Monday, June 06, 2005

Why People Don't Attend Church (Part 4)

In Part 3 I mentioned that the church needs to humbly admit that it doesn't have all the answers. It is a work in process. Hidden in that lesson is another reason why people don't attend church and that is that they don't want to be told what to do or how to think. Or to put it in the venacular, they don't want the "truth" to be "shoved down their throat".

I don't think this is just a church sensitivity. This is true anywhere and it's true of all of us. There was a time when it was socially acceptable to have a high authority/submission environment. There are still pockets of this in business, home, and church. But in general, people won't stand for it. They demand respect. Dignity. It's not that they don't want to be told what to do or how to think. They just want to be told in a way that doesn't shame them for their current state.

But shame is what many people expect to receive at church. They assume that they will have to check their brains at the door and swallow whatever the church/minister dishes out. That's not only demeaning but, if you continually subject yourself to that, it turns you into a hypocrite. You act like you agree when inside you don' least you don't agree with the tone.

Lesson: As Christians, we believe that God has spoken through history and certain individuals that recorded all of this in the Bible. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus verifies the truth of these stories for us. So we stand in a dangerous place...convinced that we have the truth and everyone else needs to have what we've got. Wow...I don't even like writing that. I believe it, but it sounds SO ARROGANT. We have to realize that, right out of the shoot, we will be offensive to many people. We live in an age of pluralism. Everything is relevant. What is black and white to us is only various shades of gray to others. So we need to appreciate this about our audience and show them, respectfully and without condescending to them, why truth can be known.

There's an art to proclaiming truth without being arrogant. That has to be the goal before us at all times. Jesus did it masterfully. He could speak the bare truth and still attract prostitutes, drunkards, lawyers and the religious elite. Practically speaking, I think this involves speaking the truth without pointing at people (judging). People need to feel like they are a part of the discussion and not the subject of the discussion. The minute we talk about "those people" we are polarizing our crowd and telling our guests that if they are not exactly like us then they are not only unacceptable to us but to God as well.

We also need to let people know that they are free to have their own thoughts. They are free to make their own decisions. Thought, reason, doubt, questioning... are all welcome. Those are attributes of the brain that God gave us so we don't want to quench them but encourage them. And if people don't land where we have landed, we still love them and accept them. We may not be able to call them a fellow believer, but they are fellow humans seeking God. So let's focus on what we have in common with them rather than what we disagree on. That way we can at least keep the dialogue going. Otherwise our guests feel like they are no longer welcome and they join the ranks of those who don't attend church again.

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