God is not a topic that people take up lightly. I’ll go further and say that it is not a subject that most people feel comfortable taking up at all – myself included. Why is that?
I was sitting in on a Bible study class Sunday morning and the pastor asked us the following question: “when you pray for the church, what do you pray for?” “I can’t recall the last time I prayed for the church”, I thought silently to myself. So I asked myself another question silently to myself: “If I did, what would I pray for?” My silent answer to myself was “relevance”.
Do you remember when you were in school and your teacher gave you a test taking tip for multiple choice questions – “go with your first answer, because when people change their answers they usually change them from the right answer to a wrong answer”? Well, as if having a silent conversation with myself wasn’t bad enough, I moved on to a silent debate. “Relevance?”, what kind of answer is that? Why did I say that?
Going with your first instinct…
So I’ve been thinking about my silent answer. No, I didn’t say it out loud for the group to discuss; but I wish I did.
The span of my influence does not even blemish the surface of the state of our society. I know a few folks at work and I know my family… and that’s about it. I hear things through the media which leave an impression, but who would trust that? Having dispensed with my running disclaimer: that I really have no basis upon which to make the conclusions about society that I’m about to make – I’ll go ahead and make them anyway. I get the sense that organized religion’s biggest challenge is to show how it is relevant in people’s lives. In every day life, what is the churches’ relevance (or potential relevance) for the *relatively* content American public? Faith can not be taught. It can’t be spoon fed. Almost by definition, it can not be validated. So how is it shared? How do you make it relevant in other people’s lives who don’t already have it? One way is to focus on people who are in need, by giving them a reason to hope. While it is good to give people hope, I feel like it is almost taking advantage of their state of need. Someone who is desperate will latch onto almost anything. They may be taken in by the righteous; or, cults and fascist governments – with equal zeal. Something about that just doesn’t seem quite right. I don’t mean to imply that cults and religion operate on the same level of righteousness, but the fact that they could both soley rely on the same vulnerability of those in need for “recruitment” would be troubling to me if it were true. That’s not to say that those with faith should ignore those in need either, only that religion’s appeal can’t be based soley on filling the needs of those in dire straights. If religion appeals only to people in need or crisis, then what does that say about religion? Of course for all I know God may ask in reply, “what does that say about society?”
I’ve participated in discussions about how faith is shared, and many people tell of sharing it by living life as an example for others. I’ve told myself that this was enough. But is it? Isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that you’re an example for others? Doesn’t that presume that you think you are better than someone, in order to serve as an example; and isn’t THAT rather un-Christ like? On the other hand, how many outgoing evangelists do you know that seem overly successful in their task “bringing home the flock”? How often do you imagine one of the “saved” approaches one of the masses with the old “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”, and get a reply like “well no, but I’d really like to know how I can!” Here’s my guess, most people don’t really know on a conscious level what the “example givers” are sampling, and are completely repulsed by the clumsy advances by the “saved”.
So where does that leave me, other than praying for relevance?
**Note added later on 9/25/2003: I should note that I do find that God is relevant in my life, and not just when I need something. I should also note that I feel nothing but admiration and respect for our current pastor. This entry comes as a result of my own personal deliberation of a single question posed by our pastor – over the course of several days. This is not meant as a condemnation or criticism of organized religion. Instead, it is meant to convey my own frustration with finding my own role within it, specifically as it relates to evangelism.