Tag: they like jesus but not the church

Sermon: Criticism – Why Don’t They Like Us Anymore?

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow.  It’s the sixth in  the series, “Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces.”  I hope your day is wonderful!

Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces
#6 — Criticism: Why Don’t They Like Us Anymore?

Matthew 10:5-16
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[b]drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

11“Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

The End of The World As We Know It

I grew up during the golden age of Southern Baptist life.  I was five when the Southern Baptist Convention launched the ambitious outreach and evangelism program called “A Million More in ’54.”  Although we didn’t add 1-million new members that year, Southern Baptists added almost three-quarters of a million, the highest number of new members our denomination had added to that point.

But Southern Baptists weren’t the only ones benefitting from the post-war baby boom.  Just about every major denomination started new churches in the new suburban communities springing up across our nation.  As America fell in love with the automobile, families could drive to the church of their choice, not just their local neighborhood church within walking distance.

Robert Schuller saw the mobility the automobile created and opened his drive-in church in at the Orange Drive-in Theater in Garden Grove, California in 1955.  America was a nation on the move, and on Sundays the nation piled in the family station wagon for the trip to church.  Church nurseries overflowed with baby boomer kids, and churches quickly added lots of programs for children.

I’m a good example.  Before I was born, Cradle Roll workers from First Baptist Church in Griffin, Georgia had enrolled me in the Cradle Roll.  Upon my arrival, I started going to church in the Nursery Department, then moved up to the Beginner Department during my preschool years.

I went to Sunbeams, a mission organization for kids that met on Wednesday afternoons at our church.  I sang in the children’s choir, went to the Junior Department in Sunday School as I got older, and then when I became a teenager, graduated into the Young People’s department, the youth choir, and all the other activities there were for teens at that time.

But something changed beginning in the 1960s.  Perhaps it was the Civil Rights struggle, or the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, or the Viet Nam war in the decades of the 1960s and 70s.  Perhaps the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy contributed to the loss of innocence in America.  The resignation of President Richard Nixon for the crimes of Watergate seemed to seal20-years of disappointments and loss of confidence in America’s institutions.

Church wasn’t immune to that loss of confidence.  In 1961, theologian Gabriel Vahanian published his book, The Death of God.  In it, Vahanian argued that “modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, lacking any sacramental meaning, no transcendental purpose or sense of providence. He concluded that for the modern mind “God is dead”. — Wikipedia, “Death of God theological movement”

The April 8, 1966 cover of Time magazine picked up on the “God is Dead” theme, and suddenly all of America realized that everything we had taken for granted about church and faith in the 1950s no longer worked in the 1960s. And no institution was spared critical review, including marriage and the family.  The women’s movement that had emerged in the early part of the 20th century which secured women the right to vote, reinvented itself in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s.

Then along came the hippies, and the youth culture of Haight Asbury, Woodstock, the anti-Viet Nam war protests, civil disobedience in the streets, and a nation divided over the trustworthiness of its core institutions — government, education, business, home, and church.

The Results We Live With

After the turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s, America turned in new directions.  In government we turned from the big government programs of FDR, to the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.  In education, we turned from liberal arts to computer science because that’s where the jobs were.  In business, we turned from staid blue chip companies to the risk-taking financiers of Wall Street. In home life we became a nation of two-paycheck families. And at church, we slowly discontinued the programs of the 1950s, and began a soul-searching quest for a more authentic relationship with God.

The most popular Christian book of the 1970s was a little paperback titled, How To Be A Christian Without Being Religious.  While well-intentioned, the author, Fritz Ridenour, inadvertently gave readers permission to seek fulfillment of their spiritual lives outside the institution of the church. And thus began the noticeable decline in church membership and attendance.

Church attendance, down from a reported high of 40% of the population in the 1950s, now struggles to reach 17%.  According to David T. Olson’s book, The American Church In Crisis, church attendance will continue to decline until U. S. church attendance approximates that of Europe — about 7% of the population.

What happened?  How did church fall out of favor with the American public?  Why did a generation of kids who grew up singing “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam” fail to pass on those happy childhood memories to their children and their grandchildren?  How did we, in less than 50 years, change from being a nation where almost everybody went to church, to becoming a nation where less than 1-in-5 darkens the church house door today?

In other words, why don’t they like us anymore?

What “They” Are Saying About The Church

Church is no longer the place to be, or the organization to belong to.  Young people especially see little need for church.  Jeffrey Arnett, professor at Clark University, studies “emerging adults” — adults 18-29.  While “a strong majority of emerging adults believes that God or some higher power watches over them and guides their lives,”….”participating in a religious institution is unimportant to most of them.”  Emerging Adulthood, p. 167

Several books in the past 4 years have addressed the problem of what people don’t like about the church.

George Barna’s book, Revolution, is subtitled “Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond The Walls of the Sanctuary.”  The book documents the amazing rise of house churches, and other informal networks of Christians who have abandoned the institutional church for a freer, more personal faith community.

Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, is a case-study of several young adults Kimball interviewed.  Basically, they consider themselves to be spiritual, but not religious — just like our famous book from the 1970s.  But here’s what they don’t like about the church.  These are the actual chapter titles in Kimball’s book  —

  • The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
  • The church is judgmental and negative.
  • The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
  • The church is homophobic (meaning, the church fears and/or hates homosexuals)
  • The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
  • The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

Quite an indictment, but we have to plead guilty to much of what these young adults say about us and those like us.

In the same year that Kimball’s book came out in 2007, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published their book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…And Why It Matters. Listen to the chapter titles in unChristian.  Have you heard this before?

  • Hypocritical
  • Get Saved!
  • Antihomosexual
  • Sheltered
  • Too Political
  • Judgmental

Sounds pretty much like Kimball’s book, doesn’t it.  Yet unChristian was compiled from surveys of hundreds of young adults, not just interviews with a handful.  As they say at NASA, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

What We’ve Done Wrong and How We Can Fix It

If the church is to reach this new generation, we must listen to their perceptions of what we have done, and fix what is wrong.  Rather than seeking the halls of power, we need to serve the “least of these.”

Rather than being judgmental and negative, we need to get back to telling the “good news.”  The reason it’s called the good news is because it’s…well, good news.  Not judgmental news, not critical news, not “I’m going to tell you what you’re doing wrong news.”  It’s called the good news — the euangelion — because it is a good message from God to God’s creation.

Rather than being a “good ole boy” fraternity, the church must embrace the words of the Apostle Paul, that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And, rather than have individual churches where everyone looks alike, we need to seek diversity in our community not only of gender, but of class, and ethnicity.

In other words, we need to live into the promise of Revelation — “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

In this process, the church, and I’m including our church here, will have to deal with difficult issues.  Young people today see nothing wrong with those who are homosexual, those who engage in intimate relationships before marriage, or those who live alternative lifestyles.  While the church must remain “a contrast community” in an unbelieving world, our attitudes towards others who are different in lifestyle, ethnicity, cultural background, economics, education, and class must first of all reflect God’s love, not our own bias.

When Jesus sent the disciples on their first solo journey, he did so with careful instruction.  One of his comments to them was, “Be as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves.”  That’s our task today, to be wise in how we deal with those who do not know Christ, and harmless in our encounters with them.

Like The Man Who Planted Trees

I ran across a wonderful animated film this week based on the short story by Jean Giono titled, The Man Who Planted Trees. Giono tells the story of a young man in 1913, who while on an extended hike through desolate countryside, becomes desparate to find water.  Passing an abandoned village, he finds the well there dry.  He continues to walk until he sees figure in the distance.  Hoping for help and water, the young man approaches this figure, a shepherd with his flock high in the hills of this scruffy, hilly terrain.

The shepherd offers him water, invites him to his home for supper.  There the young man learns that the shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier, has lost both his only son and his wife.  He has taken to this remote, barren wilderness for solitude and peace.

After dinner, the young man notices Elzeard take a bag of acorns, empty them out on the table, and begin to examine each one carefully.  He discards some, but then groups the rest into groups of 10, until he has 100 acorns.  These he places back in the bag, and then places the bag in a pot of water to soak overnight.

The next day, our young man follows Elzeard as he leads his herd back up into the hills.  But, leaving the flock to the guidance of his dog, Elzeard takes his iron walking stick, and begins to poke holes in the ground in regular intervals.  Into each hole, he places one acorn.  Elzeard explains to the young man, who has now joined him in his work, that since he lost his wife and son, he has devoted himself to restoring the land.  The problem, he says, is a lack of trees.

Elzeard says he has planted 100,000 acorns in the past 3 years.  Of those, most did not make it.  Of the approximately 20,000 that did, disease, drought, and animals took half.  So, 10,000 trees have begun to spring up through the soil as tender oak saplings.

The young man leaves the region, spends 5 years in the infantry in World War I, but then returns to see how Elzeard has survived the war.   Amazed at the green mist that appears to float over the hillsides, the young man realizes as he approaches that these are the trees Elzear planted, now larger than he is.

The young man commented, “I never saw him waver or doubt, though God alone can tell when God’s own hand is in a thing.”

For the sake of time, I’ll skip forward to 1933, when a government forestry man happens upon this valley of forest, now about 7-miles long and 3-miles wide.  Astounded at the “spontaneous growth” of the forest where previously there had been nothing, the forestry man cautions Elzeard not to build any open fires because they might endanger “the natural forest.”

In 1935, a delegation of government officials arrives to see the first-known example of a forest spontaneously replanting itself.  Now, not only are the trees towering 20-30 feet in the air, smaller plants have filled in the forest floor, wild life has returned, the winds have scattered seeds into new meadows that are blooming with wild flowers.  Even the politicians are amazed.  Speeches are made, and the speech-makers talk of all that needs to be done.

Fortunately, nothing is done except the government decree that declares the forest a protected reserve, and bans charcoal-making from its wood.

More time passes, and our young man, now in his 50s, finds Elzeard for the last time in 1945.  Another war has come and gone, but Elzeard, now 87, sees the fruit of his labors of the past 30-plus years.  A bus now makes regular trips to the valley, bringing visitors and new residents to the once-abandoned village of Vergons.

The village fountain is flowing again, and young families with small children have torn down the old houses and built new sturdy houses with brightly-colored gardens.  Groups of villagers walk the forest paths, greeting each other as their children run circles around their parents.  Farmhouses dot the countryside where farmers raise livestock, grown lush fields of vegetables, and live quiet and peaceful lives.

All because one man decided to plant some trees.  The story goes that Elzeard Bouffier died in 1947, content that he had done what his heart led him to do.

We who are followers of Christ need to be like people who plant trees, not people who seek power.  Because it is in our work with God, not our work for God, that we will win the hearts of those who may not even know that there used to be a desert where now the tall trees grow.

Zogby: Small, real churches are the future

Today I bought pollster John Zogby’s new book, The Way We’ll Be, subtitled, The Zogby Report on The Transformation of the American Dream. Called a “super pollster” because he uses innovative methodologies in his polling work, Zogby sees a very different future for the US than you might imagine.  Here’s what he says about the future of the church:

“The church of the future will be a bungalow on Maple Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces.  It’s intimacy of experience people long for, not production values.” — The Way We’ll Be, p. 215.

In a previous chapter, “One True Thing,”  Zogby says that people are “searching for authenticity in a make-believe world.” That’s what will drive the tremendous growth of house churches in the coming years, especially among the demographic he calls ‘First Globals” which others label Millenials.   Zogby quotes one house church enthusiast, “What is so exciting about doing small-group house church is just the chance to be real.”  Authenticity, not high production values, is what First Globals are seeking.

If you want an excellent book to give you a professional pollster’s take on where we’re headed as a nation, especially in understanding First Globals (Millenials), buy Zogby’s book.  If you’ve read unChristian or They Like Jesus But Not the Church, you need to read this book, too.  Add to your reading Strauss and Howe’s books on Millenials such as Generations, The Fourth Turning, and Millenials and the Pop Culture, and you’ll be well on your way to understanding developing trends in our society.

Changing the story

Seth Godin has an excellent post on marketing in a recession. His point is this:

“When times are good, buyingSeth Godin things is a sport. It’s a reward. The story we tell ourselves is that we deserve it, that we want it and why not?

When the mass psychology changes and times are seen as not so good, the story we tell ourselves changes as well. Now, we buy out of defense, to avoid trouble. Or we buy because something will never be as cheap again. Or we buy smaller items for the same sense of reward.

Of course, the two different extremes can lead you to buy the very same thing. It’s not the thing so much as it’s the story.” — Seth Godin

What does this have to do with church? We’re in the story business.   We need to tell the story of God so those who hear it change the story they tell themselves about God. Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, has some clues for us.  But here are some examples of how we can help others change the story they tell themselves:

  1. Their story: “The church doesn’t respect other points of view.” Change this story by actually getting to know some non-church people, not to get them to come to church, but just to be their friend. Listen to them, treat them with respect, back off on the hard-sell, and hear what they are saying. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen until you can understand their viewpoint.
  2. Their story: “The church is only interested in me for my money, time, etc.” We are guilty of this often. We see people as prospects, potential church members. What if we saw and related to them as people? Period. What if we served with no thought of anything that might benefit us or our ministry?
  3. Their story: “I don’t need God. I can handle life on my own.”  Here I would tell my story. I’m glad they can handle life, but I find God’s direction, guidance, and purpose to be essential to living my life. No argument, no debate — just two people telling their stories to each other.

The old approach to evangelism was a sales pitch — present the gospel, ask for a commitment, overcome objections, close the deal.   A better way is for the other person to change the story they tell themselves; then, they’re open to finding a new story. Maybe the one you’ve found. What do you think? Is this too indirect? Any experiences to share with helping people change the story they tell themselves?

Faith Puts You In Your Place

Faith Puts You In Your Place (mp3)

Luke 18:9-14

The Great Dizzy Dean

When I was a kid, which was a long time ago, our little TV set picked up three channels — NBC, CBS, and ABC. On Saturday afternoon, in addition to the Army’s Big Picture, The Baseball Game of the Week came on. Now that doesn’t sound like such a big deal because you can see baseball just about any day of the week now. But that was long before cable, and long before Ted Turner started televising all the Braves games.

The commentators for The Game of the Week each Saturday were Pee Wee Reese, former shortstop for the Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and Dizzy Dean, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for The St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Pee Wee was the play-by-play guy, and Ol’ Diz was the “color” commentator. And was he colorful. Jerome Hanna Dean was from Mississippi, and slaughtered the King’s English. The St. Louis Board of Education tried to have Dizzy pulled off the air, and the commissioner of baseball once said that Dizzy Dean wasn’t fit to be a broadcsast announcer. To which Dizzy replied, “Let the teachers teach English and I will teach baseball. There is a lot of people in the United States who say ‘isn’t’ and they ain’t eating.”

To go with his horrendous butchery of the English language was an ego the size of, well, Mississippi. He once said, “Anybody who’s ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world.” But the quote I like most is what Dizzy said after someone accused him of bragging. “Podnuh, it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up,” Dizzy replied.

Confident of Their Own Righteousness

We’re amused at the confidence Dizzy Dean had in his baseball ability. But in Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus has a word for those who are confident of their own righteousness. And it’s not a good word, either. I can imagine that after Jesus told the story of the persistent widow, the purpose of which was to say that “they should always pray and not give up,” I am sure there were some smug Pharisees standing there who were giving Jesus the equivalent of a first century, “Amen, brother.” Followed, I am sure, by their pronouncements about how much and how often they prayed.

“Why,” one Pharisee might have said, “I’m down at the Temple three times a day praying. Not like those merchants who refuse to close their stalls and take time to pray.”

Another chimed in, “That’s right, and I’m right with him. We always pray. We don’t ever quit praying like some around here.”

I imagine at this point, Jesus just smiled and said, “Let me tell you a story.”

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now, Jesus wasn’t being rude to our imaginary Pharisees who were bragging on their prayer life. No, he was just pointing out that being proud of our spiritual practices — like praying, going to church, giving — is not the right attitude. But, in Jesus’ day, there was absolutely nothing wrong with public displays of piety. It was expected. So, the leading Pharisees made a big show of praying publicly and loudly, or dropping their offerings in the Temple collection jars with great fanfare, and of generally informing everyone within earshot of their faithful devotion. After all, isn’t that what God wanted?

On the other hand, there were a whole group of folks who couldn’t brag about their righteousness, because they couldn’t measure up. The shepherds were one group. The shepherds were considered “not righteous” because they had to tend the flocks. They couldn’t rush to the Temple three times a day. Plus, they were dirty (after all they slept out with the sheep), and certainly not ceremonially clean. That’s why the shepherds are “out in the fields” when Jesus is born. That’s why it’s such a big deal that shepherds appear at the birth of the King of Kings.

Of course, shepherds weren’t the only unrighteous Jews. Tax collectors were also among this despised lot. Tax collectors were hated by everyone. They were dishonest, first of all, because the tax collector made his fortune by charging more than the real tax he was supposed to collect. This usually showed up as interest, or penalty, or some other fabricated charge, all to line the tax collector’s pocket. Plus, the tax collectors were the enforcement arm of both Herod and Rome. They were collaborators, to use the language of World War II. They were traitors to their own people, and in league with the hated Roman empire.

So, it’s significant when Jesus calls a tax collector to “come and follow me” as he does with Matthew. And, one of our favorite stories of Jesus is the story of Zacchaeus, a short tax collector, who wants to see Jesus so badly that he climbs up in a what? — sycamore tree — just to get a glimpse of Jesus, this amazing rabbi that he’s heard about. Little does he know that Jesus will spot him, call him down from the tree, and go home to dinner with him that day. And Zacchaeus will be changed. He’ll become a follower. He’ll become honest. He’ll refund money that he cheated folks out of. And, of course, the Pharisees will spread the word about Jesus, “He eats with tax collectors and sinners.”

The point that Jesus makes by doing all this is — “Don’t brag about your own, self-made righteousness. Be humble before God. Then, God will lift you up.”

Some Thoughts About Humility

Now, of course, even in our culture, humility is a good thing. I remember being told by my mother, not to brag about something I was proud of. “Don’t toot your own horn” was the instruction all mothers gave to their children. And, even today, children are still encouraged to be humble. I was looking at an education site for teachers of 3-to-7 year-olds the other day. The lessons were on respect and humility. And they even had some catchy little rhymes to help the kids understand the concept of humilty —

Others are good,
And so am I!
When we’ve listened to each other,
We’ll have some pie!

He is smart,
And so is she,
And all us smart ones
Can sit in a tree!

I can feel good,
Even when you brag,
Because I know,
You’re not a cad!

Okay, so maybe this isn’t great poety, but the point is to help the kids realize that humility is a good thing, even if others aren’t humble.

But, in case you think that humility is just a childish idea, Jim Collins, in his groundbreaking book, Good to Great, identified humility as one of the leading traits in what he calls Level 5 leaders. Level 5 leaders are those who took average companies — companies that were “good” — and turned them into “great” companies that sustained their greatness over an extended period of time. Not just a flash-in-the-pan success, in other words.

“James C. Collins loves to tell the story of Darwin E. Smith, someone most readers have probably never heard of. As Smith was ending two decades at the helm of Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kleenex and other personal-use paper products, he was asked what had driven him, what had he done to make his company so successful over time.

“I was just trying to become qualified for the job,” Collins quotes Smith as saying.

Smith’s statement is at the heart of Collins’ latest management study, which finds that leaders of great companies have genuine humility and self-doubt but also the singular drive to make their companies succeed.” Published: June 20, 2001 in Knowledge@Wharton

Collins went on to say —

“We looked at a factor we called the Window and the Mirror,” he said, noting that Level 5 executives tended to look in the mirror and blame themselves for mistakes. But when things were good, they would look out the window and either proclaim how everyone in the company was wonderful or how factors of fortune caused success. When he asked Circuit City’s Wurtzel about his company’s success, Wurtzel replied that 80 to 100% of it was that “the wind was at our backs.” Collins faxed him charts showing how much better his company did than others in the field. “I told him they all had the same wind,” said Collins. ” ‘Gee,’ was his response. ‘We must have been really lucky.’”

“Yet most people don’t appreciate how lucky they are to have Level 5s among them. “We live in a culture that doesn’t pick Level 5s as subjects of admiration,” said Collins. “We pay attention to the 4s.” And that’s unfortunate for the business world, as well as the world at large.  It’s important, Collins added, not to settle just for good leadership, but to strive in every field for greatness.”

— Published: June 20, 2001 in Knowledge@Wharton

So, even in the business world, humility is a trait of great leadership. And, humility is not just a personal characteristic. Humility is vital to groups of people, like countries and organizations and even churches.

Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, has written a book titled, They Like Jesus But Not The Church. The book is the result of Kimball’s years as a youth pastor, and now pastor, engaging people outside the church in conversation. Especially young people.  And, here are the objections that teens and young adults have toward evangelical churches now —

  1. The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
  2. The church is judgmental and negative.
  3. The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
  4. The church is homophobic.
  5. The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
  6. The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole bible literally. (From They Like Jesus But Not The Church, Contents pg.)

Listen to Maya, a 27-year old hairstylist —

I actually would want to be told if I am doing something that God wouldn’t like me to do. I want to become a better person and be more like Jesus. But that isn’t how it feels coming form Christians and the church. It feels more like they are trying to shame you and control you into their way of thinking and personal opinions about what is right and wrong, rather than it being about becoming more like Jesus and a more loving human being. — They Like Jesus But Not The Church, pg 104

And Maya is not alone. Jenine, a mother and small business owner, said —

I did grow up in a church, but now I am a Buddhist. When I became a mother, I wanted my daughter to have a spiritual upbringing. However, I didn’t want her to become like the Christians in the church I knew. They were always so negative adn complaining about everything, and I wanted my daughter to be in a positive environment. I became a Buddhist since they are much more loving and peaceful people than those in the church. — They Like Jesus…, pg 96

Ouch. That hurts. Now, if you’re thinking — “Well, that’s a bunch of hippies in California. What do they know?” I’ve got more bad news for you. David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons have just come out with a new book titled, unChristian: What A New Generation Thinks About Christianity…Any Why It Matters. The Barna Group is kind of the Gallup Poll for evangelical Christians. Kinnaman and Lyons spent three years surveying and interviewing hundreds of young adults, 16-29 years old. Here’s what they found —

As the generations get younger, fewer are involved in church or embrace Christianity. They are “outsiders” as follows:

    • 61yrs+: 23% are outsiders.
    • 42-60: 27% are outsiders.
    • 16-29: 40% are outsiders to the faith.
  • 16-29 year olds feel the church is —
    • Hypocritical
    • Too focused on getting converts
    • Anti homosexual
    • Sheltered
    • Too political
    • Judgmental

Sounds like Dan Kimball’s book doesn’t it? The biggest complaint, according to Kinnaman and Lyons, among 16-29 year old is that the church is ARROGANT. Imagine that…the church founded by the humble carpenter from Nazareth has turned into an arrogant caricature of itself.

A Modern Day Parable

If we reframe the time for Jesus parable, bringing into the 21st century, we might hear the following:

“Two people went up to church one Sunday, one a born-again, evangelical Christian leader who pastored a large megachurch; the other, a young businessman who was forced to compromise his convictions just to keep his job.”

“The pastor stood up and prayed about himself: Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people — people who aren’t as blessed as I am. I’ve read the Bible through 10 times, I go to church 4 times a week, I give a lot to the church, and people admire me. Young preachers want to grow up to be just like me. I’m successful, well-known, in-demand as a speaker. Oh, and thanks for letting me get my new book published this spring.”

“The young businessman sat alone in the back of the sanctuary, and would not even look up. Head in his hands, he prayed silently, “Lord, help me. My life’s a mess. I compromise my principles. I need this job, but I’m so miserable. Help me. Have mercy on me.”

Jesus might say — “I tell you that the businessman, rather than the preacher, went home right with God that day. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Mind Of Christ and the Mercy of God

Paul said,

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   — Philippians 2:5-11

If we want to be like Jesus, if we want to have the mind of Christ, it all starts with humility. And seeing our humility, God says, “I love you. I love you just as you, where you are. I love you so much that I gave my Son, everything that I loved, so that you might sit where He sits — in my presence.”

Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Faith, interviewed Charles Templeton. Templeton was one of Billy Graham’s contemporaries in the early days of Graham’s ministry. He was a powerful preacher and evangelist like Graham, but ended up doubting his faith, and leaving the ministry. In addition to that, Templeton wrote a book titled, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

When Strobel interviewed Templeton, he asked him his opinion of Jesus. Templeton responded, “In my view he is the most important human being who ever existed….He had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus.” 

 Then, he paused and said, “And if I may put it this way, I…miss…him.” With that tears flooded his eyes and he shielded his face, Strobel said, as his shoulder shook with sobs. (They Like Jesus…pg 57)

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sermon for Sunday, Oct 28

I’ve just posted my sermon for Sunday, October 28, 2007.  The title is Faith Puts You in Your Place and the lectionary text is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18:9-14.  Have a great day Sunday!