I heard a heart-breaking story on Sunday of a man who did not know Christ. A pastor (from Texas, I think) was recently leaving a conference in Chicago and hailed a cab. The cab driver wanted to know what the conference was about. The pastor explained, and this led to the man telling the pastor (in a thick accent) that he practiced voodoo, and that he worshiped and feared the devil. Given such a marvelous opportunity to share Christ, the pastor did. The response from the cab driver was astounding: he said he had never heard of this Christ, and where could he learn more? He had never heard of Christ! Of course, the pastor knew of several good churches in Chicago, and encouraged him to attend. However, the cab driver said that he was afraid to go to a church, because he didn't have a lot of money, no nice clothes, and was afraid that he would be rejected by the church-goers. The pastor still encouraged him to go, said that it didn't matter what he wore, and that he wouldn't be rejected, hoping that he was telling this guy the truth.
Initially, when I heard this story, I was transfixed on the tragedy that here was a man in the USA (though obviously transplanted) who had never even heard of Jesus Christ. Not just that he had wrong ideas about him - he had never heard of Christ at all! But the more I think about this story, I think the real tragedy lies elsewhere. The tragedy is that though the man knew nothing of Christ, he seemed to know a lot about the church. Of the reputation of Christ, he knew nothing - but of the reputation of the church, he thought he knew much. And it was keeping him from going.
I just wonder how much of this is the church's fault. What kind of image are we projecting to the world with our fancy buildings and signs and acres of parking lot and expensive cars and nice clothes, and slick marketing techniques? That we are just another Macy's? What kind of image are we projecting by our attitudes, our actions, and our words? That we are better than others? Obviously - at least for this man - the image projected by the church is Christless, and gave the man the idea that church was all about image.
We should be concerned about the reputation of the church, but only in so far as it exalts the reputation of Christ. I'm afraid this is often not happening, at least here in America; this story is at least one illustration of this. May the church's reputation honor Jesus in ways that would draw others to him through us, instead of making people think that church is just another club for the well-to-do.
Monday, April 18, 2011
The Tragedy of the Church
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