The final post in this series focuses on the question of how ministers are able to get their congregations and people watching on TV to give enough money to buy jets and million-dollar homes for the minister. To understand the answer to that question, we have to understand a shift that has happened in many churches over the past 200 years.
The question of what a Christian is, or how someone becomes a Christian has been much debated throughout the life of the church. Is it marked by belonging to a church and being active in membership? Is it defined by the rules that one follows? Does it begin at baptism? Most recently for many evangelical churches it has been believed to be a decision or commitment that one makes, normally in the presence of other Christians. That decision is often made by walking to the front of the church at a prescribed time and saying a prayer that the pastor guides you through. At that point, if you are sincere, you become a Christian. The “invitation system” has become more and more prevalent in churches over the past two centuries. Like all things, it has brought with it advantages and disadvantages.
This understanding of conversion has led most churches to focus on the moment of decision and the future security that it can bring. Everything builds to that moment as the most important in a believer’s life. It makes sense then how many ministers have leveraged emotion, guilt, shame, soft music, low lights, and repeated pleas to entice people to make that decision. In many circles anything that leads people to making that decision is ok, because the decision itself is seen as so important. And that’s where the trouble begins.
What if we need a new building to help people make this important decision? Then let’s build a building. What about a bus to help people get to church to make that decision? Let’s buy a bus. A professional band? Billboards throughout the city? Jets to help the minister get from place to place so he can help others make that decision? Let’s pass the plate.
I’m not saying that all of these things are bad. If people are one decision away from honoring God completely and having their future forever changed then you would expect ministers to go to any lengths to secure those decisions. And sincere believers will give all sorts of time and money to that end.
But what if following Jesus involves a decision, but is actually much more than that? What if being a Christian is choosing a way to live life? What if it is actually a series of choices that we make every day to follow God and to not play by the rules of this world? Well that would require time and community, and jets and chandeliers may not have a lot to do with it. In fact, the way people begin their Christian life often shapes the way that they live out their Christian life.
I believe that living life as a Christian is more than a one-time decision, and that it is simple and costly at the same time. It’s a daily renewed commitment to an unpredictable relationship with God. When we believe that conversion is nothing more than a decision in time, then sending someone to gather as many of those decisions as possible makes sense. And if they need a jet to do it, so be it. But if life change is involved in becoming and living as a Christian, then things like feeding hungry children and caring for the poor become more of a priority than jets and multi-million dollar buildings.
I don’t know what’s to come of ministers who have used the money given by Christians to buy jets or thousand-acre ranches to build a home on. That’s none of my business. I do know that living as a Christian is at once less complicated and more difficult than they have made it sound. You can live and grow as a Christian in a church of thousands with a huge stage and professional lighting, and you can do it in a one room building with no air conditioning. All are invited, no jets required.