According to recent research, more young adults are turning away from Christianity than in years past, and the apparent reasons for this trend are the subject of Adam Hamilton’s latest book, When Christians Get It Wrong. The first perception he deals with is the unchristian behavior of many Christians. And it makes sense if this is indeed true— because if Christians are as bad or worse than everyone else, then why would anyone want to join their club?
But in order for this theory to be true, we have to assume a few things:
- For nonchristians or new Christians to know when a Christian’s behavior is unchristian, they must have been exposed to the real thing somewhere. Either they’ve met a Christian that lives up to their ideal or they’ve manufactured an ideal in their own mind that may or may not be realistic.
- If they’ve met a “real Christian” (one that lives up to their expectations), then that could either inspire them to reach that level themselves or become discouraged because they fear they might never be able to live up even to their own ideal.
- If they’ve never met a “real Christian”, then there’s definitely a problem, because either their ideal is flawed (a likely possibility) or a lot of Christians need to rediscover the teaching of sanctification and Christian perfection (another likely possibility.)
Although Adam lists four ways Christians get it wrong in these areas, I see most of the problem relating directly to two things: judging/hypocrisy and power/transformation.
Christians do often come across as too judgmental, which is bad enough when they have their own acts together. But when they don’t even come close to that ideal, the added hypocrisy turns the judging into a double whammy. Some Christians actually mean well when they “judge”. There’s a place for correction and admonishment in Christian community, but it has to take place in light of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And the “right” to correct another Christian often has to be earned. In a weird way, it’s like spamming someone’s Facebook account with invitations, events and group suggestions. I’ll put up with a lot of that noise from people I’ve known for a while. But if it’s someone I hardly know who just added me yesterday– and they spam my inbox today, I’m probably going to de-friend them quickly. In the same way, people will generally take correction from you only if you’ve invested time in your relationship with them, if they know your heart, and if they know you accept them no matter what. They may fight you on the details, but I don’t believe correction will cause them to leave the faith if it’s done right. If you remember that it’s about relationships and the fruit of the Spirit, you won’t go wrong.
Christians who show no signs of being transformed are the other big problem. Evangelism comes from a Greek word meaning “good news”. If Christianity isn’t changing me for the better, that’s going to be obvious to nonbelievers and believers alike. Then when I try to share my faith, the big question in everyone’s mind is going to be, “What faith?” If I’m still a slave to all of my old sins and attitudes, where’s the good news in that? Imagine if I started a new diet/fitness plan that I was recommending to everyone else, but never lost any body fat (or even worse, gained it). People would either assume the diet didn’t work or they’d figure I wasn’t accurately following the diet I was recommending to everyone else. Either way, they’d likely stay far away from my diet plan. That’s the way it is with religion and faith matters. People want to know that something works and see it for themselves before they try it. If young adults truly are leaving Christianity at a greater rate than they did a generation ago, it’s because they aren’t seeing the real stuff in action. As Christians, we need to make it one of our missions to change that.