WHAT IF CHRISTIANITY WAS NEW
by Karl Forehand
What if Jesus had just left the Earth a few decades ago? What if, instead of the Middle East, he appeared in the United States? Consequently, it would be up to us to decide how we were going to move forward. What would we do differently?
I understand it’s hard to think about something like this because we have a lot of history, and we wrote creeds and belief statements, and we have practices that we consider somewhat sacred. But, at least occasionally, I think it’s a good idea to see if the systems and processes of our life need adjustment, reworking or maybe even a total reimagining.
I’m so glad someone rethought the covered wagon and imagined a motorized vehicle. I’m happy we didn’t stop with the telegraph and the outhouse. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t establish a system. Most of our system was developed in the time of Constantine by the Roman Empire.
I’m not asking you to give up anything right away, but I hope you will question and reimagine everything. I rode in a covered wagon once and I don’t ever want to do it again.
The following is a summary of the first half of our book, Out Into the Desert, which is helpful for doing the assessment.
1. What is the The Main Thing
For most churches, especially evangelical churches, the main thing is considered to be evangelism, making disciples. But what this usually becomes is no different than any other corporation. We are focused on the new convert and generally ignoring the wounded people in our own midst. It’s like searching for new customers when our current customers are not satisfied. We are like social media influencers, always looking for new followers instead of doing something valuable with the ones we have.
2. Are we Addicted to Church?
Anything that alters our mood can become addictive. Church services are designed to invoke our emotions, thus creating a codependency between clergy and congregants. We like what happens when we come to church, but the feeling goes away soon and we long to come back. Pastors are also addicted to this. It’s okay to eat ice cream, but ultimately it won’t sustain us, we just get more, healthy and crave more of it.
3. The Services of the Church
Try this experiment. Sit down and honestly evaluate all the services you receive from the church. Not the theoretical ones, just the actual things that happen when you are there. Then, honestly evaluate if you can get those services, or better versions of those services, somewhere else without paying a tithe or an offering. For example, if you like sermons, you can go to the internet and find the best sermons in the world for free on YouTube. If you like interacting with friends, you can do that anywhere, probably a coffee shop close to your house.
4. What Does it Cost?
The average religious person gives $1,000 a year, so the math is kind of easy. For a 100 member church, the budget is 100,000. 70% of offerings go to salaries and maintaining the building. Most of the energy goes into producing the event called Church or Mass or whatever. In light of the previous subject, and in light of what Jesus and others said in the Bible, is it possible we can do what we need to without the building and even possibly without the clergy. After all, Jesus discouraged meeting in a place and the Bible emphasizes that we are all priests.
5. Can We Do Better
Why are churches not more like treatment centers and homeless shelters? Why are they more like lecture halls and concerts than family gatherings? Shouldn’t we hire a staff of mental health experts before we build the coffee shop and the lighting system? Before we start making excuses for keeping it how it is, we really should imagine how it could be.
6. Would Jesus Go To Church
I think he probably would because people are there, but either we would throw him out or he would go where he could really spend time with people rather than participate in the current system we have. “As you are going” might be easily more important than “coming to church.” As I said before, He seemed to be convinced that coming to a place was not what was important.
7. Consider the Hurt
Laura and I listen to stories every week on our podcast, The Desert Sanctuary, of people that were harmed by organized religion. I don’t think any pastor or church set out to do this, but the organization always takes priority over the individual and it seems almost inevitable that this will happen inside religion. I don’t hear the same stories from people that leave religion to seek a more authentic practice. They often have to face their trauma, but they are more able to do it without the distractions and demands of religion.
There are probably 100 more things to consider, but these will get you started. In business, they taught me to ask WHY if I wanted to find the root cause of a problem. If we keep asking why, eventually we will get to the root and will be able to investigate alternatives.
Keep asking questions, stay on the journey, and don’t be satisfied until you find yourself and until you find peace.
Be where you are,
Be who you are,
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