Image Courtesy of UMCom YouTube Channel
This past Saturday, I preached on the meaning of church. We’re going through the book of Ephesians in a sermon series, and Ephesians 1:23 defines the church as the “fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Since my theme was “rethinking church,” I decided to check out what resources were available from the United Methodist “Rethink Church” campaign. I found a three-year-old promotional video that I have embedded below. The video gets one thing very right when it says church is a verb, not a noun. I found that to be literally true in the original Greek of my sermon text for the weekend. However, the video also gets something very wrong. It makes “us” the subject of the sentence in which “church” is a verb, instead of Jesus, whose name doesn’t appear anywhere in the entire video.
I can sympathize with the ethos that seems to be behind this video. In a time when Christians are perceived as angry, self-righteous Bible-thumping Pharisees, it would seem that unchurched people would be more attracted to a a Christianity that is about helping people and doing community service. Apparently, the reason that the video didn’t mention Jesus is because the publicity consultants hired by the Methodist church said that it would be a turn-off to seekers.
If I try my hardest to be charitable and not horrified by this mentality, I could make a case for it being in line with the outreach philosophy espoused by Diana Butler Bass in her Christianity After Religion. Bass talks about three B’s that describe a believer’s conversion to Christianity. In the past, when Christianity was the universal norm in society, people believed in Jesus first, then behaved like a Christian, then belonged in a church. Bass argues that in our post-Christendom world, we should reverse the sequence. Invite people to belong in a church, let them learn from the community how to behave like Christians, trusting that this will lead to their discovered belief in Christ.
I see some merit to Bass’s approach. It’s similar to a “conversion-less” form of evangelism advocated by Brad Kallenberg’s Live To Tell. Kallenberg, who had spent his early Christian years involved in a campus ministry that emphasized aggressive sidewalk evangelism, found that the evangelistic approach of arguing people into “decisions for Christ” on the sidewalk stopped being fruitful as our culture entered the era of postmodernity in the nineties. In Kallenberg’s book, he suggests inviting people to church without making a big deal about whether they’re “seekers” or “believers” and engaging them in Christian discourse as though they’re Christians until they come to a place where they can authentically claim Christian language for themselves.