The young man sat down in my office and wasted no time unloading his pain: “For years, I swore I would never get mixed up with religion until I started coming to your services. I now know that Christianity is about Jesus–his life, death, and resurrection.”
He was on a roll–“I am struck by his willingness to love people like me, with all my struggles and addictions. I love his power to touch lepers, spend time with women used up and abused by powerful men. I love how he challenged the powerful and corrupt religious leaders. Most of all, I love his directness with his disciples. He was patient with them, but still called them to a higher vision for their lives.”
As I listened to this passionate young student, I could tell he was reading his Bible with care and insight, and it was resetting the priorities in his life.
But what he said next made me sad. “Pastor, I love Jesus. This is not some empty religious trip for me. Jesus is alive in my daily experiences. But when I come to the church, I don’t see the passion and excitement that I read about in the early church. When I look at the programs and projects of the church, I know that there is some outreach to the community, but it seems like most of what we do is focused on us.”
I finally asked him what he thought was missing.
“If Jesus is alive what are we doing to bring healing and hope to the hurting people of our community? When I come to the prayer meetings, I don’t see many people present first of all, and then I wonder, what do we believe about prayer? Why do we struggle to give and attend to the worship of Jesus both in the church and outside of the church?”
And then he said these words I will never forget: “I love Jesus, but I don’t like the church. I see a disconnect between the words we sing and preach about Jesus. and how we demonstrate his powerful, resurrected life through each of us.”
Words from a naive, emotional youth? Maybe. But don’t dismiss what the student is saying. In fact, meet with some of the students in your church and ask them, is our church helping you become a faithful follower of Jesus? And then be prepared to listen, learn, pray and change.
“The unfortunate reality,” says Kara Powell, author of Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love your Church, “is that most churches are not growing, and they aren’t getting any younger (p.15).” Check out Seth Stewart’s helpful summary of the book here.
So what’s the resolution with this college student? None. There are no easy answers, I told him. The church, the people of God, from the times of the Exodus, through exile, to the post-resurrection community until now has been a messy community. There has never been a moment in time when the Church lived in perfect obedience to Christ. But there has never been a moment when Christ left his Church.
So this is the resolution: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ (Philippian 1:6).
Christ in us, the hope of glory, that is the ultimate resolution. He started a good, redemptive work in His Church and he won’t quit until he returns. My young college friend continues to worship and serve in our church because he is learning to embrace and love our church the way Jesus embraces and loves His church. The sign of a maturing Christian is one who loves Jesus and loves the people (however imperfect they may be) that Jesus loves.