Saturday, January 02, 2010

All Weather Christians Wanted

This is my first post of the year. I twittered today the following: "A Church filling up with fair-weathered Christians is not growing but shrinking."

Church Assets and Liabilities
The greatest asset any Church can have is the presence of disciples who are prepared to follow Christ all the way. Not only do they form the core of the Church, they encourage people to grow with them. On the other hand, the biggest liability a Church has is the presence of people who flee, the moment the church does not seem to 'meet their needs' or when persecution arrives. Such people tempts fence-sitters to follow suit. When a church grows in quantity by people wanting only the fun during sunny Summer, these very people can also abandon the church during the cold depressing Winter. Such people are what I call fair-weathered. Disciples of Christ, rain or shine, wind or snow will stick with the Church to edify, to build up and to prepare for God's kingdom to come. Blessed is the Church whose parish is full of them.

What Attracts Sunny Weathered Christians?

Two months ago, I was reading a series of books by popular personalities such as Joel Osteen, his wife Victoria Osteen and Joyce Meyer. Their books have a powerful positivist flavour. Like a football coach rallying his players, or a motivational speaker trying to psyche up the audience, the pattern is familiar. I call these a spirituality of 'you-can-do-it' in the name of 'God can do it through you.'
  • "You can do it."
  • "It's Your Time!"
  • "You can be the best you."
  • "You have the power to change."
  • "God wants to bless you to be blessed."
I try to look for any good side(s) of their teachings. Well, they give a sense of hope and energize the reader, quite similar to the style of Anthony Robbins' "Unlimited Power" or "Awaken the Giant Within," or other self-help-success gurus like Deepak Chopra and Suzy Orman. True enough, compared to some of the church-bashing literature that have been written, and descriptions of church apathy by some Christian authors, the Osteens, Meyers and TD Jakes are helping to stir up the Christian community by imparting a feel-good fervour under the guise of happiness, progress and prosperity. In fact, one of the best times for feel-good teachings is during deep economic trouble. Also, I know of people who have been genuinely moved and encouraged by the ministry of these TV evangelists, success and prosperity preachers. For a TV-watching generation, where people are constantly exposed and attracted by commercials, people are used to hearing sublimal messages such as:
  • "You need this stuff."
  • "Happiness is when you get a new car, new house, new and bigger things."
  • "Buy more, save more."
  • "You are the most important person in the world."
  • "You are now good, but buy this, and you can be even better!"

Riding on this wave, it is easy for the Christian indoctrinated by the world, to be attracted by a compelling best-of-both-worlds offering. By simply adding a 'Christian' label to familiar stuff they watch on TV, sunny-weather Christians are like those who thinks they can have the cake and eat it as well. Having said that, it does not mean we can easily justify questionable means by virtue of successful ends. For such ways, all it takes is some persecution, before such people will start to leave the church in droves.

Now, I am not saying it is not possible to have all the good stuff going good all the time. Certainly, with God all things are possible. Let me offer three reservations. Firstly, when such teachings make people see this as their 'right' rather than God's absolute grace, it is troubling. Secondly, I am concerned about the kinds of people such a teaching attracts, just like a non-Christian boy wanting to join a Christian gathering so that he can get to know a pretty girl who is a Christian. Thirdly, the biggest discomfort I have with the prosperity preachers, is that it infuses into people the idea that "It's all about YOU."

Such teachings automatically become the anti-thesis of Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven-Life. Rick Warren, in his bestselling book urges readers to remember: "It's Not About You."

Rainy Drops of Trouble; Cold winds of Persecution
The Osteens, the Meyers and the preachers of the prosperity gospel teaches a kind of gospel that: "It's all about YOU," or "YOU have the power to change," or "It's YOUR time." Many of them uses the gospel, God, Jesus as the authority for one to live powerfully, richly, and all things big and famous. Same words but different meanings. I will say confusion reigns easily.

Now, I am not writing this to argue against the proliferation of the prosperity and feel-good gospel. That can be done at other times. I am writing to persuade Christians of all persuasions, to look at the following aspect of the Parable of the Sower/Soils.
"But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away." (Matt 13:21)
A Christian clings on to God all the way, regardless of weather changes. I find a lot of this in the classic, Foxes Book of Martyrs. Unfortunately, this classic is not as widely read as before, the same way modern people shun black and white films in favour of more classy high tech films distributed by Hollywood, Disney, Pixar and others.

All-Weather Christians Wanted

In Vancouver, there are many churches, especially on the West Side, which are shrinking in numbers. For a transient place like Vancouver, where many people live in the city only for a short while, it is quite common to see students, temporary workers live for a while before moving on to where their next opportunity leads them. Students who have completed their studies return to their home countries. Others, upon fulfilling their work requirements, move on to greener pastures. As quickly as they come, quickly they leave. I am not particularly concerned about this group of transient people. They come to Vancouver for a purpose, and they leave. I am more concerned about the group which essentially leaves one parish, so as to join a more 'exciting' community. This group of people are what I call 'fair-weathered' believers. No! I am praying for all-weathered Christians, who are faithful to God.

A Prayer Call for All-Weathered Christians
As we begin the new year, or the new decade, I pray that the economic recession will provide people with psychological resilience to overcome hard times. I pray that family struggles will be handled with much care and patience. I pray that difficult marriages can withstand the test of time through perseverance of love, both tender and tough. I pray that good works will continue to flow out of the Church into the corridors of the poor, the needy, the helpless and the marginalized. I pray that good leaders will continue to enrich the Church to do more, to bless others and to inculcate a culture of disciple-making in the Church.

I pray that the Church be filled with people who are all-weathered Christians, not fair-weathered people. I pray that when Winter arrives, believers will hug one another, stay warm and close to appreciate the warmth and closeness of family and friends in a loving Christian community. When Spring arrives, I pray that Christians will be among the first to bless the LORD for the beautiful lush greens and colourful flowers springing up all around. A the first fall of leaves in Autumn, I pray that Christians start to prepare a bigger room in their hearts, to anticipate harsh weather, physically or spiritually. If need be, when the cold winds of persecution comes in all its different forms, I pray that Christians will stand firm for the LORD, continue to be a beacon of light and hope for their neighbourhood all around.

I pray for all-weathered Christians:
  • To Pray unceasingly in all circumstances;
  • To Witness consistently to all peoples;
  • To Meet regularly to encourage one another at all times;
  • To Read the Bible frequently to know God and to make Jesus know.
  • To be thankful always in their hearts, their minds and all their actions.
For the new year, the new decade and the foreseeable future, I pray that God's kingdom come amid a community of All-Weathered Christians. That all will be able to say like Paul,
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)
All weathered Christians will persevere in love believing that love never fails. Love God. Love neighbour, for upon them hangs the whole law and the prophets.


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