“The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.”
~ Dr. Timothy Keller ~
There are many differences between Jesus’ ministry and my own, but one really stands out to me. Jesus had an uncanny ability to attract the outcasts, outsiders whom the mainstream of society rejected. He loved them and they loved him.
If I am to be honest, the people I feel most comfortable with and the ones who are mostly attracted to me and my ministry are not the same types of people that were drawn to Jesus. According to Dr. Timothy Keller, I must not have the same focus Jesus had or be preaching the same message Jesus preached. Have I been too concerned about keeping the insiders happy? Have I been too focused on my own comfortability and preferences? Have I become religious instead of relational?
Most outsiders are opposed today to religion, and to the church – but the fact is, Christianity was never designed to be a religion. It’s hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion.
The Roman’s used to call the early church “atheists” because what the Christians were saying about spiritual reality was unique and could not be classified with the other religions of the world. The irony of this should not be lost on us. To most people in our society today, Christianity is religion. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was something else entirely.
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this through many New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life.
One time, after Jesus first called Matthew to be his disciple, he encouraged Matthew to throw a party for all of his “outsider” friends. The religious crowd was really upset that a Rabbi would behave in such a way. The story reads;
“Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?’ Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.'” (Matthew 9:10-13 Msg)
Jesus had a clear focus. A clear WHY. He was focused on outsiders. He desired relationship, not religion. If we’re not having the same effect, is it because we do not have the same focus? Should we check our motives, our WHY? Do we need to lose a little religion?