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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Face of Christianity

I had breakfast the other day with a guy that I'm becoming good friends with. We attend the same mega-church and hadn't known each other before. But we kept hearing about each other. He reached out to me first. I'm pretty glad that he did too. A breakfast with Brad (that's his name) is complete with a lot of food for the mind and soul. I guess you could say it's thought leadership.

My new friend has founded a non-profit organization aimed squarely at Changing the Face of Christianity. You can check it out at At first glance, you have to think about the mission of Brad's organization. I mean really think.

What is the face of Christianity? Why does it need to be changed? How would you change it? What would it look like after the change has occurred? How will we measure success in this mission? Even if I answer all of these questions - how can I know if my answers are accurate? What if my own perceptions need to be changed?

Most everyone has heard the analogy of people not being able to "see the trees for the forest." What it means is that we often can't see things from the inside looking out - as someone looking from the outside in can see. For example, I may live in a brick house. But from the inside looking out, I can't see any of the bricks. However, someone standing outside may only see the bricks.

At any rate, the forest-for-the-trees analogy proves true in most of life's circumstances. I suspect it proves true in Christianity. The people who call themselves Christians absolutely cannot see Christianity the same way as people who don't. Those observing Christianity from the outside looking in are getting an entirely different perspective. So one might ask my friend Brad if he's going to change the face of Christianity for the Christians ... or for the non-Christians? Or is he going to do it for both groups? And if so, is the approach the same for both groups?

The face of Christianity is admittedly a little disturbing sometimes. I've often thought I could write a book about Christians behaving badly. In fact, I've assumed that would be the title of my book, "Christians Behaving Badly." Unfortunately I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that I could use to write the book.

When it comes to Christians behaving badly, there are the extreme stories - like the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas that marches on soldiers funerals declaring that God is killing U.S. soldiers because He hates our tolerance of homosexuality. And there are the more innocuous stories - like the ladies who installed a metal cross in the lawn of the church ... and hung a donuts & coffee sign on it to direct newcomers to the coffee bar.

So how did it get to this? Have we always had this problem ... of Christians not acting very Christ-like? There was Peter, a disciple of Christ, who denied that he even knew Christ three times before Jesus was crucified. Wasn't that a case of a Christ-follower behaving badly? (I think it was!) Did the early New Testament church(es) have this problem of people who attended regularly and were committed --- but who didn't look very much like Jesus?

Often we take aim at the people who call themselves Christians and don't come to church. "ChrEasters" is a moniker given to them. They are the ones who generally only attend church on Christmas and Easter. Those of us who attend regularly, volunteer and tithe tend to look down upon on the "ChrEasters." We subtly judge them for their lack of commitment. We may even question whether they are really Christians or not. And of course, we'd like to encourage them to act more like us --- and be at church every week.

But what's the truth here? Are the people who attend church regularly really more Christ-like? Does church attendance make a difference? It was Mahatma Gandhi I believe, who said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Similarly Mark Twain was quoted saying, "If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be - a Christian." Essentially they were saying that the face of Christianity is pretty unattractive.

Honestly, I get their point point. I know a lot of so-called Christians. Many of them are difficult to love. They don't look anything like Christ. And while I am called to love them, I don't necessarily like them. They are broken people and they drag their brokenness with them everywhere they go. Oddly enough, some of them act more broken than they really are! In other words it isn't that they're weak or lack faith. Rather it's that they are lazy and selfish.

So changing the face of Christianity is becoming a more interesting topic for me these days. As I contemplate the dilemma and visit with my new friend who's been called to this important mission, I find myself thinking in business terms. Perhaps Jesus needs to re-brand Himself. Can we re-position Christianity in the marketplace? Does this organization (the broader body of Christians) need a massive paradigm shift? If so, what are we shifting it from? What will we shift it to?

One of the dilemmas that those of us inside Christianity seem to find ourselves in is that it cannot be measured in the ways we typically measure things. God said His ways would be different than ours. Somehow I suspect that God really does want to change the face of Christianity. Ironically, we are the face of Christianity --- those of us who consider ourselves Christ-followers. And it occurs to me that if we were more focused on looking like Christ, thinking like Christ and living like Christ, we would be changed people. And our face would change.

So I'm committed to changing the face of Christianity. I plan to stand right beside my brother Brad, locking arms in his mission. And I plan to start by changing that face that I see in the mirror!

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