Why do we Christians keep falling into the habit of equating “church” with “activities”? We go to church, choir rehearsals, food drives, baby/wedding showers, any number of ministries. Those are great. But we talk about them to non-Christians at the expense of talking about the Real Thing: Jesus. Why?
Life, both Christian and secular, is more than just the activities.
Maybe part of it is the same way we talk about the rest of our lives: our families, for instance. When I talk about my husband, or even when talking with him, the conversation is likely to be about mundane things. We talk about schedules, or chores that need to be done. We may step up to discussing something we’ve seen on TV or in a news article. But it’s rare to talk about the big things of life: our hopes and dreams, our love for each other, our deep concerns. The minutiae of life is just an easier and more common topic of conversation.
How much does this contribute to mis-perception of Christianity by non-believers? If they see Christianity as simply a set of activities, it makes sense that they think it has no more eternal relevance than a social club. Why would they understand the all-pervasive worldview and relationship that is authentic Christianity?
Faith and Works go hand-in-hand.
Part of the problem is the age-old balance between “faith” and “works”. On the one hand, everything that makes me a Christian is faith: faith in Jesus to cover my sin with His righteousness, and that the price He paid to do so is sufficient. On the other hand, what demonstrates that I am redeemed is that I begin to channel Him, to act as He does 1.
Paul says, and he is correct:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.Romans 3:28
…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.Galatians 2:16
But James says, and he is also correct:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.James 2:14-18
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
I’ve mentioned this story before: One Sunday morning, I kept crossing paths in the church kitchen with the same person as she cleaned up from one event while I set up for another. I laughingly asked, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” She answered seriously, “Because we love Jesus!” She was right.
Still, when Christians talk about church activities more than about Jesus, we can give the impression that Christianity is just about getting to Sunday School on time, or baking a cake for a social, or balancing the budget, or rehearsing the music. We may step up to prayer requests for those who are sick or have other needs, or special offerings for missions or disaster relief. But it is not as common to talk about specific ways that God has acted in our lives recently.
It is even less common to talk about such things outside of our church family. No wonder the non-believers in our lives don’t realize how important Jesus is to us: We don’t tell them!
Jesus sometimes seems too special to be shared…
I once heard someone say that it is easier to talk about church than about God, and about God than about Jesus. That’s true; at least it is for me. But why?
Talking directly about Jesus, especially to non-believers, feels very personal. It’s like exposing too much of my intimate inner life. Even more, it’s exposing that life to someone who may either be embarrassed by it, mock it, or be angry about it. It’s risking something precious to someone who might hurt it. Jesus mentioned this possibility:
Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.Matthew 7:6
There is also the concern that I’ll get it wrong. Maybe I’ll phrase something in a clumsy way. Or maybe they will ask a question or express a criticism that I don’t know how to answer. Or I may even give a wrong answer that interferes with a person’s acceptance of Jesus. That would be awful!
…but He is much too special NOT to share.
But at the same time, Christians are given a very clear responsibility to share the incredible good news of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8), not to hoard it for ourselves. Everyone needs to know how much God loves them, and what Jesus did for them. How do we find that balance?
One point, for myself at least, is that I need to live beyond just “church activities”. I need to be more intentional about focussing on my relationship with Jesus. I should consciously appreciate it, turn to Him for guidance, and notice how often He is dealing with me. “God coincidences”, where He acts subtly, happen regularly and are easy to overlook. (They are fun to see once I start to notice them, though!) Also, it’s sometimes only in hindsight that I realize “Hey, that was God at work!” 2
When my relationship with Jesus is more at the forefront of my mind, it will then be more natural to mention it in conversation.
That doesn’t mean beating people over the head with a 10-pound Bible, or turning every conversation into a Sunday School lesson, though. It can be as simple as “Didn’t God give a pretty sunset tonight?” or “I know that Jesus has a plan for this.” I’ve noticed that some people are using the word “blessed” more often, as in “Have a blessed day” instead of just “Have a good day.” That’s a good start (as long as it is truly a prayer for God’s blessings rather than just a trite saying).
If, or when, the occasion calls for it, though, we do need to be ready to go deeper, as deep as the other person chooses.
…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…1 Peter 3:15
…but share often!
We should be noticeably different — happier, more peaceful, more secure — and also happy to explain that difference to those who are attracted by it. That includes being able to share what Jesus means to us and why…not just what we’ve done at church lately.