For the Church to flourish, Christians must be honest with reality. We must accept our tainted reputation truthfully. Our noble strivings for better services, outreach or a greater community presence are fruitless pursuits without recognising how the Christians are perceived as a whole.
Churches often fail to grasp why their programs especially outreach are poorly attended. It may well be how the program is delivered but more often it could be the perception of Christianity as a whole. The challenge for Christians is not just a public relations exercise but a balance where sincerity in empathizing with the sceptics as well as rebuilding the Church is needed.
Whether we like it or not, there is a gap in what Christians think of themselves is in contrast to the mainstream. This perception is growing no thanks to history, politics, and our progressive culture. At the risk of reductionism, simply put Christians especially evangelicals uphold the Bible as the highest authority from God, believe in Christ’s atonement for our sins to be the core of our faith, and arising from such to be born again is subsequently to be missional in sharing the Good News.
But in reality, Christians hold the sometimes-self-inflicted reputation of war-mongering colonisers, xenophobic racists, sexual and power abusers along with every headline written by non-religiously literate journalists out there.
Christians are frankly sick of hearing this and we often question whether such reputation is even fair given the massive reforms already undertaken. However, the reality is that changes to procedures cannot retrospectively remove the real harm suffered by those in the past nor does it change the view of the Church overnight.
We must understand how and why the culture feels a certain way about us. The grand old child protection saying of ‘not just doing the right thing but being seen to do so’ is critical to how the next generation of churchgoers will feel. While the overwhelming majority of Christians exceed standards of positivity, there remains a serious reputation that dissuades people from Jesus.
Long gone are the days where ringing church bells successfully called the community into worship and also gone are the ability of Christians to simply say “Jesus loves you” without being hit with the great question of “how and why?”.
The community whether we are ready now or not are reviewing, drawing their conclusions, or following in an echo chamber in forming judgement to our messages conveyed by us or about us. This is before we even get to how church buildings or our presence online and in-person is viewed. It matters little of what Christianity is when Christians and Jesus are seen through their preconceived notions of the Church.
So, what now? It might be quickest and easiest to call upon our fellow believers to defend the faith and fight back against the growing culture wars. While it is important to hold fast to our doctrines, simply creating Godly bastions to attract believers to Jesus does not work and is the wrong option. Make no mistake that the Church needs to be a Godly sanctuary but a castle working with the mindset that it is only defending against a siege is now way forward.
When Christians are not in lockstep with Christ’s teachings but rather following our trajectory of engaging with the world, it will be easy to conclude that it’s easier just to start from scratch and naively assume that it will be a clean slate. Giving up to the deep systemic issues whether supposed or true is fool hearty. Abandoning the core doctrines of our faith and the church is not a genuine way forward, rather such is just a fatal and further step away from Christ.
The better way forward is first recognising the serious shortcomings of how we as Christians have defamed Christ. The Church must not be ashamed to highlights its flaws and work to rebuild. Christianity’s cultural hegemony has been lost, especially in the Western world as we have often failed to grasp the rallying cries of those who have suffered at the hands of the Church, but also the calls from power-mongering ideologies that seek to amass its followings.
I’m no expert and I won’t even pretend to be able to solve the major challenges that the Christian community faces but acknowledging that we are all communications specialists (and we don’t need to have done a Bible college preaching course or a university degree in media). We need to continually come back to and put Christ as the focal point of our lives, be prepared to answer questions of faith in love and ultimately seek to build others up through the Church.
For the Church to make inroads to giving a hand up to people distant from God, Christians ought to start from a place of sincere empathy. It is only from a place of empathy that reconciliation and repair can commence in challenging the misconceptions of our faith that act as barriers to Jesus.
From what remains of our local Churches and for it to be effectively used, acknowledging the flaws and proactiveness in rebuilding ultimately demonstrates the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives. While we hold onto our faith and no longer ignore the shortcomings of how our faith has been previously put into action, we must be willing to call them out.
Christians do not need to protect or defend the Church just for the sake of maintaining a foothold in the world, but rather if we are being truly missional then we have a responsibility to be building one another up in love to be able to draw others closer to God. We cannot expect non-believers to come to repentance in Christ if our Churches do not do likewise both in our deed and across our purview.
This article first published at Christian Today Australia on Monday 25 October 2021.