I’ve been thinking through something this past week that I’ll probably put into a full message.
The main idea basically goes like this: there are people who call themselves Christians who are on an inevitable path to walk away from the church and God.
I call these people Terminal Christians.
In the past, when America was a much more culturally Christian nation, there was really no reason to give up church or Christianity – even if a person wasn’t really a believer (we’d say he “isn’t walking with the Lord right now…”) A person who had no faith would simply live one way on Sundays and Holidays and a different way during the week. Hypocrisy was a coping mechanism.
In today’s culture, certainly in the Northwest, if someone doesn’t really believe in God and have a relationship with Him there is no reason to say you do and certainly no reason to attend church, which is seen as a patriarchal and hierarchical institution that uses people, abuses people and applies guilt as a means of controlling people’s moral lives.
Thus, when I see someone in the church who has no faith and is beginning to develop a critical view of church (essentially, adopt culture’s view of church) – I know I’m looking at a “Terminal Christian.”
Don’t get me wrong, if someone has a real faith then I believe that faith will continue to grow and develop. What I’m talking about are people who have simply been a part of the herd, but will soon find their way out. The frustrating part is that Terminal Christianity is exposing how many people in our churches have never really got it.
They have followed pastors or teachers and been entertained by programs and music, but they have never truly become disciples of Christ (what the word “Christian” is meant to imply).
Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.” He meant to convey that our honest pursuit of God will be rewarded.
I’m realizing, from watching Terminal Christians, that the opposite is also true. If someone is looking to find their way out of church and away from God… they’ll find plenty of excuses to leave. You will find what you seek.
What does all this mean?
First, churches need to realize when we focus on external things we will reap what we have sown. Somehow, the emphasis needs to be on faith, hearts, authenticity and people’s own relationship with God. Great entertainment will only produce a great audience. Discipleship, however, should produce committed followers of Christ.
Second, church leaders and mature believers need to actually look and be happy! Drawing closer to God shouldn’t look like going to the dentist’s office. One of the main excuses people use to let themselves out of church is the stifling morality, the heavy burden of responsibility and their deep seated desire to find freedom and happiness. Hopefully, the irony is apparent. Both freedom and happiness are supposed to find their fullest expression in our close proximity to God and legalism and weightiness are aspects of religion that Jesus explicitly condemned. Instead of offering hope to those disillusioned with Christianity, we become their excuse.
Lastly, we need to raise our children differently. (I could write pages on what I’m thinking and wrestling with on this one, but I’ll just leave it at this – if we raise our kids secular with a dash of Christianity, we shouldn’t be surprised when as college students their comfort zone is a cultural secularism and Christianity feels external and uncomfortable.)
I’m praying that people will once again find Christ, who is the hope of the world, in the local churches of their cities.