"I think 'Jesus' is the most offensive word in anyone's life." (Nick Vujicic)
There's a lot of talk lately about why people are leaving the church, and many folks smarter than I am have suggested various ideas. For what it's worth, I think the answer may be simpler than we've made it. I'm not sure it has a lot to do with worship styles or clothing or bad press or scandalous behavior.
Most people rightfully assume that Christians and the Church should stand for the same kinds of things Jesus stood for. When we fail to reflect those same principles and values, people get confused and disillusioned. And that's when they leave.
Jesus is problematic. He presents a problem for Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Most Christians agree with this. Greed. Corruption. Exploitation. These are antithetical to the message of Jesus.
But he also presents a problem for Main Street, my street, and your street, too. And that's a real problem no one seems to want to talk about. It's easy to throw stones at media moguls, politicians, and celebrities who parade around like royalty. It's harder to take a long look in the mirror and see the degree to which we have substituted the principles and values of our suburban culture for the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus still draws. People still find him magnetic. Every day folks discover just how compelling he is. Often this happens because of the efforts of Christians. Perhaps even more often, this happens in spite of our efforts and intentions. In many places, the Church has about as much credibility as stock brokers, lobbyists, and advertising agencies -- just another special interest group trying to get its way. Somehow or other, Jesus manages to survive those who remember his name and forget nearly everything he said.
Take, for example, what Jesus said about the way we treat people. Did we forget that time when he said that the way we treat the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, and the homeless is how we treat him? Maybe ignoring these people or telling them to get a job or telling them to go back where they came from isn't the best domestic policy after all.
Or how about the time he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and "Love your enemies"? It might be hard to convince him to join our "war on terror" with its acceptable levels of collateral damage to civilians. It might be even more difficult to convince the guy who was tortured for our sake that torturing our enemies is a good idea -- a sad and unfortunate but nonetheless necessary evil.
It's almost as if we've managed to hide Jesus' clear message. We've made his message into something like self-help and prosperity through conservative politics and suburban living. Don't get me wrong. I'm politically conservative, and I live in the suburbs. But this is not the message of Jesus, and confusing the two is killing us.
The good news is that Jesus' message leaks. It always has. It's rarely been spread via broadcasting. More often than not, it spreads like gossip over the back fence. It finds the crack in the door. It gets smuggled in the back door. It is discovered sitting quietly in the corner of an old cafe. And people are finding it. An alienated generation raised in churches are re-visiting his teachings.
And what people are finding is that his vision of God's Kingdom -- an ever-increasing community of ever-increasing shalom -- is the Good News they've been searching for all along.
Of course, this is going to present a huge problem to a lot of churches whose identity has more to do with coloring in the lines, hiding their scars, and doing things decently and in order. These churches hate anything messy. The problem is people are messy. And so is Jesus.
There goes Jesus being a problem again.
Photo Credit: Simeon Muller