Who is envious of us?

The success of the work of missions and the work of evangelism depends upon the ability to arouse envy.

With these words Dutch missionary J H Bavinck hit the nail on the head.  All too frequently the church seems to be selling a product that the consumer doesn’t want.  The bulk of non-Christians simply do not believe that our faith would add anything substantial to their lives, and in fact would probably stop them enjoying themselves.  We might claim that meeting Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to us, but do we really show it?  Where in the Christian community is the real incontrovertible evidence of transformed lives?  If Jesus has made such an impact on us, why does it not show?

The reason for this is that the bulk of the Christian community, at least in the West, does not want its lives transformed.  We are quite comfortable as we are, and if a veneer of religiosity on top of our materialistic consumerism helps us find meaning in life and feel better about ourselves, that’s as far as it goes.  This increasingly prevalent attitude has recently been called Moral Therapeutic Deism, a term coined by Christian Smith of Notre Dame University.  He suggests that “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition”.

So what is our response to the lack of public interest in the Christianity we are modelling?  We ramp up our marketing.  Millions of pounds are spent on running and promoting the Alpha Course (which is arguably the most effective evangelistic tool of this generation) while we completely ignore the best marketing tool in the business: a satisfied customer.

It has long been my contention that if we were all living transformed lives we wouldn’t need to ‘do’ evangelism – our very lives would speak good news to others.  This is one of the reasons why the early church (as recorded in Acts) grew so rapidly without any preaching of good news specifically mentioned till the end of chapter 5, by which time there were already some 10,000 believers worshipping regularly together, with a fellowship fund and a soup kitchen.  Everyone in Jerusalem could see the difference in the lives of the Jesus-followers.

Nearly 20 years ago, Bill Hybels wrote:

“Authentic Christians are persons who stand apart from others, even other Christians, as though listening to a different drummer.  Their character seems deeper, their ideas fresher, their spirit softer, their courage greater, their leadership stronger, their concerns wider, their compassion more genuine, their convictions more concrete.  They are joyful in spite of difficult circumstances and show wisdom beyond their years.”

Sadly these authentic Christians still seem far too few in number.  While people see us stressed by our ministry, frustrated with our church, confused about our beliefs, heartless towards the needy, and unwilling to talk about Jesus to the lost, we will never convince them that what we have is better than what they have.