“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims, ‘A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!’” (Romans 10:14-17, The Message)
Not long ago I said this in a Sunday sermon: “How God relates to us changes over time depending on who God needs us to be in any given generation. We must understand that the purpose of God’s judgement is to engender change in human behavior.” On Sunday Tristan Holt preached about the way we represent Christianity to the world, particularly to people of his generation – “the Millennials” and the “Next-Gen’s”. Tristan’s message used the metaphor of “making the sale” for the ways in which Christians try to bring people into the church; he discussed several ways NOT to do this and stressed what we should be doing if we hope to reach a new generation with the Word of God.
Later that same day I had a conversation with one of our church members about what this message might mean to us and to the larger United Methodist Church. One of the conclusions we reached was that, in order to “make the sale” in any circumstance one must understand what the “product” is that one is selling. That may in fact be part of the problem with the UMC and much of mainline Christianity today – we cannot seem to agree on what the product really is.
Some may say the product is “salvation”. Through the church God provides forgiveness of sins and redemption that leads to life eternal. Joining the church is a prerequisite for receiving these wonderful gifts so we need to bring people in to help them avoid going to hell when they die. That sounds like a pretty good deal, but it doesn’t resonate with this generation of young people who aren’t thinking ahead to the “afterlife” just yet. I’m not even sure that it would resonate with Jesus either.
Others suggest that we offer a community where people can feel safe and “at home” with others who think like them and believe the same things they believe. This may actually be true, but it hardly represents the richness of our faith and the full intention of gathering as a community of faith.
It seems to me that Jesus made it very clear that he intended to welcome every human being into God’s Kingdom by showing unconditional love to anyone who would receive it. He spent a lot of time with folks who lived on the margins of society; people thought undesirable by the majority. Jesus also spent time warning those who did not see that this way of loving was the will of God and it was the true path to peace in this life and beyond. Jesus was not much interested in what happened after we die; he was very interested in what was going on right now and how people treated each other while they are still alive. God’s kingdom was already realized in much of Jesus’ teaching because God’s will on earth was already at work.
This generation wants to make a difference in this world; they want to change things for the better right now. Jesus taught us to love God, love others, and change the world…that is a message that resonates with this generation. What’s interesting here is the idea that, if we do what Jesus commands now, eternity will take care of itself so we have nothing to worry about anyway.
Getting the word out,