Discomfort with the comfort
The way young adults are re-thinking how they connect to church highlights how mundane it has become. Let's simplify our faith and focus on what is real and true, writes Michael Shaw
I am a chaplain at the local university, and because of that I am on the Christian Union Facebook group. As well as information about various mid-week meetings, I also see a lot of prayer requests, messages about people they have spoken to about Jesus, links to favourite worship songs etc. The enthusiasm for Christ of these young people is infectious and exciting.
But recently I have had a number of conversations with people who are no longer student age, have grown up, got married, got jobs and both have started to ask questions – what is the church stuff all about? What is the point? Why does worship no longer have any effect on me anymore? Am I even a Christian?
To be honest, I struggle to answer these questions, on a number of occasions my wife and I have been walking home from church and she has asked “What was that all about then?” and my reply is “I don’t think I know anymore!”
That might be a good conversation coming from someone in the congregation, but these are services I have been leading!
While I love the infectious enthusiasm of the young students, they live in a unique bubble that will never be reflected in the rest of their lives. As our lives move forward we begin to ask deeper questions about what church is about.
The problem is that of those people I have spoken to, none are part of my church, they are in other churches in the city. In many ways, they did not want to talk with their own church leaders because of the fear they may be considered problem people, or back sliders. They also feel that they are the only people who may be having these thoughts.
Now I don’t want to claim that people in my church are not feeling the same, but as their church leader they may not want to talk with me about it.
In many ways these issues are not new. The questions they raise are the same that have been asked over the years by Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, but they are considered by good solid evangelicals as dangerous liberals, Christians you cannot touch.
Indeed one of the people who spoke to me said I thought of you because you are a “bit of a liberal”. As we spoke I explained that far from being a liberal, I am very conservative, in the sense that I believe in Jesus as a real person, conceived to a virgin, who did miraculous signs – as well as saying controversial things – who died on the cross, was buried and raised. In that sense I am conservative.
we have lost that sense of doing something radical and new and vibrant
What I do not believe is that the way we have done church has reflected the pattern that Jesus encouraged us to follow; the way we have sidelined women; alienated the people we disagree with; rather than fighting for peace, we have justified war; rather than speaking truth to power, we have become the powerful; we have found ourselves going down cul de sacs like dispensationalism, Zionism and Word of Faith theologies; rather than seeing people set free from the power of sin, to live the lives they were created for, in relation to the creator that gives them fullness through forgiveness and the opportunity of repentance and salvation from sin (death) and for life.
The Satan (who I believe in) has worked out a tactic that has nullified and neutralised the effectiveness of the church: he has made the church ordinary, run of the mill.
When the disciples left their nets and their father to follow Christ, they were young people looking for an adventure, and although it took a path they never predicted or expected, they maintained that sense of adventure. It became dangerous and all but one lost their lives, but it never stopped being exciting.
We have lost that, we have lost that sense of doing something radical and new and vibrant.
We make choices that everyone else does, the postcodes we choose to live in, the houses we opt to buy or rent, the schools we send our children too; they are no different from what most other people aspire to. Then we wonder why nobody asks us the difference Jesus makes in our lives.
Rather than living downwardly mobile lives (Philippians 2:1-11), we have followed the World to live upwardly mobile ones. Then we start asking questions about why our Christian lives are so mundane, then we blame church, because it does not offer anything different, even though we have chosen a church that does not look to challenge and test our faith; big churches, playing the same worship songs with sermons that are “theologically” rich, but lack any challenge to change the way we live. Then we blame church and start to wonder whether we are Christian at all.
So what can we do? Simple, we need to simplify our faith. We need to get rid of all the fluff, and focus on what is real, and true.
These things are hard. The rich young ruler met Jesus, he was a good Jew, he had obeyed all the commandments, but he could not give up the trappings, the comforts, which both complicated his life and held him back. He left sad.
Our churches are full of Rich Young Rulers, some of whom will walk away sad, some because they will never be truly challenged to give up that stuff.
The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth
Image: Elevation Church