In the media run-up to the release of the new Left Behind movie, I saw this picture posted on Facebook:
And my only response is…seriously?
Hasn’t the church been warning people for two thousand years? We have. The problem is, few people are listening. And that’s partly our fault.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught that the seed of God’s word can fall on different sorts of soil, and different types of soil yield different results.
When Peter preached in Jerusalem, he was working with fertile soil; the Jews were prepared and waiting for the Messiah. When they gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of first fruits, what we call Pentecost, Peter could convert 3,000 people with one sermon by quoting the prophet Joel, because his listeners all knew exactly what he was talking about. Most of the early followers in The Way were Jews who accepted the Messiah. They were what we would now call Messianic Jews.
The main objection Peter had to overcome was, “How do we know this Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?”
When Paul preached at the Areopagus, the soil was not as fertile. It was rocky ground, cluttered by a profusion of deities. Rome was similar. Still, they were cultures inclined toward philosophical and religious inquiry.
The main objections Paul had to overcome were, “Jesus of Galilee? Never heard of him. Who is he and where is Galilee?” or “How is your one God any better than all the other gods?”
When we preach in 21st century America, we don’t have soil. We don’t even have rocky ground. We have pavement.
When was the last time you met an American who had never heard of Jesus? I suppose this happens to missionaries serving remote tribes, but here in the States, you are far more likely to meet people who may think Jesus is a fine moral teacher, but they want nothing to do with Christianity.
For many people, the worst hurts they’ve received have come at the hands of people who called themselves Christians. They were ripped off by a televangelist, or bullied in a church youth group, or were shunned by churchgoers who disliked their dress or lifestyle or ethnicity.
The main objections we have to overcome are, “You Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites,” and “How can we believe you when you can’t even agree amongst yourselves?”
People in America have been so hurt by the church in so many different ways that they have paved over their wounds. They are armored in asphalt. They won’t be converted by blog posts or street-corner sermons or feature films. To reach them, we have to wait patiently for the cracks to appear.
Of course, sometimes God plows under people’s pavement with a great crisis: illness or unemployment or some other tragedy. When that happens, we can be there to provide support. But only if we’ve already been walking authentically, living out a faith devoid of hypocrisy and full of love.