A depressing title I know, but please bear with me and hear me out. After four years in a church plant where we desperately are trying to model and live out an authentic Christianity at the same time as we are trying to build a church community, I have come to realise that authentic christianity is the worst church growth tool ever.
We live in a materialistic post-secular society and although there is an awakening to spirituality, it is more often than not to a self-help, self realising spirituality that without proper grounding and deep reflection promotes the ego instead of deconstructing it.
The church culture from my vantage point is one deeply influenced by early 20th century imperialism where we still work with top down hierarchical structures and our understanding of god and spiritual power/energy is structured the same way. We still believe that we are to conquer the world with the gospel and that the world will at some point kneel in front of god’s throne in subservience. We propagate an image of god seen in C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia with princess and princesses and god as the all powerful emperor across the sea. This emperor who will at some point return and conquer all.
From this imperialistic point of view building large churches and converting people to the proper/right way of seeing things is a natural fit. However, the more I read of Jesus ministry I see a different image and most importantly a different way of being authentically christian.
First of all the power behind authentic Christianity is a weak inviting force, not a conquering strong force. Jesus models a self emptying, loving, servanthood as way of life. He chooses a donkey not a white war-horse to ride into Jerusalem, he washes the feet of the disciples and he gives himself up to the cross. None of these actions are either aggressive nor do they fit into the profile of a conqueror. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, and waits for an opportunity to enter, he does not break the door down, neither with physical force or strong arguments.
It’s an invitation not a persuasion. Jesus does not spend time persuading people or arguing doctrines, he simply says come follow me. Some do, others don’t, that’s the end of it.
Secondly, an authentic Christianity, being invitational, cannot manipulate or cajole anyone into attendance or adherence. There can be no, it is your duty to attend church on Sunday, or it is your duty to give money to this establishment, and certainly no, if you fail to do so you will suffer eternal consequences. An authentic christianity can echo Jesus and say “come, you who are thirsty”, but the invitation like god’s love must be unconditional.
In fact Jesus invitation is not at all an invitation to church but an invitation to life, so must ours be.
Thirdly, an authentic Christianity can make no claim of exclusivity. We cannot claim to have mastered or contained, life, love, answers or anything else. Just as Jesus saw his only vocation to point to god, so must our only vocation be to point to Jesus and Jesus, does not belong to me, or my denomination or even Christianity.
If we truly (authentically) believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” then all truth is in Jesus not us, the way to god is Jesus, not us, the life which we all so desperately long and search for is in Jesus, not us.
An authentic Christianity is an invitation to a pilgrimage where we together search for, express our longing for and live out this abundant, deep life that Jesus offers and there is no programme, no institution, no format. There is only invitation, servanthood, love and complete freedom.
An authentic Christianity pulls away the curtain to the holy of holies and say: Look god is not here, god is infused out there, in the world, in the people, in the children and the outcasts, in the widows and the orphans, in the LGBTQ people and the atheists. Our worship is to love and serve the world that god loves. To be love like god is love and when we are love, like god, then god lives in us.
So while authentic Christianity is transformative both for the individual and the world it does not grow churches. It may gather loosely knit groups of likeminded, who share the journey for a while, but it offers no help in building our own little kingdoms. An authentic Christianity will utterly fail at church growth, it will instead grow the presence of the kingdom of god in individuals and in the world.