I have often said that if I had not been raised in a Christian family and raised in a Christian church I would never have become a Christian. Now don’t get me wrong, I would not have become a Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, or anything else either. I doubt I would become a hard-shelled atheist either, for to be one would entail a religious faith that I doubt I would be willing to commit myself to. I would probably have been an open agnostic. I would doubt whether God exists, doubt whether others really knew for sure, but would hope one day to know for sure.
I probably would not have become a Christian because, from the outside, I see:
-Angry, hypocritical Christians
-Christians more interested in politics than in those who are suffering
-Bigotted and anti-intellectual Christians
-Christians who compartmentalize and rationalize all sorts of foolishness
Because I was raised by godly Christian parents in a church that sought to follow Christ (however inadequately), I could see the good as well as the bad. Behind the layers of church-ishness (focus on attendance and money, decisions that center on member care, seeming interest in church growth simply for the sake of church growth) one could still see the outline of Christ… one who could be a model and guide worth seeking after.
But in Missions, one is commonly reaching out to people who have no positive experience with Christianity. Some have no experience with Christianity. Others have been soured to Christianity. What are some options? I don’t know. Here are a few:
1. Focus on NGOs. (sodality structures, ministry groups). Since churches generally welcome everyone and have a broad ministry range, they tend to have ministry that is somewhat mediocre and people of mixed motives and drive. Groups that are more limited in who are members and are more focused in ministry avoid this problem.
2. Create “un-churches”. This term simply describes all of the different ways people try to form groups that don’t look like churches. Some may be small groups. Some may be stylistically different from traditional churches. Some may see themselves as a “different kind of church” while others may not describe themselves as churches at all.
3. Revamped churches. The church stays essentially the same, but makes it look and feel more faddish or friendly to outsiders.
All of these have their place I suppose, but to me it kind of misses the point. The church is commonly not seen as a safe place to question and grow. Discipleship programs tend to focus more on quantity or exhuberance of traditional piety rather than on qualities of Christlikeness and love. Churches seek to pull people out of the community rather than inject them into the community. Leadership in the church is narrowly focused, usually, based on formal education and certification rather than Christlike qualities and humanity.
It seems to me that it is the character of the Christian that needs to change more than the style of the church. If the character of the Christian allowed people to see the outline of Christ (regardless of how faint that outline might be), the style and structure of the church would not need to be artificially changed. In fact, much of the changes would happen naturally, while other ones would not need to change since they would no longer hinder others from seeing the outline of Christ.
Perhaps I am being naive. But let me tell you this. Our Disaster Response Team is on route to Cagayan de Oro to provide chaplaincy crisis intervention for families of those who died and those who have been relocated due to flooding. They have given up time between Christmas and New Years to do this. Their flight was diverted to Davao due to bad weather. Now they waiting in a van to take the 10 hour drive during the night to Cagayan de Oro, risking foul weather and landslides to do this. This is Christlike behavior. Even though our group is an NGO, it could have been a church or any other type of group. The outline of Christ behind the Christian should not be hard to see regardless.
Also see the following: