When I first swapped my major from Biology to Religion and my minor from Religion to Biology, my dad was not pleased--"What are you going to do with a religion degree?" When I announced that I had begun the process toward ordination in the United Methodist Church, he changed his tune. He was very proud. "That is a very respectable profession. Doctors, Lawyers, Clergy, etc."I get slandered, libeled, I hear words I never heard in the Bible, and I'm one step ahead of the shoeshine, two steps from the county line. Just trying to keep my customers satisfied.
How times have changed! I suppose there is some respectability to religious leadership, but the way of the future seems to be a shift away from religion being important. Increasingly religious people are broadly considered too ignorant or too weak to recognize the folly of religion. It doesn't seem long before Pastors and Christians in general will be considered "one step ahead of the shoeshine," and trying to keep the small and ever shrinking pool of "customers satisfied."
Last week we saw new reports that increasing numbers of Americans do not find religion to be important to them. The numbers were particularly high among men, those making more than $75,000, and people under the age of 35. In some ways this is not surprising. Jesus said he came
"to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed" (Luke 4: 18, CEB)It should be no surprise that upwardly mobile, free, empowered, seeing people would find the gospel irrelevant. If we cannot embrace ways in which we are poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed--there is no need for the gospel. The gospel without brokenness is like a shoeshine where everyone wears casual shoes.
However, the church is not a store, and a Christian ministry is not sales that depends on a viable market. There is always brokenness whether it is recognized or not. I'm not convinced ministry was ever intended to be classy or "respectable." For we are not called to go to the clean, classy and respectable places. The gospel becomes relevant when the proud, clean, and respectable, become so convinced of their need for a wash in baptismal waters that the gospel once again makes sense. People who today believe they see, may one day realize they are blind. People who today believe they are free may one day be convicted that they are held captive, or have become part of a system of oppression. And if we do not lose our focus as a Church--we always have a mission and it is always among those who recognize their hurt and pain and brokenness, and we will be ready to meet them with the story of Christ's love and power to redeem.