It has been en vogue over the last few years for people to claim to love spirituality but reject religion. The impulse behind this sentiment has led to an unusual application toward Christianity. It surfaces when people say that they really do like Jesus but don't like the church.
Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said something similar. His quote is said to have been:
“I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Whether it is from a man of world renown such as Ghandi or a neighbor down the street, we don't want anyone to reject a life in the church.
But it is a sentiment that I've even heard from professing Christians. There is a foundational desire to walk with Jesus, but, in their minds, something has gone fundamentally wrong with the church. So, let me give some ideas about how we can answer this perspective from others – and sometimes ourselves.
Talk about bad definitions. When someone asks if they can follow Jesus but not the church, I ask what they mean when they use the word church. More often than not, they don't want to reject the people gathered in a church family. They are rejecting an institution or a set of practices. What is needed is a biblical definition of the church. (Likely, it is what we all need to monitor constantly.)
If someone is working on the definition that church is merely an institution or a set of sterile programs, then I am with them in rejecting it. We want to follow Jesus and His mission, not someone's latest-greatest-cleverest idea. We know from Scripture that the church is the family of believers who care for one another and bring people into that family. Meet the bad definitions head on and paint the right picture.
Talk about our pain. Bad definitions are often a result of personal pain. We cannot ignore this as a possible reason for someone rejecting the church. In Jesus, they find grace, peace, and forgiveness. At some point in time, they may not have found any of that in a particular congregation. If that is the case, then allow them the opportunity to talk about it. My discovery has always been that once a person is able to talk about their pain, then they can prepare to move back toward a church that is ready to extend grace.
Talk about misplaced priorities. On the other end of the spectrum from pain, we find selfishness. At times, people walk away from the church because they did not feel as if there was enough for “me.” It is a bit of the bad definition issue at work again. But this time, their misunderstanding is that the church should exist for them, and when it didn't, they walked away. It is the opportunity to show how each believer has a place in the church to serve first and be served second.
Invite them into your church family. No matter the issue at work – whether one I've listed or another – the conversation should lead to an invitation. For those of us who love the church, we know that the bride of Christ sometimes does not act the part. It's our place to bring those who want to follow Jesus into the family He has put together.