In a recent blog post, Matt Walsh speaks to the church in America and says that maybe the reason Christianity is “dying” is
because it’s boring people to death. He talks about how, in the attempt to be relevant, the church no longer looks different from the rest of the world so it’s ho-hum and that if we start bringing truth back to the forefront, church won’t be boring anymore because truth is alive and prods us out of our comfort zone.
Okay, then. There’s the answer…oh, wait, what’s that?
On the same day in an article entitled, “The Christian Sky is not Falling” Ed Stetzer says, “Christianity is not dying and no serious researcher thinks that.” Stetzer claims that rather than “dying” the Christian church is “being clarified” moving from nominal Christianity (being Christian in name only) to convictional Christianity (believers serious about living out their faith) and he points to numbers that show an increase in evangelicalism 59.8 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014.
Okay then, everything is fine…whew, dodged that bullet… What’s that? There’s more?
On the same day, another article about Millennials and why they aren’t in church was shared and, believe it or not, another reason was given for the church’s slow death was given by a millennial who knows because he is one. Basically, in this case, what we need is liturgy not entertainment, to make sure we aren’t “targeting Millennials”, to welcome tough questions, “to be uncool, to be radical, to be different.” Well, then…
Are you as confused as I am?
As I read all of these articles yesterday, I couldn’t help but shake my head. So many opinions. So many numbers and so much research. So many solutions and so many ideas on how to save a church that is dying but not dying but dying.
What’s a believer to believe?
May I offer this suggestion? It’s not new but it is radical. It’s not mind-blowing but is is truth. It’s not deep but it is convictional. And I can sum it up in one word – Jesus.
I mean, really, are we maybe making this church thing a little bit too much about ourselves and forgetting that “now we are the body of Christ, and each one is a part of it” (I Cor. 12:27). The body of Christ – we say it so quickly, but stop and think about that. The church is supposed to be the body of Christ. He is the Head and WE are the body! We are supposed to literally be Jesus to the world around us.
So, if this church needs anything, I’m guessing it needs to look in a mirror because, frankly, I don’t often see Jesus when I look at us. If I were to take Jesus, the Son of God, and place the church, the body of Christ, beside each other, I’m pretty sure I won’t see twins. In fact, I’m not sure they’d resemble each other much at all. And this makes my heart sad. No matter what all the articles in the world say is wrong with the church, I’m pretty sure that this is the one thing we keep dodging because, wow, what a calling and wow, what a standard to live up to, and wow…that’s exactly what we are supposed to be.
What does Jesus look like?
Jesus loved people, all people. He loved them right into a relationship with him, if they so desired it. He loved children and
welcomed them into his arms. He loved “sinners” and ate with them, talked with them, and forgave them. He loved Pharisees and scribes, enough to answer their questions and rebuke their mis-teachings. He loved fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes and betrayers and deniers and lepers and, well, let me just break it down this way… he loved everyone.
Jesus, truth embodied in flesh, wasn’t afraid of offending those who needed offended but he also didn’t seek to offend. He wasn’t so caught up in his theology that he couldn’t sit and chat with a prostitute. He wasn’t so wrapped up in his liturgy, he couldn’t make room for a child’s interruption or a woman’s crying or a man’s questions. His ministry was full of inconvenient interruptions that somehow became divine appointments and his worship services moved from the temple to the home to the hillside with no major issue because it wasn’t about venue or style or retention of members; it was about Love personified in the person of Christ and given freely to all who desired his gift of grace.
He built relationships. He maintained integrity. He snuck away to solitary places for times with his Father without worrying about how uncomfortable the silence would make the followers. He worshipped publicly without worrying about how his actions would offend the hearers or frustrate the unbelievers. He was who he was, every day, in every way, to everyone.
And when asked what the most important thing was, He didn’t say, “My theology, my liturgy, my building, my worship style, my preferences, my attitude” He answered with this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. That’s who He was, that’s who He is.
I’m not saying those other things aren’t important. Because they are.
But they aren’t the most important.
And they are certainly not what is going to save a church that is dying and not dying depending on who you ask.
But if believers individually start being Jesus and then two together start being Jesus and then a few more until we have what we commonly refer to as a church BEING JESUS, well, then, I daresay that church is not dying. No, I’d say that church is living. And how do we do that? James tells us if we come near to God, he will come near to us; that if we repent of our sins, our hearts will be purified. And Paul says when that happens, “to live is Christ”- in other words, we are his body, Jesus in the world today. (James 4:8, Ph. 1:21)
So, be Jesus. Be Jesus to each other. Be Jesus to the children. Be Jesus to the Millennials. Be Jesus to the bored people. Be Jesus to the evangelicals. Be Jesus to the orthodox. Be Jesus to your neighbor. Be Jesus to the bus driver, the store clerk, the bartender, the politician, the police officer, the drug addict, the people who surround you.
Because Jesus is the Church and frankly, it can’t die, because He has defeated death. The church will live. The question is, will we live with it? Let’s press into Jesus, for the sake of our kids who need to see what’s right with the church, not what’s wrong with it. Let them see Jesus in us, at home, in church, in our failures and in our victories – let them see Love.
As trite as it sounds…Jesus IS the answer. The only answer. Always and forever. Jesus.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.