Like I said Monday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the church. What does it mean to be a part of the church, and how does one live as a part of the church? Yesterday, I read this article by Meghan O’Gieblyn for Guernica Magazine. It was interesting because O’Gieblyn is roughly my age, and her experience with Christian pop/rock music growing up mirrors mine in many ways. If you did not grow up in the late-80’s and 90’s and are interested what the church kids were into, her article gives you a good understanding of both the experience as a consumer, and why many from that era have abandoned Christian music as they’ve gotten older.
As the article ends, it sounds as though her experience with music has led O’Gieblyn to walk away from not only Christian music, but the church, and possibly even the faith. I’d quote the final paragraph, but it would lose its power without the story that precedes it so I would encourage you to read the article in its entirety.
Then ask the question that I’ve come to ask, “What does the church have to offer?”
Really. What is our role? Is it to offer a sanitized version of the world’s entertainment? As O’Gieblyn points out, that will only last for so long because people will only tolerate second rate mimicry for long, and let’s not pretend that Christian music has been anything other than that for a while now. The template is clear, find out what’s popular and parrot the sound, only add the appropriate, vague God/love lyrics to sneak in some of the gospel to the unsuspecting listener. I could go on and on about this, but it’s not the point of this post.
The question is still the point, “What does the church have to offer?”
Do we offer God-sanctioned ways to have a successful marriage? Do we offer a means through which people can make a difference in the world with a bonus “Eternally Qualified” stamp? Do we offer people purpose, or value, or community, or counseling, or babysitting, or moral instruction, or social stability. Or maybe the church offers people the ability to join an exclusive club. The “we’re going to heaven because we agree with God and you don’t” superiority club.
The question has been rattling inside my head recently as I’ve wondered what we’re doing in youth ministry and in the church in general and I keep coming back to one answer and one answer alone.
We offer the world Jesus.
Simply, plainly, what the church has to offer the world is Jesus. We often forget that at our core the church is a community of people who exist entirely for and because of Jesus.
I hear the echo of objection in my own heart,
“But is Jesus enough? When people come broken and messed up, when people hurt other people regularly, when people have been hurt or when people have been rebellious or when people have been ignorant, isn’t there more we ought to be doing?”
To which the church must answer, “If there’s more–then we’re all in big, big trouble.”
We so often forget that to offer Jesus is to offer salvation from sin, oppression and poverty. To offer Jesus is to offer the truth that looks “reality” in the face and exposes all its lies. To offer Jesus is to offer forgiveness for all the disgusting, life-wrecking choices we’ve made. To offer Jesus is to offer re-birth from death. To offer Jesus is to offer the power of the Spirit of God to begin a life that others only dream of. To offer Jesus is to give hope to the hopeless and healing to the sick. Sight to the blind and power to the weak.
Yes, everywhere we turn, everywhere we look, there is death and destruction, lying and deceit, pain and exploitation and selfish living, but in Jesus there is healing for it all.
- When the church offers a smooshy-feeling kind of love that demands nothing and defines little, people see through it.
- When the church offers a list of rules and regulations for getting God to be pleased with us, people get crushed.
- When the church offers a book that fell from heaven with no regard for its cultural heritage, people get confused.
- When the church offers a sanitized version of the pop-culture to be consumed, people are insulted by the snake-oil.
- When the church offers eternally-sanctioned ways to help others, people find there are easier ways to lend a hand.
When the church offers Jesus, in all his glory, in all the ways he challenges and reshapes reality, and lives as though what we’ve offered actually matters, people are confronted. Jesus doesn’t offer a religion or a political party. He doesn’t offer people a chance to escape the world or dominate it. He offers people life – real life – the kind of real life that brings with it rest and peace in the midst of pain. He offers people life out of death, a paradoxical reality that brings wholeness and renewal and joy and love.
The church offers the world JESUS. If it’s doing that, it can do it in any number of ways and people will hear the gospel. If it’s not, then it doesn’t matter what you do, what you change, how closely you stick to the book or how far away you drift, you are offering them nothing more than vapors and lies.
And I don’t blame anyone for walking away from that garbage. I would too.