Go, And Make Atheists Of All Nations…


By John Pavlovitz

I confess that I sometimes wonder if I would have any interest at all in becoming a Christian if I weren’t already one.

(Heck, if I’m honest, many days I look around and wonder if I still want to be one now).

It’s not that Jesus isn’t worth following anymore. It isn’t that the Gospels don’t paint the picture of the most meaningful life possible. And it’s not that Jesus has lost a step, or lost His luster, or lost me.

In fact, some days, Jesus is the only thing that keeps me from losing my religion. It’s just getting harder and harder to find Him in The Church.

Have you ever gone to a family reunion and seen distant relatives you remember fondly from years past? There’s often that disappointing moment when the sweet memory of them, the idea of them that you once cherished, gets overtaken by the cold, crushing reality, that, well… you just don’t fit in anymore.

It’s not that you don’t love them; it’s just that you no longer have anything in common besides blood and DNA. In fact, rather than making you feel at home, or like you’re with family, they make you more than a little uncomfortable. So you sit there as they tell some bizarre story, and you smile awkwardly, watching the clock, and you bide your time until you can get in the car, and get out of there before being embarrassed to death.

For many of us who really love Jesus, the Church is becoming that weird uncle who makes us nervous.

We watch the news, survey our newsfeeds, listen to talk radio, pass by the bumper stickers, and we get that queasy, disorienting family-picnic feeling. We look at the over-politicized, perpetually defensive, fear-peddling, gun-toting, fight-picking, sign-waving, odd-talking presence that has become the face of American Christianity, and we want to scream, “Are these my people?”

Maybe you feel that way. Maybe you’re a Christian, but you feel like a virtual stranger in The Church. (You’re not alone). Maybe you’re not sure what you believe, but you know that Christians generally freak you out. (Again, you’re in good company).

But please know that this wasn’t the plan.

As the Gospel of Matthew ends, Jesus is getting ready to leave the earth, and he gives his followers that grand, beautiful assignment to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

This is known in Christian circles as The Great Commission, and just about 100 percent of the churches in America claim it as their mission statement, in one form or another; Jesus telling those who would bear His name to produce people who follow Christ.

If I’m honest, I’m worried about what we’re producing anymore.

I know that we’re producing celebrity pastors, and megachurches, and lobbyist groups, and voting blocks, and lots and lots of books and blogs and sub-par movies, but beyond that, things start to get a little hazy.

Are we actually speaking truth to the people outside of the building? Are we communicating the clear, real message of Jesus, or have we simply franchised out His name to say and do whatever we want?

Is our presence in this world drawing people into a relationship with God, or is it repelling them to the precipice of unbelief? Is it setting the table for them to dine with Jesus, or is it ruining their appetite altogether?

The truth is, though The Church is supposed to be making disciples, with our political agendas and our judgmental manner, and our “us against them” mentality, we’re probably making more atheists.

Am I taking a cheap shot here? Is this the easy way out:  vilifying my own family? Am I guilty of the most horrible Christian-on-Christian crime by painting multitudes of believers with the same broad brush? Maybe.

But after decades spent inside the Christian community and fifteen years as a pastor, I find myself trying more and more to stand in the shoes of the hurting, searching, and broken people walking around out there wondering just what about the Christianity they see so often makes them want more of Jesus.

My greatest fear is that The Church is becoming the biggest stumbling block to faith for the faithless, and frankly, it tears me up.

I wish I had more solutions to offer, but right now, all I have are frustrations, questions and uncomfortable family reunions.

I still believe Jesus is worth following. I’m just not sure that to Him is where we’re leading people.

John Pavlovitz is a father of two (Noah and Selah) and husband of one (Jennifer); a 14-year youth ministry veteran, specializing in rabble-rousing, engineering mayhem and generally trying to live-out the red letters of Jesus.

He currently serves as Pastor of Youth and Children at Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and oversees BIGHOUSE Youth. This article was originally published on his blog, JohnPavlovitz.com: Stuff that Needs to be Said

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