That’s not really possible, but people think that it is, which is kind of the point. Let me explain. Though I accepted Christ and was baptized at age 6 and was in church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday, I was far more influenced by the rest of the world than by scripture in those early years. I learned quickly that there was a pecking order at my school and I was more concerned about being popular than befriending someone very different from me. I had learned the song, “Jesus Loves the Little children of the World” as a preschooler, but I didn’t get it. I knew that God loved everyone and I heard stories about missionaries around the world. But I didn’t get that what this meant was that as a follower of Jesus, I would welcome people into my life that were different.
I was around 12 or 13 when something happened that revealed this blind spot. A boy, a year or two younger than me showed up for Sunday School. I’d seen him before but didn’t know him. I don’t know why he came. Something caused him to get up the nerve. Maybe his parents made him. Maybe something terrible had happened in his family and someone said he should go to church. For whatever reason, he showed up.
But I was too focused on myself. This guy was different. He didn’t smell good. And I snubbed him. I remember my teacher trying to be welcoming but I was no help at all. honestly I was just hoping he would go away.
I never saw him at church again.
It was years before I realized how selfish I acted that day and how tragically I failed this boy. It still haunts me when I think about it.
The book unChristian, reflects on a survey conducted among Americans aged 16-29. They asked participants if they knew or had heard of evangelical Christians. 57% said they had. Of that 57%, 49% said they had a bad impression of evangelicals, 48% said they had a neutral impression, and 3% said that they had a good impression.
Early in the book they say:
One crucial insight kept popping up in our exploration. In studying thousands of outsiders' impressions, it is clear that Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.
David Kinnaman; Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters.
I am the problem. At best, I was part of the problem. Perhaps many of these young people had experiences like the person I snubbed as a boy. Combine that with the impression of believers described above, and you have a prescription for a very negative image of Christians.
What do we about this? One step is to internalize stories like that found in Joshua chapter 2, where God chooses to use and welcomes into his family a wildly unlikely candidate. We must also make specific applications for us and our young people about what such stories mean so that we become people of compassion, who live out the implications of the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I’ll be sharing more about this Sunday at Bethany Place. You can see the text, outline, and discussion questions here.