Becoming trendy for the Gospel
Doesn't actually work, because that's not what Jesus said. The call to sacrifice just might. By Michael Shaw
When I arrived at University 25 years ago, as a young, fresh, undergraduate, I thought the best way to witness to Jesus was to make him cool, by being cool myself. I am not sure how I thought this tactic would work, as I was (and still am) a cricket-loving folkie, with bad dress sense and an even worse haircut (actually thanks to nature the haircut has got better, because of an increasing lack of actual hair). I thought that if I could dispel the idea that Christians were un-cool that somehow this would draw people to Christ.
Wel,l sadly it did not work, and it will never work.
Just before the New Year I read an excellent post on the 24/7 Prayer website on why Jesus isn't instagrammable (is that even a word??). It's a simple blog on why our attempts to prove ourselves to be cool will not and do not work.
The ideas of the blog of "climbing big mountains with worship music in your ears; or white water rafting while praying at the same time. Or... going to a new coffee shop across town to read the Bible with a skinny flat white," may sound cool, hipster-style things that we could or should be doing, but the article argues they ultimately they have missed the point because "Jesus actually told us it was going to be tough"!
A few years back I was listening to an Alpha talk where the speaker spoke of how he was not interested in Jesus, because he thought that becoming a Christian would prevent him from doing things he liked doing. However, after an Alpha course he discovered that he could still do all the things he used to love, but this time as a Christian (a nice addition to his already happy life). While in many ways there does not seem anything too bad in that, it is symptomatic of our age that we don't want Jesus to truly impact our lives, we don't actually want to carry a cross, we want all the bits of Christianity that we like, but none of the stuff that make it hard.
Jesus was never afraid to make it hard, and the story of the Rich Young Man is a classic example. What would you have said if that young man approached you with the same question "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Would you be prepared to say to him that he may have to lose everything he loves in order to follow Christ?
We have tried to make a Christianity without sacrifice, we have tried to make disciples without discipline and we are so keen to make Christianity cool, on trend, easy. But Jesus said "If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it." It is sadly not a trendy, cool thing to say, but Jesus was never up for making the life he was calling people to trendy or cool.
Jesus warns us to count the cost, he talks about how we must be prepared to give up our friends and family for the sake of the Gospel, he tells fishermen to leave their boats, farmers to leave the plough, children to leave their dead fathers. Jesus is fundamentally uncool, untrendy and difficult to follow.
I wonder if rather than trying to follow culture, which prizes the trendy things of this world (the latest gadget, the latest haircut, the latest fashion trend, the latest celebrity) which are here today and gone tomorrow, we need to offer something that is timeless, true and tested, the Gospel that promises a full life, but not a cool life, not an easy life and not a on-trend life.
That starts with saying what Jesus himself said - that we need to take up a cross, and that may affect the way we live our lives - this may prompt questions that do actually lead people to Christ.
Picture: Elevation Church
The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth