“If Jesus showed up to our church, what would he say?”
I’ve heard this asked in a few different contexts recently. It’s a legitimate question in light of Jesus’ words to the churches in Revelation 2-3, and it may be a helpful exercise for churches to discuss how they might answer it.
I’ve found, however, that this question is often raised by those who are frustrated with their church in some way. The church isn’t meeting their expectations, not doing enough of this or that.
So they call upon Jesus to judge on their behalf, to advance their cause.
That is to say, it seems to me that we answer this question from our own prejudices and conceptions, and we shape Jesus in our own image.
We answer the question from our upper-middle class American value of self-improvement: Jesus would tell us we need to try harder and do better at _____.
Or, we answer it from our deep reservoirs of guilt: If Jesus showed up, he’d be disappointed at how little we pray, how seldom we evangelize. He’d scold us for not being fired up about God, not sold out like we should be.
A few reminders.
First, be watchful of the human tendency to make Jesus carry the banner for our causes.
In Luke 12, a man asks Jesus to judge between his brother and himself. Jesus answers, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you” (v. 14)?
This brief interchange takes place in a context in which Jesus constantly warns against wrong motives and the tendency to self-deception (Luke 12:1-15).
Second, remember that Jesus is holy, which means he’s utterly different. If Jesus showed up to your church, he probably wouldn’t say and do what you think he’d say and do.
Despite its flaws, Jesus loves the church for which he died. He’d probably disappoint those who are frustrated with their churches. He’d probably say and do what is completely unexpected.
There’s much to say about this, but here’s just one suggestion for the next time someone raises this question.
Envision your answers as windows into your own frustrations with the church. Consider the possibility that you need to repent from holding the church of Jesus Christ in contempt.
It may not be the case that you have special insight into how Jesus needs to scold and berate your church. It just may be that you need to learn to love the church as Jesus does.
Any self-reflection by churches is supremely helpful. Be ready, however, to judge your own motives first, and don’t assume that Jesus would gladly endorse your agenda.