First, we shouldn’t begin our ministry with the premise of “how can I get them to like me more?”
Yes, we should build bridges and relationships for gospel advance. Yes, we should love our enemies. Yes, we should get our hands and feet dirty in service of the needy.
But not so that people will like us. Let’s do this because our Lord calls us to. Otherwise, beginning with the premise of “I have to repair the Christian brand” leads us down a slippery slope of doctrinal impurity. We are tempted to jettison hard truths about God, especially those that are unpalatable in this age. In a sense, we have made the unredeemed person, at enmity with God, head of our theology department, chair of our worship team, and architect of our ministry model.
Secondly, we should disabuse ourselves of the mythical “early church” model.
I think the book of Acts gives important and powerful lessons for today’s church. I believe we’d do well to “go back” to some of the fervent prayer and radical discipleship these people practiced.
However, let’s remember that these folks were not well loved by the larger culture. They were not liked by the world. We have this notion that in the early church, there was no infighting, no agendas, no power plays, and that these people were so selfless and broadminded that the world just loved them. After all, we say, they met in houses and just loved on each other. Right?
Well, no. First of all, if you read the Epistles, you’ll find that the early church suffered with the same issues our churches endure today. And secondly, let’s remember that most of the early church were rounded up, arrested, and killed for their faith.
How’s that for branding? Their brand was terrible. But their discipleship was radical.
Christians should be concerned somewhat about their perception in the world. No doubt. We are the representatives of Christ in the world. But let’s not be so obsessed with how the world views us. Because persecution is not a sign of unfaithfulness, but of faithfulness.
I have a feeling that American Christians are going to have to come to terms with this idea or else risk losing their faith all together.