I don’t know about you, but bar a gin and tonic on a hot day, there are few things more refreshing in life than hearing a good honest take on something few seem to want to talk about.
After two weeks in quarantine following an impromptu Portugal getaway (sorry bank account), I finally escaped prison and grabbed a couple of drinks with a pal of mine. This pal made the decision some months back to give his life to Christ, and even without the Covid craziness, this has been such a highlight this year.
I’m constantly in awe of how intensely personal and beautifully faithful God is, and for anyone who’s seen someone come to know Jesus for themselves, you know what I mean. You probably also know what I mean when I say that there’s a contagious excitement about being around a person who has grasped the beauty of the gospel for the first time. Reignition for a weary soul.
So it’s been great checking in now and then to see how this baby Christian mate is getting on – and finding, to my amusement and relief, that rather than picking up some half-truths and heresies along the way, he’s been truly ‘getting it’. I’ve had to say or explain so little.
Only Holy Spirit can do that.
Like most of us who regularly attend church, he’s been tuning in online in this current no-contact climate, picked off a list from a bunch of enthusiastic Facebookers I’d reached out to for recommendations. Most weeks I’ve tuned in with him (again, on high alert heresy-watch!), but also in case he wanted to chat about anything afterwards.
Turns out the teaching from this church is solid, and both foundational and in-depth – my heresy fears were quickly quelled. But of course he’s looking to find a church ‘home’ when things return to semi-normal. Finding a church is a daunting task full stop, and for someone who is pretty new to the whole concept of church, it must be a bit overwhelming.
I’m in a funny transitional phase in life myself, to put it mildly. (Abbreviated version: I had to move home a couple of years ago, and took a really bad job while counting on plans to start another job. Said job didn’t work out. Still in really bad job. Still at my parents’ trying to figure out where I go from here).
This post is not about my life choices or tale of woe, though I hope by keeping it real, some of you may feel less alone in your plans not going… well, to plan. The point is that in moving back to my parents’, and in this age of having to find new ways to do pretty much everything, it’s been a good time for me as well to re-evaluate what I am looking for in a church moving forward. (Not to say we should view church in a consumerist way – far from it. But experience does make you wiser).
So, in chatting with my friend the other week, I was more receptive to some of the things he was bringing up, about both church culture and Christian culture more widely, and I felt it was worth sharing some of those sharp ‘new convert’ insights.
This needs to be prefaced by a disclaimer, of course – there are no personal gripes here! Just some general observations from someone new to all this.
There were the more minor things – like the worship music is too emotional/repetitive/unsubstantial (Any other Christian guys find this too?!), or that certain terminology can be hard to understand – but more significantly, my mate seems to have an eye for spotting fakery miles away, and has 0 time for hypocrisy or hype.
While catching up the other week he said something along these lines: ‘This is the best news I’ll ever hear. I don’t need it hyped up! Christians just need to calm down!’ Cue much laughter from me.
I doubt leaders of megachurches with fog machines, slick production sets and coffee bars are going to be reading this, but if you are, please take note. God is enough. The gospel is enough. As I said to my mate, it’s profoundly simple. Being in right relationship with God will change your entire life. We don’t need to try so hard to package that attractively.
‘Just stick to the Word and love people’, my pal went on, a refreshingly concise summary if ever I heard one. Not one or the other – both, and I’m as guilty as anyone of forgetting one in pursuing the other.
You know things have gotten real when a new Christian tells you not to try to be culturally ‘relevant’. Instead, oddly enough, he said he’d appreciated my blunt answers to some of the tough topics we might prefer to skirt around. (If you also like blunt(ish) takes on tough subjects, you’ll want to keep your eye out for my upcoming book release. More details to come. Shameless plug over).
There’s also the other side of the coin, of course – he said his friends think Christians are hypocrites, and while it’s a misconception, it’s also not entirely without foundation. And that realisation is uncomfortable and sobering.
I’m thankful my friend has bypassed shallow Christianity and seems to be in it for the real thing. People need an encounter with the real and living God – not a motivational speech, a watered-down message, or a mere invitation to the social justice club.
Big issues are generally not solved by a pint with your mate in the pub, but my pal can’t be the only one who has had thoughts like this.
I have my own views about virtual church, lockdown and all the rest of it, but I do wonder whether these past few months may serve as a kind of ‘reset’ for the Church as a whole. Perhaps the stripped-back versions of what we understand as a church service will actually help us refocus on what matters? After all, times change, structures change, but Jesus does not change.
Let me know if you’ve had similar thoughts, or if you know others who have.
P.S. Please indulge me the clickbaity title. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek knowing it will annoy the heck out of my mate 😉