Over the weekend I was tripping about in my car and I heard an advertisement that went something like “Thank you Jesus for cricket” and then in a range of voices thanking Jesus for sunny days, for healing aunty, for the snooze button. It went on for a while with mostly trivial and self-serving thank you points. A voice over then said “If you are thankful to Jesus for anything then go to (website named) and put your thanks on the list and find out more about how you can be involved in (well publicised and expensive church sponsored program running at present)”. I felt sick.
Here are churches spending huge amounts of money to connect with people and encourage them to think about the Christian life and the best they can do is pander to the Santa Clause image of God that most people seem to have.
I know enough about evangelism that you have to scratch where people are itching and to commence the conversation at the point where people ahve some sense of belief/understanding; but this is ridiculous!
The problem here is that we are so identifying with the predominant cultural view of self interest and consumerism and with the dominant narrow understanding (outside and inside the church) about what a relationship with Jesus means that we are at a grave risk of reinforcing that an inadequate understanding of the demands of discipleship.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not about “me” at all.
It is about the purposes of God and how I might find my place through joining my life to the life and purposes of God — whether that is fun for me or not. It is about finding joy in service and not in receiving. It is to be found in giving my life away — to be under the reign of God — not claiming God for my purposes.
Someone will tell me that I should not judge this project by one advertisement. I will investigate the website in the hope I find something about the folly of the cross and the call to take up a cross of self abandonment. But what message will be left with people who don’t go to the (hopefully) authentic message and are left with the cheap misrepresentative “bait” thrown out by the advertising line? I fear they will be left with the wrong impression about the life that Jesus is all about.
This misunderstanding of discipleship is rife in the church.
A few years ago the Assembly put out a paper called A Church of Passionate Disciples in which it explored the nature of Church membership and how that might be expressed in terms of the changing cultural context in Australia.
The report to the Assembly Standing Committee indicated that the responses showed an alarming range of views that were far from the traditional understanding of what membership required. There were people who thought no commitment was needed, i.e. “We are being too legalistic to expect people to indicate their commitment in a public way”. There were people who thought that any requirement to commitment might put people off and was unnecessary, i.e. “God loves everybody”.
A large number thought of faith as a personal matter and that to call people to membership of a church was unnecessary, i.e. “No one church is the Church so we should be ecumenical and not expect people to sign on to the UCA.”
Everywhere people, including leaders in our church, seem to have forgotten the four “C’s” of discipleship — Christ, commitment, costliness and community.
We do so at our peril. I am reminded of the charismatically inclined UCA Minister who lamented, “Everyone says ‘fill me Jesus, fill me’ but I do not hear enough saying ’empty me Jesus, empty me.'” It also reminds me of a hymn that never made it into Together in Song (AHB 130) but maybe that is a story for another time.
First printed in Assembly Update October 2009