Sunday, 24 October 2010

What's our focus?

Sometimes I choose not to attend my regular church on a Sunday to see what other local churches are like. I usually leave an 'alien' church with a better appreciation of the variety and family unity of the Christian community. However after one of my visits to a local church I left deeply concerned about their priorities and their 'spiritual health'. I felt like I'd witnessed first hand something from America that I'd only before read about or seen on TV. What had angered me from afar was now visible right before my eyes. While the underlying attitude of this church has not been entirely absent from other churches I've visited, never had I seen it manifested so fully. It is an attitude that Christians must stand firm against for its results are disastrous.

Entertainment =/= Mature discipleship

While one can make the mistake of not communicating in an engaging way, we must utterly resist the temptation to make entertainment the priority of a Sunday morning. Our culture is entertainment mad, and while relying on flashy media, energetic songs and other such stimulations might bring in lots of numbers it does absolutely nothing to help people become mature disciples of Jesus who will follow him their whole lives. A focus on games and emotional experiences centred on ourselves might keep the kids interested but without substance what are they going to do when they go to university and someone brings 'The God Delusion' their way? Neglect proper teaching of doctrine and reasons to believe and people's faith will be based on emotional highs that result in doubt when one isn't 'feeling so good'.

Attractiveness and Comfort =/= Authentic Christianity

Why did Jesus die on the cross for us? To atone for our sins. He did not die for us primarily so that we would have successful, worry free lives. We must resist the temptation to distort the Christian message - the gospel - so that it becomes about what 'stuff' Jesus can give us. The focus of the gospel isn't on giving us meaningful, whole lives, although that is a wondrous outcome. It is about being saved from the wrath of God incurred by our own sin. Making the focus anything else is highly dangerous. We start to see ourselves not as undeserving sinners, mercifully saved and loved by a gracious God, but as victims who are owed God's service. God's job becomes one of fixing our lives. We become confused when life is tough and see our negative life circumstances as evidence of God's neglect or even absence. We may feel guilty or inadequate because we don't feel good like we think we should. But the Bible promises us hard times in numerous places. Jesus said that here on earth we will have tribulation (John 16:33). Paul said that all who want to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). We must daily bear our crosses.

The gospel has never been intended towards producing comfort, nor is its message comfortable. It was an offensive message back in 1st century AD and much of it is now. If you want to concentrate on mass appeal how will you preach God's wrath? How will you tell people that they deserve death before a holy God? There is no good news without the bad news.

Let us not judge our church's success on the numbers it pulls in. Let us judge it rather on how faithful it is being to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Reject an attitude of favouring entertainment over substance.

I invite you to read some similar reflections along with a strategy for improvement, over here.

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