How different are Christians from the rest of the world?
This is a question that has been plaguing me lately. I sometimes look out into my congregation and, on the one hand, feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the compassion, care, and kindness that they have shown me and each give to each other. But I also wonder if this is all there is; a group of nice, middle class, Christians who attend church, give of their time and money to support the work of the church.
Then I wander into the local Christian bookstore and I am floored by how similar it is to a secular bookstore. Many of the books are different than at Chapters, but some of the themes are the same: Self-esteem. Financial management. Leadership. Self-help. The Christian musicians on the big posters at the back are of the beautiful people sort, and much of the music is below mediocre.
To me, much of North American Christianity has become a white-picket fenced, 2 car garage, 2.6 children religion that asks very little from us. The Christian sub-culture seems to exist for its own sake rather than for the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God.
Did Jesus die for this…?
Before the hypocrisy police come and take me away, I must confess that. my library is not completely pure. I have a few John Maxwell books on leadership and team building sandwiched between my Alban Institute stack and my systems theory stuff. I have a couple of business books to help me with my management skills. I even have The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People nestled between Motivating Employees and 100 Ways to Promote Yourself. Three books that came highly recommended by a church bureaucrat in Chicago.
Even reading these books, learning the latest leadership tactics of the CEO of Coca-cola, I felt that I might be barking up the wrong tree. These folks were talking about effective organizational management, visionary leadership, and winning strategies for institutional success. The backs of the book jackets all had 50-something men in $1000 suits. The question that kept haunting me was: “Would Jesus, the poor man from Nazareth recognize himself among these strategies? Or are these just religious recipes to make us feel good about our affluence?”
In other words, does Jesus ask us to build an effective organization? Is that what discipleship is all about?
I know that the church is not “pure” and will never be on this side of the parousia. No church has been without its temptations to worldly success and power, and all the trappings that go with it. My church is looking at a new building, but I sometimes wonder if a new building will simply stroke our consumerist impulses as we design, plan, and decorate. Will the simple act of building a new facility contradict the counter-cultural message of the gospel that we proclaim as salvation?
Just some random thoughts on my way out the door.