As a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors I receive their regular publication, Christian Counseling Connection. I recently received Volume 18, Issue 1. Within the publication I found several statistics that caused me to wonder if the religious community in America is up to the challenges of today’s society.
George Barna in “Futurecast” (Tyndale House, 2011) stated that the fastest growing faith group in America is the “skeptics.” This group is a combination of atheists and agnostics. Barna reported that this group has doubled in size in the last 25 years. Can the Christian church of today meet the challenge of those who say “there is positively no God” and those who are “not so sure there is a God?”
Part of the answer to that question lies in a couple of other statistics found in the same publication by AACC. Gary Foster, president of Gary D. Foster Consulting, provided two startling figures: (1) approximately 1.9 billion people have never heard the Gospel ... not even once; (2) the United States is now the fourth largest “lost” nation in the world. By the way, Foster also reported that 25 million copies of the Bible are sold each year in America. It seems that the Bibles may simply be for showing and not growing. Either that, or some Bible readers study the Word so vigorously that they wear out their copies and need new ones. I pray that the latter is the correct explanation.
Seriously, how can Christian churches today meet the challenges put forth by the researchers? We can pray. We know that prayer changes things. However, we also know that the Samaritan could have prayed all day for the wounded man in the ditch (Luke 10) and possibly not see the man arise and walk away as if nothing happened.
Truly, we should pray, but we need to put authentic love and care into each encounter with those needing to understand that there is a God and that through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, they can have the healing that they seem not to see too often in others. Perhaps we should practice our good Samaritanship more in areas where the “lost” can see us, rather than delivering it only from the pulpit or the church pew. If nearly 2 billion have never heard the Gospel, then Christian churches have “fields that are white unto harvest.” Jesus’ commandment was not to stand around until they come to you but, rather, to go where the “lost” can be found.
We must also remember that Jesus did not tell us to act in the same manner as those to which we share the Gospel. He said we are to tell others the Good News — as is, not so it will simply appeal to the hearer. Christ was explicit when He dealt with unbelievers. He gave them the truth and told them to go and sin no more. He did not say to keep on doing sinful things and pray for God to have mercy on you. He said to His disciples, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
Using the standard given by Christ, we are to make disciples also. We are to give them the teachings of Christ because they are the truth, and the truth will set them free. This is the mindset we must have to meet the challenges of today, the mindset Christ gave to His disciples over 2000 years ago. It still holds true today — but it requires a loving, caring attitude similar to the teacher. We can meet the challenge but it may require us to make some changes in our methods of delivery. We must love them, then win them and not vice versa. Think about it.
(James is pastor of Summerlee Wesleyan Church and a member of the Fayette Plateau Ministerial Association.)