An interesting question was recently posed to me: "How do we make Jesus seem more inviting to the world?"
It's a question I've asked myself quite a few times, and has been a topic of discussion between me and my husband, because we both sometimes wonder, especially in light of what we're presently reading in the Gospels - how can we truly imitate the incredible evangelism of Jesus? Why, in our day and age, would anyone want to come to church? Why should they want to obey the Gospel? What reason is there for them to want to be like us?
In all honesty, I'm not always sure I would want to invite a nonbeliever that I really cared about to church. I have spent my life in the church and so I'm used to its sometimes-strange practices and sometimes-unfortunate quirks, but I wouldn't want to subject an unsuspecting stranger to a social club that can be cliquey, to sermons that can be laden with "shoulds," and to worship that can seem more like a talent show (even when everyone involved in all three of these aspects has only the best of intentions).
Putting myself in their shoes - I think I'd want to run.
So the question seems valid: In light of all this, how do we make Jesus - this Jesus we have been reading about for the past couple of weeks, the One who is the culmination of everything in our last twenty weeks of reading - seem more inviting to the world?
And yet, upon reflection, I really think it's the wrong question to ask.
We don't need to "make" Jesus or the Gospel more appealing. Jesus is who He is, and He Himself said that He was hated by the world - and so would His disciples be (John 15:18-19). The Gospel is what it is, and Paul wrote that "the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
But at the same time, if we're disciples of Jesus, we are called to be ambassadors of this Truth (2 Corinthians 5:20) - in Greek presbeuo, trusted representatives who are authorized to speak for God's Kingdom.
A BETTER QUESTION
In light of this, I think the question we should be asking instead is, "How do we allow our God to fundamentally transform us - through His Gospel?"
I doubt a complete nobody would be pulled off the streets one day and given a life-or-death diplomatic commission for the king the next. No, ambassadors for any office must be trustworthy and trained, proven over time to be both loyal to and knowledgeable of the one they represent.
In His last charge before His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane which we'll read this week, Jesus gave His disciples a few final directives: "Abide in Me" (John 15:4), "Keep My commandments" (John 15:10), and "Love one another" (John 15:12). Then He prays for them, thanking God for them and making two key requests to the Father: "Keep them in Your name" (John 17:11) and "Sanctify them in the truth" (John 17:17).
The assumed result? "That they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they may also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21).
He didn't tell His disciples in those last hours, "Here are some ways to make Me more appealing to the world after I go away." He didn't pray, "Please give My disciples some evangelism strategies to make the church more welcoming to outsiders."
No - He just showed them the way to life- and heart-changing intimacy with Himself.
Abide in Me - keep My commandments - love one another.
Abide in Me by keeping My commandment to love one another - so that you will be kept in God's name and sanctified by His truth - so that you will learn unity. (See John 13-17.)
And that will show the world who I AM.
A HARDER CALLING
This is much more difficult than just brainstorming ways to make Christianity more appealing to the outside world.
Because it requires personal sanctification - a heart-change, a progression toward holiness, a choice to live in the reality of our new identities. And that's not always easy.
It reverts a broad question about what "the Church" is doing wrong in outreach or what is wrong with Jesus according to our culture to a very pointed question about where I, myself, am failing to live in the reality that I am grafted into Jesus, and to let that reality make me more like Him.
God's Plan A for evangelism is the Church. There is no Plan B.
And the Church's ultimate evangelistic tool is its unity - its oneness as a body, as well as its oneness with Christ. This is what Jesus said would show the world that He really was sent by the Father, because it is something alien to a world which knows only division, selfishness, and strife.
But that starts at the individual level - with individual oneness with Christ (abiding) and individual oneness with the Church (love).
Like a body which can only move properly if every cell, nerve, and muscle fiber is doing its job, or like a football team which can only succeed if every player on the line is doing his job, so it is with the Church: we can only function the way God intended - we will only multiply the way He has planned - if every single one of us is faithfully doing the job set before us.
And the funny thing is, our "job" - which is to abide in the Vine - is actually a pretty passive one. He does the work - He feeds us His life - and we simply receive, and let Him animate and empower us.
So let's reframe our question from "How do we make Jesus more inviting?" to "How do I invite Jesus to change me?"
And as He changes me - and you, and you, and you - I think we'll also find that He is changing our cliques into communities, our obligations into joys, and our talent shows into real worship.
That He is taking the broken and divided and selfish and making it whole and unified and one.
And that's a place I would love to invite every non-Christian friend I know.
Mark: God of the Romans
Total read time: 1.5 hours
John: God of the World
Total read time: 2 hours