“People turned away from following Jesus because they didn’t like his teaching!”
This is a comment I have heard many times especially in my church community as a way of explaining why our churches and community as a whole is shrinking. The passage that is referenced is John 6:66
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”.
Personally, I think it’s just an excuse for being lazy and doing church badly. It also takes no notice of the real meaning behind the passage as a whole (not something for this post).
I’m probably setting myself up for criticism here but it comes from the kind of mindset that uses the excuse to argue that we shouldn’t change anything about the message we preach or the way we preach it or the other things we do as a church. The argument goes along the lines of this:
“The reason the church / community is shrinking is because we are being true to what Jesus said and people don’t like what Jesus had to say, so therefore nobody is attracted to the community because fundamentally ‘they’ (all non-members of this community) can’t deal with the truth about Jesus.”
This enables the arguer to absolve themselves of the responsibility of presenting a relevant, accurate and culturally meaningful picture of Jesus to the local community and gives the option to hide behind an approach that says ‘as long as all we do is keep pumping out a bible-based talk that has a lot of scripture references in it, we are doing our job correctly and saying what Jesus said’.
It is also the argument that says ‘we don’t need any more parables, the bible has enough of its own’, without realising that Jesus drew his parables from his surroundings, history and culture meaning they were completely apt, specific and relevant for his listeners.
So, where does that leave us?
I’m not suggesting we dress up the message in fancy language, images or hyperbole, try to make the message more palatable to us or anything like that, but sometimes it strikes me that the very people that Jesus reached out to are the very people that the church holds at arms length because they are ‘too messy’ and they are put off not by Jesus and his ‘hard teaching’ but by the people within the church and their non-gracious, non-acceptance of anyone who doesn’t fit.
Here’s my take, based on ideas from many different places.
1. We need as a church and as a community to be creating environments that people enjoy being in. By that I mean environments that feel safe, comfortable and accepting. Environments where people feel they can ask questions freely without there necessarily being only one answer or even a ‘right answer’. Environments that people can begin to feel attached to and events that people begin to own corporately. These kind of environments are called ‘community hubs’ and they are places where people gather to connect with each-other, enjoy doing things with each other and are encouraged to explore their spiritual, faith relationships together.
These environments need to be looked after by people who genuinely care about the guests who come in to enjoy them, are happy to explore faith & culture and the conflicts they throw up and are not just intent on pushing a message down the throats of the guests.
2. We should also be stepping outside of our comfort zones to reach into other people’s environments where we don’t feel as safe or comfortable. We need to be providing for and engaging those around us with attitudes that reflect the Jesus that we know and have experienced and display his redemptive healing.
Let us not just reminisce about what God has done in the past or look forward to what He is going to do in the future, but let us become obsessed with what God is doing now.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (the message)
God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!
(Light the blue touch paper and stand well back)
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