Do We Need to Lose Our Religion?

“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?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “Do We Need to Lose Our Religion?

  1. So very true. I believe that people are looking for that BIG something more now, than ever before in their lives. Unlimited questions to ask, so few answers to find. Unfortunately the face of Religion has somewhat lost the very one’s that need to be found. Jesus simply said “Bring the fish to HIM, he will clean them, it is not our job.

  2. I don’t think we need to lose our religion we just need to let the unchurch to know that they don’t need to have religion to come to church or to find religion to find God. They just need to be themselves and learn to be themselves and find that God is there for everyone…

  3. For me, it’s hard to reach those “crooks and riffraff” because I just do not relate to that kind of lifestyle and I really find it awkward to know what to say or do. However, just as I reflect on this, I am thinking of an Okotoks family that was broken with drugs and drinking, and in the time that I knew the woman, her needs were as common as mine – to be known and to be loved. But I got turned off with all the sin and pulled away . . . . How do we as Christians relate more effectively to those whose lives are so opposite to the life Jesus wants us to live?

    • Wow! Dolores, that’s a great question. I often find myself in uncomfortable situations or with people who make me uncomfortable. What helps me most is remembering that most of the time, the reason people get into these levels of sin and lostness is simply because they are hurting. It helps me to try to find the hurt and minister to that – and often it opens the door for life change.

    • Delores, my entire Christian “life” has been as a church musician, a Minister of Music. It was so clean that the word “sterile” fits better. Now, at nearly 64, I’m so drawn to this “riffraff” that such folk make up the brightest part of my week. I’m in jail once or twice a week with men (and infrequently women) who society wants to throw under the bus. I teach life skills – blatantly from a Christ-centered perspective. When I asked for suggestions about what they would like to learn about next, I got 1) How do I develop trust, 2) How to restore broken relationships, 3) How do I love unconditionally?

      I got to this place in my life by surrendering (Oswald Chambers uses the word “abandon”) EVERYTHING I want for what He wants. I’m a seriously needy work in progress who struggles with ego and pride and desire for human affirmation every day.

      That’s my story and…the ending hasn’t been yet written. Hallelujah! Oh, and I’m a Southern Baptist who has really, really stepped outside his comfort zone. Scary at first but come on in. The Water’s just fine!

      • Hey Talmadge – wow, away out here in Nairobi, Kenya, I just found this blog site due to reading my son Bill’s blog first. And you can imagine how delighted I was to see your name here, and to hear your heart, once again. And I know you, Kelly! And I am so hearing all of these comments!

        I am a missionary kid from Congo, and am out here because my husband of three years is doing some work for a mission office. What am I supposed to be doing, besides washing my husband’s sox and making his porridge?! Who am I supposed to be? I know and love Jesus!

        What about all these Kenyans around me, everywhere? Many go to a church. But I have discovered the sweet sweet presence of Jesus as I stoop down to chat with a mama on the side of a street, and hand her a little knitted doll for her child. I tell her that the grandmas back in Canada that made these little dolls want her to know HOW MUCH Jesus loves her. It is so easy to sit and love and listen. That weary Kenyan mama may never get inside one of the many churches here. But maybe I can love her to Jesus, right there on the grass alongside the busy roadway.

        God bless and use us all! And help us live “outside the box” in a way that makes Jesus smile!

        Bill, Mim and Kev’s mom, and Kelly’s friend from Prairie days!

        • Hi Betty! It’s SO great to hear from you!! To hear your heart & to hear you are doing well!
          What you are doing in Kenya is exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said there are rewards for those who offer even just a cup of cold water to someone. It’s the little, seemingly insignificant acts that matter most in our eternal bank accounts. Do not weary from doing good, ’cause God and heaven are watching and will reward you for each and every time you cared for the one in need.

  4. I agree, Kelly, people who are into drugs and drinking are often self-medicating to get rid of the pain in life, whether they consciencely realize it or not. But ‘those people’, and I speak from experience, are drawn to truth and love, not religion. Alcohol and drugs only numb the pain for awhile before it comes back but if we invest in relationship and love them we can show them a way out of their pain permenantly, with a relationship with their Creator through Jesus. Choose relationship, not religion. Funny, but there are people in the church that aren’t exibiting outward symptoms of substance abuse but they are hurting and need the same freedom. We must live a life of love everywhere with everyone.

  5. Frankly Kelly, I’m impressed. This is one of the most honest, courageous, and well-spoken critiques of an individual’s own ministry that I have read in a long time, and I’ll tell my facebook followers the same thing.

    The Church IS changing. I like to say that ever since the first Christmas morning, it has been easier to find Jesus in places that smell more like manure than incense. The challenge facing today’s Church is taking Jesus down from stain-glass windows and placing Him where He most wants to be – in the grit of people’s lives.

    As the Bride of Christ, I think we’ll find that we are maturing in the same degree that we are becoming humble. It is the SAVED “riff-raff and crooks” that are the leaders of tomorrows ministries.

  6. Kelly: Although you have me as a FB friend, I have tuned in to this particular posting because of Bill’s commendation and posting.

    Could I go way off on a tangent and make a few observations?
    One. Have you read “Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices” by Frank Viola and George Barna? Or the other books by Frank Viola on the “organic church”? I think this should be required reading for every “Protestant” Christian who THINKS he does “church” by the book.
    Two. It would flow from understanding the “pagan roots” of our “churchianity” to readily understand why these “lost” ones are not attracted to our “churches” no matter what attractions we build into them. If we understood that the “church” is the body of believers, we wouldn’t be expecting UNbeliever to be attracted to it,… as a building or institution… when Jesus very clearly never intended that there be such a “method” of “proclaiming the good news.
    Three. Isn’t the separation of Christians from non-Christians in part because Christians have not really grasped that THEY are sinners on the same level as the rapist? We don’t really share testimonies among ourselves. How many “parents” confess that they have a “wicked” son or daughter who has actually tried drugs? When we do share, we are looked on as failures, or we have some “super spiritual saint” throw a condemning scripture at us.
    If Christians did not hive off to the “sanctuary” or leave “ministry” to a clergy class, we would be recognizing that the person we would reach is the one we work with or COULD have over for a coffee,… or God forbid… go to the pub with them and have a coke and wings while they sip their beer, and pour out their heart to us.
    Four: The fact that we speak of “ministry” already makes the charge of “living the Good News” some kind of “professional” calling. The disciples turned the world upside down, not because they were “ministering” and each one had a different group that he had to Minister to. There were no Youth Ministers, or Minister of Music, or Senior’s pastor. Every believer radiated the love of Jesus and the assurance of sins forgiven and the resurrection reality. The unbeliever “Asked” the believer to explain the hope that was in them. (They did NOT have to ask the “pastor” or come to the church by invitation to hear the “good news,” )
    Five: If “church members” got out of the “comfortable pew” and got involved with “real people”, they would soon discover that they are not one bit different than their own brothers and sisters, and cousins. Go to the “mission”/soup kitchens. Go to senior’s homes and interact with a curmudgeon and find out what makes him or her so miserable. Go to a prison Bible Study or chapel service, or inmate visitation programme, and discover that the young man in there has two children and a wife he hasn’t seen in months or years, and that he is overcoming an addiction problem AND listening to the Gospel for hope and answers. (It would help put us in the same “category” if we understood that it one of us should accidently go through a red light, and hit a vehicle and cause the driver in the other car to die, WE could be in prison for “manslaughter”? Would we want to be treated as we treat the prisoner now, in our thinking?

    We seem to think that the unbeliever is supposed to be attracted to “The chuch”, and no doubt the one we attend.
    But as you observed, the “sinners” were NOT attracted to the “church” or “religion”. They were attracted to Jesus, and when the sinner sees Jesus in us, they will be attracted to HIM today as well.

    Did anyone ever notice that the Scriptures DO NOT CONDEMN the pagans for living like pagans? RATHER from Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures are addressed TO BELIEVERS, and God condemns HIS PEOPLE when THEY live like pagans. When was the last time some “self righteous” person has quoted portions of Romans 1 … to “unbelieving sinners” to put them in their place or show how wicked they are? But Paul was writing to Christians, and if we disregard the (man made) chapter breaks, read Romans 2:1-3 ff, to find out what his real message was.