A Funny Commercial—One with a Point ~
Have you seen that commercial where the bank’s being held up and a guy in a bank guard uniform is just standing there watching? One of the supposed customers lying on the floor next to the guard whispers to him, “Why don’t you do something?” The guard replies to the guy that intervention is not his job. “I’m just a monitor. I’m here to notify people if there’s a bank robbery.” Then after a brief pause he says, “There’s a robbery.” (Well, duhh!) The advertiser then asks the obvious question, “What good does it do to know there’s a problem if you don’t do anything to correct it?” It’s a good question, and a relevant one. I’m about to reference a problem that’s as obvious to most of us as the fact that a robbery in progress would have been to the bank customers in that commercial. The difference in this case, is that the situation isn’t fictional, and that none of us are sent by God just to be monitors.
So, here’s the problem, or at least an important indicator that there is one. According to a recent report by the PewResearchCenter, millennials are leaving institutional religion and traditional church activities in droves. Their withdrawal from religious affiliation and participation in traditional public worship is accompanied by a corresponding abandonment of things like personal and/or family prayers, spiritual devotions or meditation time, and systematic exploration of the Bible. The fastest growing religious affiliation category in our country these days is ‘none’. Those are sobering indicators regarding the changing status of American Christianity, and researchers from a variety of perspectives are busily working to compile and publish their conclusions regarding whatever they consider to be causal factors.
Meanwhile, in the non-scientific world, there are those who have donned their prophets’ mantles and are delivering what they declare to be modern prophetic declarations in reference to the problem. Some are proclaiming the advent of awful judgment and ultimate national downfall precipitated by the collapse of moral and spiritual values. Their positive counterparts, on the other hand, are declaring that the trend is merely a prelude to a change in the opposite direction, and that it will ultimately trigger the next great awakening and revival.
Personally, I’m resigned to the realization that prognosticating the future is not in my list of spiritual gifts. I relinquished my prophet’s mantle years ago and donated it to Goodwill, right after I burned my list of investment picks that were guaranteed to quadruple in value. What I have to offer instead is a reflection or two regarding an issue that I believe to be important, whether your spiritual barometer is on the rise or plunging toward destruction.
Something’s Missing ~
One of the reasons cited repeatedly for the millennials’ disenchantment with institutional church and traditional worship in America is that they are functionally irrelevant. Many are saying that their most pressing questions are left unanswered. When confronted with life’s toughest challenges, they find that the spiritual enigmas attending them have not been adequately addressed, and for many, not addressed at all. Brief, superficial sermons about generalized topics don’t prove to be much of a resource from which to counter the onslaught of perplexities hurled at them by the prevailing culture.
The church in America has been pushed into an organizational mold in an effort to make it a paragon of convenience, comfort, congeniality, and above all, a non-confrontational social melting pot. After all, there’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world, so the church must assume the role of a ‘feel-good oasis,’ where folks can find a brief escape on a regular basis.
A ‘spiritual spa’ may sound like a nice idea, but it has some difficulties we can’t ignore. In the first place, a ‘church’ characterized by the prevailing priorities demonstrated by mainstream Christianity today has no basis in New Testament ecclesiology, or church history. Simply said, Jesus did not set out to build a feel-good oasis. The second observation is that in spite of the fact that we’ve shown that slick productions and talented performers can draw a crowd, the crowd that it draws has at least two problems: 1) the crowd keeps getting smaller, and 2) most of the people in the crowd have no idea what they really believe, or how to answer life’s most challenging problems and its difficult spiritual questions.
Facing the Hard Questions Head On ~
Jesus didn’t dodge the sticky issues for fear of offending His audience. Notice the response of his hearers in John’s account of one incident.
“Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?” Then John tells us that “…From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:60-68 NKJV).
Jesus came to face the hard questions, and sometimes to deliver the hard answers. His words weren’t always easy to hear, but they had what people needed to equip them to deal with the hardest things they would ever face. Superficial religiosity never engages the deep issues and the most daunting questions of life, because it has no answers. No wonder people abandon it. They struggle with questions like:
- If God is so loving and so powerful, then why is there so much violence and pain?
- Is the Bible reliable? Is it really the Word of God? How do we know? Which ‘version’ can I trust?
- What about those who have never heard of Him? Do they go to hell when they die?
- Is Jesus really the ‘only’ way?
- Did He really rise from the dead?
- Is He God?
- What does it really mean to be ‘saved’? Is it even a valid term? How do I know?
Maybe if we who are the Church started inviting the hard questions, and delivering answers to the tough issues, there’d be a reason for the millennials to hang around. Inviting the hard questions, invites those who are crying out for real answers. Maybe instead of trying to create an artificial oasis, we could start transforming the desert. What do you think?
© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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