“We see a lot of new faces around here” began the conversation with a concerned church member.
“But so many of them don’t stay.” He was looking for more than my head-nod of agreement. When He saw that a brilliant solution wasn’t forthcoming he was more direct...
“What can we do to stop that and get them to commit?”
In a moment of unguarded honesty I said, “Not much.”
During years of pastoral ministry, I have witnessed hundreds, maybe thousands of people, begin some sort of enthusiastic pursuit of Christ only to see many of them lose that enthusiasm and drift away.
I have sat in meeting after meeting with church leaders struggling to find ways to “Close the back door” to our churches and make the gospel more “relevant” to whatever segment of our society had deemed us “irrelevant” that month. Gradually, I have grown to consider the vast array of strategies marketed to provide compelling reasons for the latest “seeker” group to reconsider the church and engage in the faith are a waste of time.
When I hear people declare, “I don’t have a problem with Jesus, but I have real problems with the church.” I am convinced they are either blowing smoke or they are sincerely mistaken.
Their Problem Is With Jesus.
The church can adapt cutting edge and creative forms of presentation, become a radical champion for whatever the latest hot button cause happens to be, offer a buffet line of support groups and counseling opportunities for the “felt needs” of our culture, and would still find that “Jesus just doesn’t work” for many people.
"Jesus answered, Can you make the guests of the Bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them; in those days they will fast.’
He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:36-39)
This exchange highlights the real reasons why Jesus will just never do the “trick” for some people.
He Refuses to Pander
Observers expressed concern about Jesus’ a lack of attentiveness to religious practices they considered very important. You can almost hear all the unspoken words squeezed between the actual words. “Jesus, we have been watching you and your followers. We like some things, however, there is the issue of fasting. Fasting is important and highly valued here and your followers show an insensitivity towards it. We are uncomfortable endorsing you when they treat our convictions that way. Your following may grow if you would just make that minor adjustment.”
Jesus' answer is basically: “The people who follow me respond to me, not the other way around.”
Christians do not fast to fit in or look respectable; they fast in response to the person of Jesus. If they sense him near and are celebrating his presence, then fasting is not necessary. If they feel the need to draw closer, then they fast. They do not engage in spiritual disciplines based upon how it impresses those around them.
There are always groups that emphasize and downplay aspects of Jesus’ character for their own purposes. Jesus would be more palatable and less offensive if his view of marriage were less narrow. He would relate better to the culture if he didn’t insist on rich people being held accountable for the poor. If Jesus would become the champion or the poster boy of their “cause” he would be perfect. Everyone would love to be Jesus’ political advisor.
But Jesus doesn’t look for advisors, he looks for followers. He will not adjust to please religious or irreligious zealots, capitalist or communists, liberals or conservatives. He will demand they adjust to be a part of his family.
Jesus Won’t Be Used as a “Patch Job”
Many come to Jesus looking for him to slap a piece of new cloth onto their old way of life. We don't want to change we just have holes we are looking to get patched up. We want him to patch up our marriages, mend our relationship with a rebellious child, heal our bodies, or help us fix our finances. But we don't want Jesus to mess with the parts of our lives that we feel are doing fine. However, it may be the parts we are comfortable with that most need to change.
Our survival and happiness is dependent upon a respiratory, circulatory, nervous, muscular, skeletal, and digestive system. These systems are connected and reliant upon one another. Pain or dysfunction in my muscular system can be caused by dysfunction in any of the other systems and, in turn, will impact all the other systems.
In the same way, it is impossible to see health and healing if we approach the aspects of our lives as segregated from one another. Finances, romances, families, and emotions…all are an interconnected whole. Jesus, the great physician, doesn’t do “patch-work”. The Lord is about total-life transformation. It's a whole new wardrobe or nothing! That doesn’t work for people who are looking for patchwork, not transformation.
We Don’t Understand the Nature of the Gospel
The gospel enters a life like "new wine"; fermenting, expanding, and stretching. You cannot relate with Jesus and stay the same. The Spirit of God is expansive and transforming life. He will challenge every category of truth and confront behavior. Your views about morality, ethics, other people, generosity, yes even politics...everything will be stretched.
The gospel will not be held comfortably in the wineskins of old paradigms and values. We have to be made new and malleable through repentance, or we won’t be able to deal with the power of the true gospel.
The Grip of the "Status Quo"
“When you have gotten used to old wine, you will not want the new.”
We like the taste and feel of our old, selfish, ways. We don’t want the chaos of having our beliefs challenged, behavior patterns messed up, or our circle of compassion expanded by the new life of Christ in us. So, we try to get by spiritually “on the cheap”. We keep looking for convenient solutions and peace with a minimal amount of fuss and bother. Jesus doesn’t work for us because he comes to our hearts with his own agenda and life and we are required to give ours up to receive his.
We may not want that, but we need it desperately. Jesus cares too deeply to offer us the religious placeboes that are popular in our world.
May the Lord grant us the wisdom to see our selfishness, the humility to confess it and renounce it, and the courage to respond to his new challenges each new day.
Just a thought.