We live in a time when sharing our thoughts, feelings, reflections, and recommendations about nearly everything is easier and more ubiquitous than at any point in human history. With the click of a button we can “like” something on social media or offer an emoji that captures our feelings about it. We are urged to write reviews on Yelp, Open Table, Google, or Amazon. Conversely, we also look to recommendations more than ever before. Before I buy anything or eat at any restaurant or watch any movies or television shows, I look to see how many “stars,” positive ratings, or reviews are associated with whatever I’m considering buying, watching, or consuming. This is why today, more than ever, the most powerful and effective form of advertising is word-of-mouth.
It has never been easier to share our faith with more people, yet we’re often hesitant to do it. Why is that?
Today, there are many people who are skeptical of faith, and even more skeptical of what is often referred to as “organized religion.” Who can blame them? There have been more than a few bad reviews of Christians and churches. Read those reviews and you’ll find words like “hypocritical,” “judgmental,” “irrelevant,” “mean- spirited,” “anti-intellectual,” “anti-gay,” and I’m sure you’ve heard many more.
These reviews don’t reflect Jesus or the gospel he preached. They don’t describe the church he intended. Neither do they reflect most Christians and churches that I know. But they do describe some Christians, some churches, and the unfortunate experience of some people.
Several years ago a friend sent me an e-mail announcing that she would no longer call herself a Christian. She had just had a conversation with a man who announced his faith to her, but then proceeded to share views that she found offensive and completely contrary to the gospel of Jesus as she understood it. She wrote, “I don’t want to be associated with the faith this man was professing.” So, she said, she would call herself a follower of Jesus but would not publicly identify herself as a Christian any more.
I told her I completely understood why she felt this way, and I agreed that this man’s faith did not reflect the Christian faith as I understood it. But, I suggested, “If people like you stop calling themselves Christians, how will anyone know that there are any other kind of Christians than the kind reflected by the man you spoke with today?”
None of us are perfect in how we live out our faith. But we are all called by Jesus to live and share our faith in such a way that others see him in us. The apostle Paul described himself and his colleagues as “Christ’s ambassadors,” and he believed that God was making his appeal to others through them. Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching the things he had taught and baptizing others who would accept his call.
And just as people are sometimes turned away from the faith because of the witness of Christians, most people who choose to follow Jesus do so because of the positive witness of Christians through whom they experienced love and from whom they heard a compelling witness and example of what it means to be a Christian. In other words, most people who become Christians do so because of the “positive reviews” of others who have become Christians.
Jesus’ Passion: Connecting with the Spiritual but Not Religious
We live in a time when an increasing number of people claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” This is not new. In Jesus’ time there were many who had spiritual yearnings but who had been turned off by the organized religion of his day. Jesus’ passion seems to have been connecting with these people. When he called his first disciples, fishermen along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, he called them to follow him and to become fishers of people. That is still his call upon those who see themselves as Christians today—we accept his call to follow him and to fish for people.
Jesus was criticized for being a friend of “sinners and tax collectors.” He befriended the broken, the sinful, the sick, and the demon possessed. This was his passion. Again, if we are walking with him we must see that he longs to draw people to God.
I love the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho (it appears he was short and had to climb a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus). Jesus sought him out, invited himself over for dinner, and helped Zacchaeus find his way back to God. The story ends with Jesus explaining to the religious leaders why he was eating at the home of a notorious sinner: “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NRSV). This verse captured Jesus’ life mission.
If this was Jesus’ mission, is it not also to be our mission as his followers?