There was a rather pompous-looking deacon who was endeavoring to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”

There is no doubt that Christianity has an image problem in America today. Many, who are outside the church, are convinced that lifestyle does not line up with beliefs for the average churchgoer. As a result, Christians have acquired a hypocritical image.

The perception of those who are outside the church is that there is very little difference between believers and the world. Most of us have heard someone say, “the church is full of hypocrites” or “I’m just as good as they are even though I don’t go to church every Sunday.” Unfortunately, that has become the prevalent attitude toward God and His church.

Imagine a room full of professing Christians and with people who make no claim for Christ. Based on lifestyle alone, most research points to the fact that you would be hard-pressed to separate the Christian from the non-Christian.

It seems that the church of today has become an institution in which even belief in God is optional or peripheral. Marketing techniques for a multiple option institution have replaced response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of membership enlistment. The basic appeal is to self-defined needs rather than a call to radical discipleship. The church’s mission all too often is to meet its members’ perceived needs rather than to serve God’s need for a redeemed, reconciled and healed world.

Why does the church exist? To build up believers and to reach the lost. The church does not exist to simply draw a crowd.

Those outside the church have not always perceived Christians to be Christlike. And even though it is not easy to admit, their claims of hypocrisy ARE NOT always unfounded. Research has shown again and again that lifestyle differences are often hard, if not impossible, to find between professing Christians and the world.

Sadly, we are making a mess of what God intended the church to be.

While many churches acknowledge that they are in trouble, they too frequently come up with the wrong solutions. Some are chasing fads. Others are asking how to modernize biblical words, worship services, or even our theology so it will be more to the liking of the potential consumers.

Jesus is not interested in cheap invitations and easy discipleship. Too often the call to discipleship is to receive the great benefits and advantages offered by God. I believe that in the end, all these solutions will only end up dooming the church to the steady decline it is already on. Don’t get me wrong: I am not against using words that people can understand or having music that appeals to a younger crowd. However, whenever we stray from God’s Word, we will not have God’s blessing. The church is God’s idea, and we must seek to restore it to its purpose and blessing. Rather than swing the pendulum too far, let’s get back to basics.

John Wesley said:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

As disciples who make disciples, we must live in the daily practice of ALF — unconditional acceptance, love and forgiveness. We must be willing to lay it all on the line for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus.

Amen.

The Rev. Charlie Gable is pastor of First Church of God in Kearney.