Yesterday my friend and Chain of Lakes participant Gary Wassam took me on a tour of the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul.
Gary loves history and shared with me information about the Native Americans who lived in this part of St. Paul in the 18th century. As part of this tour we read some historical monuments and came upon the one in this picture.
I have no idea what motivation drove the person to write “Jesus Saves” on this historical monument. The person who did it could have been a youth on a joyride, or a drunken adult, or maybe it really was a Christian who thought that a permanent marker could be used as an evangelism tool.
I was asked recently about what has surprised me in the past five months in my work at Chain of Lakes. I didn’t have an immediate answer, but now I can respond by saying I’m surprised that Christians, the church, and organized religion have such a poor image with the unchurched.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that writing “Lord Jesus Saves” on a historical monument doesn’t help the image of Christians.
When the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes came up with our Purpose Statement we had serious and thoughtful conversation about using the word, “disciple.” Some folks legitimately thought that the word would turn people off—especially young people. Since we passed our Purpose Statement I’ve had some folks tell me that people won’t come to our church because they don’t want to be a disciple. This doesn’t bother me—I don’t want to be a disciple who defaces a historical monument with the words “Lord Jesus Saves” either.
I accept the reality that many unchurched folks don’t have a biblical understanding of the word, disciple. The question that I wrestle with is “Do we in the church give up on showing a “Jesus way” of being a disciple? The answer has all sorts of implications for main-line Christianity.
My answer to that question is “no.”
What would happen if the unchurched saw people in our congregation acting with astounding compassion, what would happen if they saw us doing acts of service that actually made a difference in people’s lives and ultimately transformed a community, what would happen if the people in our congregation modeled authenticity to the world; what would happen if people read the Bible to learn about how to live out God’s desires for their lives. I could list twenty more of these “what would happen questions.” But you get the point. What would happen if a disciple of Jesus became known by what Jesus modeled and taught about being a disciple instead of the ugly brand which some display.
I have no problem saying that the church and in particular the Presbyterian Church has done a lousy job of communicating a "Jesus way” of being a disciple. I find that we Presbyterians are more concerned about programs and polity than about communicating a “Jesus way” of being a disciple.
But I do believe that a “Jesus way” is possible. I believe the Holy Spirit desires this and it can happen in a Presbyterian church. And unless this “Jesus way” is discovered a lot more ugliness masqueraded as Christianity will happen.