-
A LOT of church people have bought into the completely unchristian notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, even Christians use words like disease, problem, bad choices, and genetic predisposition to describe behaviors and attitudes that previous generations would have been quick to label “sin”. We need to get back to the understanding that feeling bad is good (2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Peter 3:9), if the bad feeling leads to repentance and restoration.
We fail to call Christians out when they tell non-Christians how bad Christians are–
It has become fashionable for Bible-believing, church-going Christians to loudly declare to anyone who will listen how awful Christianity is. According to them ALL Christians, themselves being the singular exception, of course, are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians, especially those who are immature or untaught can be judgmental and unloving. It is also true that every Christian, myself included)has days where they could stand to act a lot more like Jesus and lot less like themselves. That said, there is a fine line between calling for Christians to do better (something I am doing right now) and turning people away from the truth claims of Jesus because we are a little too quick to paint all Christians with an ugly brush. We need to be very careful not to cross that line (Matthew 13:24-29 and 13:36-42). When judgment day comes, God is not going to let anyone off the hook for rejecting Jesus because they heard from a Christian that all Christians are bad people (Revelation 20:11-13). However, He might judge a Christian for turning others off to Christianity.
Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us we are in a battle. Many of us have forgotten Satan’s main goal is to win the hearts and minds of men and women with lies and half-truths. Christians must be willing to fight. We can’t win if we foolishly try to convince people there is something wrong with the Church. Or if we attempt to convince people they don’t have anything wrong with them that needs fixing. Instead, we must speak the truth, live righteously, correct gently and love fiercely.
Those things will lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).