We make a lot of pitches with Christianity.
“It’s a free gift.”
“The peace and satisfaction your heart desires.”
These are the expectations we set. And expectations help preface either disappointment or fulfillment.
Unfortunately, for many Christians, the reality of faith is a shocking letdown compared to the false premises that were guaranteed them by pastors, churches and other believers.
As people obsess over church attendance, burnout rates and demographic changes within Christianity, we become infatuated with solving today’s problems—determined to find the perfect fix.
Thus, we analyze church traditions, styles, techniques and theologies and wonder why the popularity of Christianity rises and falls and fluctuates. And while we scour the current state of Christianity and desperately try to improve, fix, troubleshoot and ultimately enhance it, we neglect to look at the very start of the problem: Pre-Christianity.
Before people give their lives over to Christ, before they commit to regularly attending a church, before becoming a full-fledged member of a denomination, before being baptized, before taking communion and before diving head-first into the Jesus movement—what are they really searching for? What are they expecting to get out of Christianity? More importantly, what are we selling?
Too often, when people are expecting—and want—to meet God, churches instead present an illusion, a tempting escape from reality.
Surprisingly, many people don’t reject Christianity because they’ve given up on God. Instead, they’ve given up on the people and things that represent God. They don’t hate Jesus, they just become tired of not finding Him within Christian culture.
As Christians, we sometimes mistakenly try to compensate for God by presenting our faith as easier than it really is. We cover up the ugliness and hardship of authentic faith.
But while following Christ is beautiful and worthwhile, disappointment, pain, suffering, betrayal and hurt are also a part of life, and Christians aren’t immune or excluded from these horrors. Contrary to a life of ease, comfort and luxury, following Jesus demands sacrifice, honesty, vulnerability, conflict and a lifetime dedicated to loving others. This is really hard—a commitment not meant to be taken lightly.
Though not ideal, gossip, lies and disappointment happen within any group of Christians. Christians sin. They make mistakes. They can sometimes be ignorant, clueless, clumsy, mean, hateful and even downright horrible.
Unfortunately, many believers are afraid to admit this. We Christians have become experts at putting up a facade of happiness and bliss, pretending that nothing bad ever happens.
We assume that if people find out things aren’t all right—that our lives are actually chaotic, messy and out of control, that our relationships are broken, our feelings hurt and that we’re filled with worry and pain—they’ll get scared away. So we hide these things with the mistaken belief that we’re glorifying God—protecting Him from bad press.
But in doing so, we dishonor God and set ourselves up for failure.
Christians need to start communicating reality and start owning up to our mistakes, doubts, failures, insecurities and pain. It’s healthy to apologize, admit our wrongdoings, and even allow ourselves to question, doubt and change our opinions and beliefs.
We need to leave room for being angry, mad, scared, depressed and anxious within churches, and must stop promoting the expectation that Christians always have to have it all together. We don’t. Believers need to quit presenting themselves—and Christianity—as perfect and should start being genuine.
Yet many churches market Christianity as an easy and painless solution to all life’s problems. Instead of introducing Christianity as a path to having a relationship with God requiring time, energy, work and intense dedication, it becomes a product that promises much without hardly any sacrifice.
Having this mindset causes our expectations to become superficial. Baptisms, prayers of faith, and declarations of solidarity to God become nothing more than posturizing—little, if anything, actually changes within our everyday lives.
In fact, we actually expect things to get favorably better for us. We assume God will shine down divine blessings: salary increases, better parking spaces, health improvements, increased social popularity and championships for our favorite sports teams. We want our faith to work for us—not the other way around.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com and you can follow him on Twitter @mikta.