Last year, the Pew Research Center released the results of a study that looked at 10 reasons why people may or may not attend church or other religious services. It was discovered that about 2 out of every 3 American adults who regularly attend a church or religious service say that they go primarily for their kids, for personal comfort or to become a better person.
And while the most important reason for going was to become closer to God, 1 out of every 5 adults who attend monthly or more said that they do not usually feel God’s presence; 1 out of every 4 adults said that they do not feel a sense of community; and 4 out of every 10 said that they do not feel connected to their faith’s history.
Unfortunately, this means that 67% of American adults who regularly attend a church or religious service are doing so primarily focused on how it can make their lives better (for their kids, personal comfort and self-improvement). And sadly, 20-40% of these people admit to not really experiencing God’s presence, a sense of community or a connection to the history of our faith. This is not good.
What’s going on here?
Well, there are several factors that I am sure we can point to as potential reasons for these numbers, but one of the main things that this study reveals is that many of us in American Christianity have simply lost sight of the vision and the sense of mission that defined what Jesus’ life and ministry was all about. And so, we are confused about the foundation of our faith, and therefore, we don’t really know how to respond to Jesus.
Unfortunately, many in the church today tend to view our faith in Jesus as something that is primarily about singing songs, listening to sermons and believing the Bible stories. And so sadly, many of us often feel like our faith in Jesus is dry, boring and disconnected from our everyday lives in the “real world”. The numbers don’t lie; many of us are going through the motions in our Christianity for the wrong reasons, and our faith in Jesus is proving to be unproductive.
So what can we do to turn things around?
Well, since many of us are experiencing a dry and disconnected Christianity, we need to start by rediscovering what Jesus initiated and responding to his invitation.
We need to refresh our Christianity by rediscovering the vision and mission that defined what Jesus’ life and ministry was all about. It is more than just listening to sermons and learning Bible stories. We are invited to join in on what Jesus initiated. And if we are unclear about this vision and mission of Jesus then we will be uncompelled to truly participate in the life that he has called us to, and we will fall into this trap of a dry and disconnected Christianity.
Rediscover What Jesus Initiated
Matthew sums up the focus of Jesus’ message and ministry with the one sentence that says it all, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has arrived.” (4:17) This was the message of John the Baptist and later the message of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus calls people to make a decisive response to a new reality — God was now reconciling the world back to himself and restoring his rule as its unrivaled King. It was an invitation to experience a renewed relationship with God and to participate in what he was doing to restore his order and goodness back to the world. This was the mission that Jesus initiated; humans could join him in reconciling the world back to God.
This call to participate in God’s great restoration plan is clearly seen in what Jesus says when he first invites some young fishermen to join him. He tells these fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He does not say, “Follow me, and I will make you a better person.” He does not say, “Follow me, and I will make your kids well-behaved and morally grounded.” He says, “Follow me, and I will give you a new mission to carry out in life.”
Now, following Jesus does make us better men, and it does provide a healthy environment for our kids’ development, but it does all these things in the context of the main vision and mission that defined Jesus’ life and ministry. If we truly want to experience God’s presence and a real sense of community and a relevant connection to our faith’s history then we have to rediscover this mission that Jesus was initiating and respond to his invitation to join him.
So what does that response look like?
Respond to Jesus’ Invitation
Matthew shows his readers how to respond to Jesus by sharing the response of Jesus’ first disciples. And to emphasize their response, Matthew intentionally repeats this formula: Immediately, they left… and followed him.
You see, Jesus’ invitation to join him in a renewed relationship with God and to participate in God’s restoration plan is not something you put off for later or until it’s more convenient. When God gets your attention in life and gives you one of those pivotal moments to finally make a decisive response, he is expecting you to respond immediately. An indecisive response in those moments is actually a decisive rejection of God’s invitation. This isn’t a difficult thing to understand. When you propose to your fiancé, if she hesitates or puts off her decision for later then she just rejected your proposal.
Have you made a definitive decision to join Jesus in a renewed relationship with God and to truly participate in what he is doing to restore his order and goodness back to this world?
Following Jesus requires an unwavering allegiance to him and a willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of who he is and what he is doing in this world. And this is something that will disrupt our normal everyday lives in the “real world". These young fishermen had to leave the family business in order to join Jesus in this mission.
You see, following Jesus is not simply believing that he exists, and that the stories about him are true. Following Jesus is literally following his lead and doing what he does. It is an active commitment in which you are trying to learn everything that you can from him and do anything that he asks you to do with the hope and the goal of becoming just like him in the process. To truly follow Jesus changes everything!
Now, this does not mean that in order to join in on what Jesus initiated we all have to leave our jobs and go into full-time ministry. Jesus has now given us the Holy Spirit that works within us wherever we go and no matter what we do for a living. Jesus does not call everyone to leave their jobs; but he does call us to leverage our jobs for him and for the sake of God’s restoration plan. This means that when we have conversations in the clubhouse, interact with the media, sign autographs for the fans, take batting practice and play the game that we do all these things as if we are working for King Jesus and not for ourselves or for anyone else.
The numbers don’t lie; many of us are unfortunately missing out on the mission that Jesus has initiated and invited us to join. Let’s rediscover what Jesus initiated and respond to his invitation.
Jesus took a small team of ordinary young men, and then he turned the world upside down. He initiated a movement that has transcended time and cultures, and one that is still infiltrating every nation on earth. What might happen if more of us took his invitation seriously and made a decision to truly follow Jesus?