11 September 2011

Selling Jesus?

Back in Madrid I was able to concelebrate a Mass with the U.S. Bishops for the U.S. pilgrims before heading out to Cuatro Vientos for the Saturday night vigil.

It struck me again at that Mass that many youth ministers within the Church simply do not understand young people and what they seek from the Church.  Young people are not the same today as they were twenty or thirty or forty years ago (I suspect this has always been the case).

Most youth ministers seem to approach today's youth from the point of view of the minister's remembrances of his or her own youth.

While it is true that the basic and central questions of life remain the same in every generation, the method of addressing these questions seems to change.

A friend recently directed my attention to this excellent post by Rachel Held Evans in which she asks, "Is your church too cool?"  She writes (with my emphases):

People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church—you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be,” and which boasts “an awesome worship experience,” a fair-trade coffee bar, its own iPhone app and a pastor who looks like a Jonas brother.
While none of these features are inherently wrong (and can of course be used by good people to do good things), these days I find myself longing for a church with a cool factor of about 0.

That’s right.

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants and—brace yourself—painfully amateur “special music” now and then.


Well, for one thing, when the Gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

But more importantly, I want to be part of an uncool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus. Like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool. They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people and crazy people [more].

Over the past several days I have stumbled upon several articles and blog posts suggesting ways to, in their words, sell Jesus to the present generation.

I've never been comfortable with such a notion of evangelization because it completely misses the mark.  A salesman does what he can to convince you to buy something that you do not need; you may want it, but you don't need it.  If you needed it, there would be no reason for a salesman, only a cashier.

The notion of "selling Jesus" - or of "making religion relevant" - implies that someone does not need Jesus, that life might simply be enhanced.  This is not in keeping with the Gospel; it's no wonder it fails time and time again.

1 comment:

  1. You get the same problem in higher education. An anthropologist wrote an ethnographic study called My Freshman Year designed to explain contemporary student educational attitudes and experiences; maybe something similar is needed in religion.