When I was reading a Christian newspaper this morning, a line from Frank Peretti´s book ”The Visitation” popped into my mind. The book tells the story of a bitter and disappointed minister, who has given up on being a pastor, and then suddenly is drawn into a series of most enigmatic events, as a worker of miracles who presents himself as Jesus Christ comes to town.
At some point in the book this ”Jesus” boasts of his abilities to do about anything anybody could ask for, and then goes on saying that his success is guaranteed, since he is going to ”give the people what they want”.
Later on in the book he is swamped by followers coming from all over the country, all of them asking for health, prosperity, youth and beauty, and pretending to be Jesus, ever loving and patient, becomes more and more difficult to him, as their continual demands are wearing him down.
At that point the main character, the retired pastor, asks him: ”I thought you said you would give them what they want?”
”Yes, I know, but they never stop wanting!”, the impostor cries out in frustration.
In the paper I read this morning I was told what the reasons are why people choose to leave Christian assemblies – as, according to the article, 82% do during their first year.
The main reasons for leaving are: ”If I don´t get new friends, if I feel that I don´t fit in, if I don´t feel that I am really, really wanted and welcome, if the new friends I make here not are as good and nice as my old friends were, if my personal needs are not met, and if I am not given tasks that I find important” (and that make me feel important) then 82% of the newcomers feel that they might as well leave!
Seems to be a lot of ”me, myself and I” here…
Which at this point made me wonder why these people had become Christians in the first place.
Well, I read on in the paper. When I read something I notice what is said, and I also try to notice what is not mentioned. In this Christian paper I didn´t find the word ”sin”, not once.
I didn´t find the word ”grace”, but as a first name.
”Salvation” was mentioned once, without any explanation what this is.
The cross was mentioned once – not as in ”Christ crucified”, but in a context where it was described as an important symbol to have on the wall.
Which brings me to the conclusion that if a person gets ”saved” for any other reason that he has come to understand that he is a sinner, who needs salvation, or he is going to end up in hell, and has come to understand that Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, has the power to forgive us all our sins, and make place in heaven for us, if a person gets saved for any other reason than this, then he/she will never stop wanting!
And if he doesn´t get what he wants he will probably eventually leave.
But if someone gets saved for the right reason, then he has already got what he wanted!
Then he can be a friend for others, instead of expecting others to offer themselves to be his friend.
Then he can help others fit in, instead of sulking because ”everybody just care about themselves, it´s only I who cares about me”.
Then he is free to give the love he has received for free from Him, who proved His love by dying for us sinners, instead of forever scanning his fellow Christians for signs of being accepted and loved by them.
Then he is free to serve, to minister to his neighbor, never minding if this work that he´s been given makes him feel important, and seem important in the eyes of his fellow believers.
What should we do then about these 82%?
Try to give them what they want, so that they stay?
I don´t think so, not as the first and only alternative.
They´ll never stop wanting.
We should bring the Gospel, the true, pure Gospel back to the centre of the preaching, to the centre of the evangelisation, to the centre of the worship.
Then those who become believers will come for the right reason, and you need not be any great prophet to foresee that the percentage of dropoffs will decrease significantly.
But this will not happen as long as sin, hell, grace, heaven, the Cross, and salvation by the blood of Jesus are left out the way they were left out in the paper that set me off writing this morning!