Today is a guest follow up to a post entitled “What Makes The News”.
Matt Steen, who contributed over at ToddRhoades.com on the original subject of my post has been kind enough to stop by and respond to some of my concerns. In the spirit of dialogue I invited Matt to post here and share more of his perspective on the local church. I enjoy respectful discussion even (especially?) when people see things from different perspectives. Matt and I have different perspectives on things but we share a common desire for the Christ to be lifted up.
The story of the church coming alongside the City of Portland is not a totally new one.
In fact, on a daily basis churches across the country are interacting and serving the communities in which they reside… and are doing it well. Tally is right, over the last 10-15 years the churches in this country HAVE done a great deal of shifting in the way that they approach ministry, service, and caring for their community. Churches like Captivate are constantly doing good works by feeding the poor, caring for the homeless, stabilizing neighborhoods, and loving the least of these.
While Tally is correct when he says that the reason that much of these works don’t make the news is because there is no conflict, my intention with my post was not to call the church to launching a better marketing campaign (though we can probably learn a thing or two from the Mormons). My hope was to remind the church that we have made a mess out of the name of Christ… and the time to clean up that mess is now.
Jess and Thom Rainer’s recent book The Millennials points out the heartbreaking truth that only 13% of the rising generation have any use for religion… any religion. The recent spoken word video that went viral, Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus, may have been flawed, but it touches at the heart of how many in this rising generation feel about the church.
Shortly after posting the original article, a former student of mine from Atlanta shared his feelings on why he stepped back from the church in order to save his faith:
Church became a place not to worship God, or to lead nonbelievers to him, but a place to celebrate sameness. A place to be around people that agree with you. That stagnation leads nowhere good. I see people unifying in church not for worship, but to speak out against those who are different: other religions, other cultures, the gays, and even democrats.
God says to love all, yet, this happens. I find it hard to justify speaking against these people instead of reaching out to them. Isn’t that the main point of a church? Saving? And preaching against democrats, of all things. I don’t exaggerate, either. There are people I once considered religious leaders of mine- people I personally looked up to that I’ve removed from social media sites because they constantly spew hatred and insults towards political parties, claiming the just position of God. I’d understand if it were about specific issues; abortion, the homeless, god in schools: these are all things any person certainly has a right to be angry and forward about.
I’ve seen individuals AND churches give rants on the evils of political parties because of differing views on taxes. How is this becoming of a circle of believers? How does this fit the title of Christian: “little Christ”?
Hate and isolation are not just present in churches; they run rampant… and it’s only a secret to the church.
I don’t go to church anymore because the most disgustingly angry and hateful people I meet are churchgoing Christians. I don’t go to church because I don’t need politics in my God. I don’t go to church because I don’t want to be told to hate a type of person.
I don’t go to church because I love God more than myself, and I can’t find a church that acts that way.
I wish this were the only person I have had this conversation with. I wish that this was just the story of one bad experience, with one church that is missing the mark.
But it isn’t.
The reason that journalists are allowed to get away with the laziness that Tally spoke of is because this is how the world views the church…
My motivation for writing the original post was not to beat up on the church, but to encourage the church to take responsibility for the reputation that we have developed… and embrace the effort it will take to change it.
How do we do this?
- Humbly Own Our Mistakes. The church has made some missteps through the years. While your particular flavor of Christianity may not have taken the lead on protesting soldier’s funerals, fighting to maintain the status quo in regards to civil rights, or the crusades, the truth is that much has happened in the name of Jesus that I don’t know that Jesus is all that excited about. We have been made out to be stubborn neanderthal hate mongers… nothing would work to undermine that assumption more than apologizing for our bad behavior, and the bad behavior of our brothers and sisters.
- Partner On The Common Ground. During my time at The Garden Community of Baltimore we embraced what we called “shoulder to shoulder” ministry. While we took part of our fair share of the more traditional “face to face” type ministries: meeting needs, spiritual conversations, and the like, the linchpin of our success was inviting those who were spiritually unresolved to serve the community alongside of us. Working with others afforded us the opportunity to develop some great relationships, meet the needs of the community, and be recognized as an asset to our community. This also allowed those that the “lazy journalists” would portray as our enemies to know who we really were, and what we were really about. These relationships allowed me to witness some amazing conversations on our behalf… and some unlikely defenders. Linking arms with others in the pursuit of common ground issues will go a long way towards ending the myth that we are all about hate and isolation… and give us some unlikely advocates.
- Disagree In Love. The 24 hour news cycle and the advent of talk radio and all news television networks has greatly reduced the amount of civility in our culture. Whereas labels like heretic, outside orthodoxy, and unAmerican were once reserved as a last resort method used sparingly after much prayer, discussion, and contemplation, it would seem that these days we skip to the end and start with the labels. The church needs to lead the way in this, and needs to realize that there is a difference between loving those with whom we disagree and admitting defeat. In fact, it may be beneficial for us to stop approaching disagreements as contests that need to be won.
Matt Steen loves seeing the church thrive. Currently serving as a Church Concierge with Church Simple, Matt has served as an executive pastor, youth pastor, and planted a church in Baltimore. Matt lives on Long Island with his wife Theresa where he secretly leads a resistance movement against the New York Yankees (this might be the Orioles year… or not). You can follow Matt on twitter (@matt_steen) or at ChurchThought.