A few weeks ago we started a teaching series called “Church Without the Curchiness.” Perhaps not surprisingly, people readily understood what was meant by “churchy”—and it wasn’t good. Most of the words we came up with (such as hypocritical, judgmental, boring, holier-than-thou, etc.) were not words anyone would use to describe Jesus—and they shouldn’t describe his followers, either.
Our first topic in this series had to do with the church’s attitude toward the world around it. “Churchy” postures toward outsiders often fall into one of three categories: hostile, indifferent, or appeasing. Each of these may be rooted in a desire to please God, but they can become distortions that are far from the kind of relationship Jesus had with “outsiders.”
In order to be the kind of church he intended, we need turn away from these “churchy” ways of relating to the world, and toward a more Christ-like posture. We need to shift:
1. From Hostility to Servanthood
Too often the church views the people in the world around it as the enemy and takes on a posture of hostility toward them. While the New Testament often uses harsh language to describe our relationship with the world (e.g. 1 John 2:15), it is referring to the world’s values and systems, not its people. Jesus’ posture toward the world (people) was not one of enmity, but servanthood. He came to serve (Mark 10:45), which means he came to meet real needs—to benefit others. Of course, the ultimate act of servanthood was giving his life on the cross, but this was not the only way he served. He spent a lot of time working as a carpenter/builder, training disciples, and healing the sick. He earned a reputation as someone who “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). Far from just a way to kill time until he could get to the real business of dying, servanthood was a way of life that demonstrated the love of God in tangible ways. The church should likewise find ways to “do good,” and benefit the community it finds itself in.
2. From Indifference to Love
Many churches act as if the outside world doesn’t exist. They rarely engage with secular culture, fail to build relationships with non-Christians, and insulate themselves in the Christian bubble. They schedule their lives so full of “church stuff” that they have no time or emotional energy to interact in any meaningful way with their neighbours, coworkers, or those who live in their town or city. The opposite of love is not hate (which at least carries a sense of passion with it), but apathy. One of the most famous verses in the Bible says that God “loved the world” (John 3:16). Churches are called to emulate that love in a way that is not willing to sit back and watch it “go to hell in a handbasket,” as if it had nothing to do with us. Ignoring the world around us is just not an option.
3. From appeasing culture to counterculture.
Sometimes churches are tempted to give into the world around them, to take on its, values, morals, worldview, and every whim of society. Sometimes this is a sort of peer pressure (we want to be like everyone else so we can fit in), and sometimes it is an outreach strategy (we want to seem like everyone else so they can hear our message). Either way, the last thing the world around us needs are Christians who live exactly the same lifestyle as everyone else. We are called to be countercultural, to offer an alternative to “the empty way of life handed down from our ancestors” (1 Peter 1:18).
Jesus calls us to be “the light of the world,” (Matt 5:14-16), but too often churches have hidden under a basket—either because they saw the outside world as the enemy, or they were simply content to light up their own little space. To be the kind of bright light Jesus intended, we need to take our place on the lamp stand, and allow our light to be a gift to those around us. We need to “let [our] light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).