September 24, 2007

Silly Birds

A couple of weekends ago, some neighbors invited our family to a pig roast (yeah, we have those in the city!). While the children played and the pig did his version of The Twist over an open flame, I struck up a conversation with one of the guests. From Switzerland, my new friend was quite a pleasure to talk to. We spoke of geography, language, culture…and religion. And, during what was a really constructive discussion of Christ and the Bible, he volunteered the following observation:

I wouldn’t so much consider myself religious. My wife and I go to
church a few times a year. But, quite honestly, the church we go to seems
phony. People come in, and then they go out just the same as they
were. There is no challenge. They are giving me the word of God
through all sorts of video presentations; there is a rock band playing music;
everything seems to happen on stage…like a show. I don’t need that.
I can go to the symphony orchestra if I want to see a performance.

Wow! What an indictment. Plastic religion. All the things that church leaders think will attract crowds of lost people have actually turned off this very successful and well-put-together 30-something. He went on to describe his attendance at a little Protestant church as he grew up in Switzerland. I’m not sure what that church believed. But the people all knew one another. The preacher was a normal guy just trying to teach the Bible, not come across as slick and innovative. The songs were actually sung by the congregation. It was probably the opposite of cool. But it held (and still holds) a strange attraction for this young secular professional.

I invited him to Pleasant Ridge. I think he might just find what he needs right here in this simple group of people. I don’t know if he will come, but I do know his comments helped me tremendously. They reminded me that substance always wins over style. And they got me thinking about Hosea 7.11: “So Ephraim has become like a silly bird, without sense; they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.”

Ephraim (Israel) had become silly! Instead of being the wise nation that pagans came to when they needed help or guidance (as they had been in the days of David), now the people of God were copying their unbelieving neighbors. ‘What can we find among the Gentiles that will make us successful? What can we do to get them to like us?’ Doesn’t that sound like contemporary American churches? Always seeking to become like the world—so they will like us. Polling the world about what would make church more interesting. Taking the marketing tactics of the business world and Hollywood and dressing them up in Christian clothes…and, in many cases, coming off quite ‘successfully.’ But—to those who are actually looking for substance (like my Swiss friend)…and especially to God, who sees the end from the beginning…we look like so many silly birds, flitting excitedly from one branch to another, but never actually building a nest.

Remember that the next time you’re trying to build a gospel friendship. Unbelievers don’t need (nor do they really want) a church friends who are trying to be happening and likeable. They need a church family that will be strangely, but lovingly and wonderfully, different…and challenging!

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