Surveys repeat the findings: people are intrigued with Jesus, but not so much with either his followers or his church. They view us as judgmental, legalistic, reactionary: that we want to impose our morality on them.
That’s not unlike the 60s, an often inflexible church unwilling to adapt to a changing world. I understand that—the era experienced an explosion of sexual immorality and drug use and overall moral relativism. The church continued medieval hymns as rock and roll took over the culture.
Yet in that milieu, the Jesus Movement erupted. Young and idealistic long hairs, searching for significance and something to commit to, fell in love with Jesus. They found churches who would accept them, like Calvary Chapel, Hope Chapel, the Vineyard, and a host of others. Over the next 40 years, they transformed the American church. We called them Jesus freaks for their freakish devotion to Jesus.
I see many similarities today. I teach high school and college, and the millennial generation has the most idealism since those 60s. Their sacrifice on mission trips astounds me. They have the practicality we never dreamed of. Our long hair has transformed into their tattoos. Yet, many are unconvinced about the church.
May I suggest we change our paradigm? We have tried to force Christian morality on the culture that once embraced it. We regret the loss, and validly. We’ve learned that God, as Creator, best knows what to do and what to not do. God’s norms of behavior aren’t arbitrary to assess our obedience, but to benefit us. But God allows us to ignore him and his laws. Yes, consequences come. But if we restore America to godly values, without them coming to a relationship with Jesus, we just have a better behaved group of sinners going to hell.
Very pragmatically, our methods of returning the cultural values to God aren’t working, either in bringing people to Jesus or getting them to accept those values. Let’s give that up in favor of something better.
He himself said mankind puts itself in one of two groups. Just two. Those who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, and those who do not. That’s essence of all that matters: “Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).
Pretty clear, isn’t it? Your moral values don’t matter, at the core. Your connection to Jesus does. Values will follow our connection to Jesus.
So, the new strategy (OK, it’s not totally new; I stole it all from Jesus). Let people see Jesus in you. Focus on that. Take time to build bridges with those who don’t know him. Sheila and I have dinner on occasion with neighbors; he used to ride with Hell’s Angels, and she says, “We’re not much into church.” But we like them. They seem to like us.
Don’t argue morality. Let the culture go the direction it’s chosen. Societies tend toward either self-correction or destruction. Hopefully ours will see the bad consequences (like many of my hippie and druggie friends from the 60s did) and realize God knows best. Best of all, if we make Jesus attractive, as he is by nature, then the outside behavior will change as the inside heart changes.
If a friend chooses a gay lifestyle, I hope I can love him just as much. More than his gay behavior, I most care that he comes to know Jesus. But trying to impose Christian morality on non Christians gets us sidetracked. Talk to them about how we all come to God as sinners then he begins the lifelong process of transforming us into his character.
Kick Starting the Application
Which do you focus on in relationships with unbelieving individuals and our post Christian culture? Reversing our cultural drift, or people knowing how gracious Jesus is? Have you looked more to one than the other?
What are you doing to graciously interact with those who don’t believe? Is your lifestyle a good picture of whom God and Jesus are? What changes can you make in your life to be more effective?