They Like Jesus, But Not His Followers
In a recent poll conducted by the Barna Group, people were asked how they felt about Jesus and then asked how they felt about Christians who say they follow Jesus .
71% of people polled said they have a favorable view of Jesus and his teachings, with a 40% approval rating from those claiming no faith affiliation.
But when asked about their view on Christianity in our current culture, the favorable rating dropped to 57%, with a 21% rating from those with no faith affiliation driving the overall number down.
In short, most people like Jesus but don't like his followers.
The headline on Barna's article unveiling their research reads like this: "Openness to Jesus Isn't the Problem--the Church Is."
When asked about the main reasons they answered the way they did, people with no faith affiliation revealed that they believed the Church in America is: anti-gay, sexist, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, hypocritical and judgemental.
I'm sure there will be people who will read the results of this survey and then say something myopic and ridiculous like, "Well, Christians shouldn't be like the world, anyway!"
Trust me, I've heard that old chestnut a few times, and it never stops being entirely and utterly tone-deaf.
What this survey reveals isn't that Christians should become more like "the world," whatever that means; they should just become more like Jesus.
This means that those of us who say we follow Jesus ought to be doing so with much more intentionality and humility. And the Jesus we should follow is the One we find in Scripture, not the one we've created to justify our worldview.
There's a poignant verse from John's Gospel that I wrote down recently and posted on my desktop so I would read it regularly:
"Have I been with you all this time Philip, and you still do not know me?" - John 14:9
I replaced the name "Philip" with "Leon" on the note I jotted down to remind myself that I regularly understand Jesus wrong, especially when I assume that Jesus always agrees with me, which I'm reasonably sure he doesn't.
This is something that every person who claims to follow Jesus ought to do. We should all have that phrase written down with our names on it to remind us how we should live.
Far too many of us have become complacent about our relationship with Jesus and way too comfortable in our journey of following after him.
But if Christians like us would be willing to fully embrace a life of following Jesus as closely as we can, adhering to his teachings, following the example he set in his life and ministry, and offering the kind of radical love he shared with everyone---we just might change the minds of some of the folks who like Jesus, but not his followers.
Jesus isn't the problem. He never has been.
And the world around us needs the kind of hope and peace that can come from encountering people chasing after Jesus with wild abandon, ready and willing to follow him wherever he leads.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.