THE CHALLENGE TO CHANGE
I remember it well, even though it actually was many years ago. Our family was going through a hard time, so I thought it would help and encourage us if we visited a midweek “prayer meeting” church service. Unfortunately I was wrong. The prayer time was mostly a boring mixture of gossip and discouragement. The rest of the time was spent discussing the plans for a new building. We left feeling angry and disappointed, as if we had gone to a fish fry and they were out of fish.However, this turned out to be the wake-up call that I needed, as I realized that this same kind of thing was happening to many people everywhere in this country. They walk in, they find nothing that relates to them, they walk out, and they never come back. Yet even today across this land there are pockets of faithful people who are still trying to hang on to the way they did it fifty years ago. They are dismayed over the fact that not as many people come out to the services any more. They think that people just don’t want God in their lives, that we are living in a hopelessly evil world, and that what we need is a “revival.”I would like to propose an alternate interpretation, if I may. I think that there are a lot of people who DO want God in their lives, but we will never have an “old-fashioned revival”, because the old ways of doing religion no longer communicate with most people. During our lifetime our culture, including the way people think, has changed.The problem is that somewhere along the way we took the Gospel message and mixed it up with our own nostalgia for the “good old days” of the brush arbor meetings, the fire and brimstone preachers, and the “come to church” mentality. Now we don’t know how to separate the two.
But separate the two we must! The Gospel was not meant to be locked in a time-warp with the way grandma used to do it! Thank God for all the things He used in the past, but if we want people to listen today, we must be willing to change the way we tell the story. We must tell it with our lives, our attitudes, and our practical service to others. We must throw away old churchy-sounding words that nobody uses any more. We must stop judging people, pressuring people, and shaming people. We must not be afraid to use “worldly” things such as movies and secular songs, because God is well able to speak His truth through all of these things!There are some, of course, who refuse to see this and will never change. I recently had to stop broadcasting on a religious radio station because my program was “too secular and too entertaining!” In my communicating with the audience I dared to refer to worldly events and non-religious songs and movies, rather than bore people with worn-out Christian clichés. But I think that the ostriches are running out of sand.If we are to reach the culture of today and tomorrow, our songs, our presentation, our vocabulary, and our methods must change. Furthermore, our theology itself needs to be tweaked a little. I have come to realize that God wants to do so much more with us than to just give us a “personal” salvation, or be a “personal savior” just for us to be ready to go to heaven when we die, or to avoid being “left behind” when He comes back! He has entrusted us with making this world a better place where the love of God can heal relationships and transform lives. “May your kingdom come, and your will be done, as it is in heaven, so on earth!”The fact that there is still so much hunger and homelessness and racism, neglect and abuse and needless suffering, is an indictment upon our “just be saved and be ready to die” theology. Jim Palmer in “Divine Nobodies”, upon discovering that nine and ten year old girls were being sold as sex-slaves in Thailand, asked God, “How could you let this happen?” And God said, “How could YOU let this happen?” The point is that we have been given resources to change things, and instead have built religious systems that are now falling down in a heap of irrelevance.I am ready to make a shocking recommendation for your consideration. Next week, instead of going to a midweek prayer meeting, get a friend to go with you to a coffee shop or a bar, and just “hang out” and listen to people’s stories. Show them that you care enough to really listen. Don’t be in a hurry to change them or “fix” them, but just show the love of Christ through your life and your attitude. It won’t be long before they ask you questions, and then you can tell them about your experiences of forgiveness and divine power in your life. Let God speak to them without pressure from you.Oh, and before you go, ask the good church folks, when they meet together, to also pray for you as you go. That will probably wake up their meeting, too!James Lee You can read more from James here: www.gracewriter.com