If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a flood light were filling you with light. -Jesus, from Luke 11:36
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the ChurchPlanters.com Conference near Atlanta, GA, along with some of my friends who are in church-planting around the Greensboro area. On our way down on Sunday night, we stopped by NewSpring Church in Anderson SC – a church that has grown from 0 to 7,000+ in 7 years. We were able to tour their new facility and meet Pastor Perry Noble (founding pastor) thanks to some connections my friend Tadd Grandstaff has in the church-planting world.
We had an awesome 2 days of great training and challenging messages from other church-planters and leaders from all over the U.S. – including guys like Mark Batterson, Darren Patrick, Steven Furtick and Shawn Lovejoy. We also had the opportunity to stop by the Mall of Georgia (my first time ever there) to grab some dinner, check out the shops and even take in a movie – Cloverfield (the third time I’ve seen it!).
One notable thought (of many) I wanted to share about the conference came from a one-hour session with Gabe Lyons – co-author of “unchristian,” a book based on research about what 16-29 year olds really think about Christianity, and why it matters. During our time together, Gabe unpacked some staggering statistics about top-of-mind perceptions people have toward Christians: 91% of folks surveyed said that Christians are Antihomosexual; 87% said Christians are judgmental and 85% thought hypocritical. Also, 78% perceive Christians as sheltered or out-of-touch and 75% surveyed said Christians are too political.
So the big question is, why does this matter? Didn’t Jesus warn us that he didn’t come to bring peace (Luke 12:51) and that people would despise us on account of him (6:22)? Gabe Lyons points out two great reasons. First, even non-Christians believe that many parts of Christianity today bears little to no resemblance to what Jesus intended. Take a look around the Church landscape today, and this point needs little argument. Second, most of the words mentioned in the survey describe the organized religion of Jesus’ day…the very things that Jesus stands against and responds to with the words woe to you (see Luke 11:37ff).
So today, I had the opportunity to take my niece to lunch and during the course of our conversation, asked her, “what is your perception of me?” I’ve sensed a bit of a riff lately and haven’t sat down to talk to her in a while. She responded by telling me I seemed to be quite judgmental of some things in her life – specifically, her relationships. Ouch. I didn’t realize I’d ever come across that way. So what do you say to things like that? Granted, I want the best for my family and if there’s something I disagree with, it’s difficult for me to hide it. But sometimes, we can do it in ways that are far contrary to the heart of Jesus.
Now I believe we must continue to be a voice of truth and love in the world, even if it makes us unpopular with people…and I believe to walk with Jesus means that we must get accustomed to swimming upstream rather than with the flow…and I believe that sometimes we (as Christians) get the blame unfairly pinned on us simply because of the inner convictions at work in others’ hearts that they’re not willing to accept. However, we must also be a simple voice of confession, of apology where we’ve misrepresented Christ, where even out of our best intentions, we’ve simply been ‘unchristian.’
I believe what the world around us is looking for is not so much perfection, but instead, honesty. Where in the name of Christianity do you need to be honest today? Where is there room for someone’s impression of Christ in you to be restored?