Don’t hate the player; hate the game is a common phrase most of us have heard. It’s a pretty simple concept really. Don’t hate what someone does; hate the structure that allows them to do it.
In pondering this thought I came to the sad conclusion that in my perspective the question we need to ask is no longer is the Church effective, but rather, why isn’t it effective? Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, and there are some “small c” churches having positive impacts within their community. However on a global scale, looking at the Macro of Christianity we are seeing an opposite trend. Churches are shrinking, rural churches are closing and we are seeing a mass exodus from our organizations within the 15-30 year old age bracket. So why? I could hate all of the people leaving and be angry that they aren’t playing the game with me but I suspect we as leaders need to take a look at ourselves. Why are people leaving? Why are our churches not impacting our communities? Would people around our church buildings care if the building burnt down?
Recently Jeff Bethke put out a video that the Christian world has been up in arms about. As per usual, and again there is always exceptions to the rules (Claiborne, Mother Teresa etc.), we have decided to miss the heart of the message and focus on semantics. Instead of being challenged to see the heart of Christ we’ve focused on defending something Christ didn’t defend.
Christ didn’t come to defend the structure, organization and politics necessary to be a member of a particular group that follows some of the teachings of God. He came to be a doctor to the sick (Matt.9:12). He came to love God and others. He came to serve.
Now we could talk about whether or not Religion is what we are called to be a part of but I would rather read the New Testament and do what it tells me to do.
“Once you see the kingdom (government) of Christ as a real kingdom (government), commitment to Christ becomes costly.”- NT Wright
The truth is I don’t think Jeff really cared about the exact definition of religion. Like most people of his generation he is simply redefining it by his experience. New words and definitions pop up all the time. His video was about the heart, not about a text book. Every church has processes that have little to do with Christ and faith. Religion is regulated by governments. The building and groups that are formed under each religious organization have to focus on governance or “unspiritual things” like memberships, voting, budgets, and keeping members happy so their bills are paid. I’ve heard pastors say, we need to have a service because we have bills to pay. I understand the heart of the comment, but the reality of it is we don’t believe that Christ has ordained the church enough to make sure it stays afloat and does what it’s supposed to. We as church goers often rely more on people than God, personally and corporately.
So do I hate Religion? Well, I hate that we have become comfortable in our organization of faith and are often more comfortable doing church activities and services than giving to the poor and laying our lives down to serve the least of us. I don’t like that church’s often ask their members to do hours of in house volunteering a week but rarely preach going out and making a difference.
Do I love Jesus? YES! But as I study his life more and more I realize that I have done a terrible job at following Him and being what He was for others. A friend, a helper, a servant! I’ve been good at following the PAOC’s rules and processes though.
When Jeff said, “The church is not a museum for good people, but a hospital for the broken”, I was challenged. When he said “Religion says slave, Jesus says son.” I broke. The truth is religion is an organization of things that try to bring us to Christ. Perhaps you just need to go to Him yourself. Don’t avoid community with saints; just make sure your community isn’t focusing on its own PR, internal volunteering and group POW WOWS.
As my good friend Paul said. “I still support the premise of what Jeff was getting at. Jesus came to shut down religion. That is if you define religion as: “Any reliance on systems or institutions, rules or rituals that people use to achieve their spiritual end-goal.” In that way, Jesus replaces religion with himself. Think about it: Jesus shuts down the sacrificial system, the temple system, the need for a priest, fulfills the law, and destroys nationalism.”
Believers, stop talking and debating semantics and theology and start doing what Christ called you too! If you read the life of Jesus, be afraid, you won’t look at your faith the same if you decide to actually pick up your cross and follow Him. I’ll warn you, your focus won’t be on nice ceremonies and services, how comfortable you are or how state of the art your church is. These are flesh things. For once in your walk trust that the Holy Spirit will speak louder than any fancy tool, sermon or ceremony you could ever have will. And before you invest in your structure, new building or what have you, think, would Jesus do this? Or maybe ask, would the poor and starving find Christ through this, or would the money be a better witness if it bought them food or shelter? Hope isn’t in the organization, it’s in JESUS. So I guess I answered my own questions.