A couple of weeks ago I went with a bunch of mates to a bar in downtown Auckland. I saw one of the teachers from the school I do youth work in and, in a surprised voice, she said
What are you doing here? I thought this would be the last place I’d ever see you.”
She knew I was a pastor and, because it was only a few days after the Israel Folau media storm blew up, she told me that she wanted to have a debate. A little taken aback, I put on a smile and joked that I would rather have a friendly conversation.
She then proceeded to ask what I thought about gender, homosexuality, drugs and so on. One by one, I shared stories about how I or other Christians I know have journeyed alongside people in each of the areas she listed.
What started off as a potentially heated discussion finished as an encouraging chat that we are hopefully going to finish this week.
When people find out that I’m a pastor, I love watching their reactions. Most people are surprised, some are really curious and others quickly try to change the conversation.
In my experience, I usually find that if someone has a little knowledge of the Christian faith, it generally tends to be negative. This is likely due to a whole bunch of reasons; however, I think it is largely due to how it is portrayed by the media.
Rightly or wrongly, the media tends to focus on what draws the most attention. Look at the news and you will see that most articles written about religious groups are usually about horrendous acts of violence, hate speech and ignorance.
In the case of religion, outrageous comments by minority sects draw far more attention than acts of love, justice and mercy that are practised by the majority.
What are we reinforcing?
The Israel Folau drama is a great example of this. An Instagram post and a couple of controversial comments have caused a huge outrage, which will likely end a very successful International Rugby career. But bigger than that, it also impacts our society’s view of the Christian faith.
Many people will take Folau’s actions as the ‘Christian view’ when really it is one of many perspectives that exist within a diverse Christian community. Like everyone, Folau is entitled to his opinions and I’m sure that he thought he was doing the right thing.
I’m just gutted that he chose to reinforce the negative perceptions that already turn so many people off Christianity.
Life is already hard enough as it is, and trying to motivate people out of fear only makes things harder.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about sin or repentance or hell. It is an important part of faith that we cannot avoid. But God is about love, grace, mercy, justice, goodness, joy, peace and hope.
Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of people’s lives, why don’t we concentrate on how great Jesus is?
What are we known for?
If I could challenge the Church to do one thing, it would be to become known more for what we are for than what we are against.
What would happen if people knew us for the way we cared for the poor, alcoholics, drug (insert other addictions here) addicts, the widowed, fosters kids, immigrants and refugees?
What if we become known for how we shared our resources and possessions?
What if we became known for how we led the charge on environmental change, equality and social justice initiatives?
What if we became known for our love and compassion for one another?
Every time I get the opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus, I try to make sure they leave the conversation knowing what He was for.
I am convinced that deep down inside every human being there is a desire for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
As Christians, we need to focus on what Jesus is doing in people’s lives rather than the sin and brokenness that is holding them back.
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