I wonder sometimes if Christians really believe in God’s grace anymore. Surveys consistently show that Christians are thought of as some of the most judgmental people around. Seemingly, the people who say they believe in God’s grace are increasingly perceived to hoard it for themselves.
Consider these bleak headlines from sites popular among Millennials:
- 5 Possible Reasons Young Americans Are Leaving Church and Christianity Behind
- Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore
- Why Are Christians So Judgmental?
- White Christian America is dying
The list could go on for days, and that last one is particularly interesting in a racially charged election season. But alas, the very fact that Christianity in America is now or has ever been associated with “whiteness” is another column.
If you read the above columns (and I hope you do), coming in at the top of the list for Christianity’s decline in the West is the judgmental attitude of Christians. It seems we have a grace deficit.
Many would argue that the perception of Christians being judgmental comes from the fact that Christians (some at least) still talk about sin.
Ah sin, that pesky little subject. For many Christians, the emerging moral relativism of our culture has increasingly caused an intractable situation — one cannot speak of sin without being perceived as judgmental, and that judgmental attitude is the biggest repellant driving folks from the pews.
Maybe I’m a fundamentalist now because I think calling people to repentance is biblical. The fact is, Christians in America increasingly need to consider how to remain true to the gospel without falling into the trap of repelling people.
Of course, we are given the promise in Scripture that the gospel will fall on deaf ears, hard hearts and rocky soil. At the same time, we are called not just to scatter seed but to tend the soil.
What if the gospel falls on deaf ears, hard hearts and rocky soil because we have not done the work of tilling soil? The gospel is, after all, the news of God’s love and grace.
If the only thing people hear from Christians is judgment, vitriol and anger, then no wonder they are leaving the church. We are not tilling the soil. That leaves me with a question: Does the gospel you preach lean toward grace or toward judgment?
John Pavlovitz once eloquently stated, “Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you’re a Christian and then not being a complete jerk.”
Seems easy enough, but the challenge comes when we live in a culture that labels making any truth claim as “being a jerk.” Certainly, some people in our culture increasingly show aversion to claims like “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God,” but perhaps there is something more to the consistent theme of “judgmentalism” popping up in surveys asking why people leave the church.
Maybe some Christians really are judgmental jerks. Odds are, if you’re reading this column you’ve encountered a few yourself. Perhaps judgmental Christians that drive people away from the church (and away from grace) are a bit like playboy swimmers who trash gas station bathrooms at the Olympics. Just because a few irresponsible and very drunk athletes get into an altercation and lie about vandalizing property on foreign soil, doesn’t mean all Olympic athletes are drunken, capricious dunces.
Because of the immature misdeeds of a few Olympians, coverage (at least in the United States) of nearly all others sports and feats was overshadowed by the acts of Lochte and company.
Likewise, in many cases judgmental, mean spirited and sometimes incorrigible personalities in churches can distract from all the wonderful things God’s Spirit is doing, and even drive people away from the church.
Whether inside or outside the church, it can be tempting to focus on “those judgmental Christians,” to the detriment of celebrating God’s larger work in the world. How can we lift up and encourage examples of Christ-like grace?
When we allow judgmental individuals to set the ministry agenda in our churches, or dominate the air-time of our congregational energy, we surrender the church’s ability to be a conduit of God’s grace in the world. We put grace on the back burner.
Tilling the soil at times means removing barriers. What barriers exist in your church that keep people from grace? Do judgmental people eat up your time and energy, hindering the gospel? For some of us, maybe it’s time for laborious work of tilling.