If this were a prize fight, organized Christianity wouldn’t quite be knocked out yet, but it would certainly be on the ropes and we’d be way behind on points coming to the bell.
It’s no secret that people are leaving the church in record numbers, and although they may not all be rejecting Jesus, they are surely saying no to the faith that bears his name—and for many good reasons.
I spend a great deal of my time each day listening to many of these good folks, and they educate me. Based on what I see from where I am and what I’ve learned from nearly two decades in church ministry, here are some ways we Christians are obscuring Jesus and hurting people, and severely damaging our testimony in the world in the process:
1) Vilifying non-Christians
In the face of attrition and growing public ambivalence, too many Christians and Christian leaders lazily lean back on attack language and war rhetoric, especially with those deemed outsiders (i.e., non-Christians or Christians who don’t fit within a very narrow framework of appearance, conduct and belief system). This continued manufacturing of an encroaching enemy is designed to rally the shrinking bases, but it’s also something young people are seeing from a mile away—and rejecting outright. They want and deserve a Christianity that is primarily known for benevolence, not for violence.
2) Marrying Jesus and politics
The idea that Jesus could be contained within any political ideology is simply heretical, and this generation knows it. They seek a faith that is not drawn along stark political lines, and they rightly want a Jesus that can’t be fit comfortably within any Presidential platform or voting block. If our religion is going to truly be as big as we say God is, it has to transcend our man-made political systems, and we need to speak about our faith in light of this. If we ever hope to accurately reflect Christ to the world, we have to allow his distinct message to exist independently from our partisan affiliations,.
3) Worshiping Christian celebrity
People live on Twitter and they understand celebrity worship. They get cults of personality. They engage in blind hero-worship as effortlessly as breathing, and yet they want the church to be different. They expect something in faith communities that doesn’t always mirror the culture, and when it comes to wrongly elevating people to place of Deity, we’re as guilty as anyone. For all our talk about “Making Jesus Famous,” and “lifting up the name of the Lord,” we shower superstar pastors, celebrity worship leaders and lauded Christian writers with all sorts of misplaced adulation and excessive notoriety that are all little more than sanctified idolatry. We need to redirect our hearts above the platform and pulpit.
4) Clinging to old biases and barriers
A few decades ago in America, a Christian could discriminate against people of color and claim themselves biblically justified in the process without a great deal of pushback. Thankfully, time and society have mounted a pointed challenge, and as a result, most churches (at least in the public record) have decried racism. More and more though, people outside of the church are becoming intolerant of any form of bigotry in organized religion; whether along lines of color, age, gender, income level, sexual orientation or gender identity. They are demanding a faith that is as diverse as their home and their neighborhood and their workplaces, and they are jettisoning anything that creates or perpetuates inequality.