Plenty of Christians are rightly concerned about the number of shallow fellow-believers today. Just take a look at the Christian section of a bookstore and you’ll find books that look more like a self-help or positive thinking section than a serious selection of Christian topics and ideas. Too many Christian radio and television programs have long been accused of promoting prosperity over serious doctrine. And how many pastors actually preach provocative messages that force us to re-consider our lives?
Not nearly enough.
But it’s not really their fault. It’s ours. After all, more people will show up at church and we’ll get larger media audiences if we stick to the positive themes. As Jonathan Bock and I noted in our book “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back,” church membership has dropped to the point that if you show up just 18 times a year you’re now considered a “regular” – and that was before the church shutdown during the COVID pandemic. Other surveys indicate that 40% of church-going Christians only read the Bible once a month, rarely, or never.
So it’s not hard to see that the reason we’re having such a small impact on the culture today is that we’re just not serious about diving deep into what it means to live a vibrant Christian life.
I thought about that recently reading my friend Philip Yancey’s book: “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?” In the book Philip writes:
“In the Gospels people approached Jesus with a question 183 times whereas he replied with a direct answer only three times. Instead, he responded with a different question, a story, or some other indirection. Evidently Jesus wants us to work out answers on our own using the principles that he taught and lived.”
Today, few sermons, Christian media programming, movies, or books force us to ask our own questions, work through a process, or create a desire to go deeper. Most often, they just supply simple, practical answers.
But what if thousands of pastors and creative Christians started taking a different approach? What if we didn’t provide easy answers, but forced people to “Work out their salvation with fear and trembling?” What if pastors and Christian creators used questions, stories, or other indirection, just like Philip described the method of Jesus?
Apparently, Jesus believed that thinking – and sometimes struggling – through a process is what ultimately provides the greatest answers.
Maybe it’s time we started believing it too…
Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.