What Church Looks Like When We Actually Follow Jesus
What would it look like if we reformed ourselves to look like the Kingdom Jesus spoke about, if we lived the pure, undefiled religion James wrote about? How could we reshape our churches into real communities of faith in which Beatitudes people were viewed as the treasure of the church? Our church world would certainly be turned upside down. Anything could happen!
We’d actually follow Jesus.
A little while ago, I was invited to meet with a small group of people from a church that wanted to learn how to reach out more effectively in its neighborhood. In an effort to “take the temperature” of the group and the church they represented, I asked, “What are the kinds of things we expect Jesus followers to do?” They grinned awkwardly, knowing as they spoke the words the answer was lame: “Pray and read your Bible every day, go to church, don’t lie, be faithful to your spouse . . .”
“So what would we do if we actually did follow Jesus?”
After a short pause, this simple and profound response: “We’d go where he went and do what he did.” Brilliant.
Where did he go?
From the place of ultimate power, privilege, and security, he went to an oppressed nation, a poor family among poor people, and the vulnerability of living among—speaking, walking, working, teaching, healing, challenging—and in full sight of people who would want what they could get from him, who would try to co-opt him for their own purposes, who would briefly adore and then criticize, betray, condemn, torture, and murder him. He sought out the people who did not deserve what he had to offer and the people who nobody else wanted to get close to—the religiously “unclean,” the diseased, the demon possessed, the traitors, the immoral, the foreigners, and even the oppressors.
He didn’t stay safely in his village or save his religious passion for the synagogue. He went. Galilee, Samaria, the Decapolis, Judea—through the dusty hills, into bitter little redneck towns, among the tombs, into the city alleys and enclaves where the broken, the beggars, the discarded ones eked out their miserable existences. And before he left his disciples, he told them to go, too. Out into the world.
If we were following Jesus, we’d be known as people who go to the dangerous, poor, unpleasant places. Not just a few select missionaries to other countries; we’d go as congregations, as communities of disciples—followers—to the most difficult spots in our own cities and towns.
What did he do?
He announced Good News for people who are poor and broken. He proclaimed God’s pleasure in them. He taught the surprising, revolutionary character of the Kingdom of Heaven to people who were sure—until they heard him—that they didn’t belong in it. He illustrated that Kingdom’s character by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, touching the untouchable, casting out demons, and raising the dead. He overturned the money changers’ tables; called out the leaders who promoted an empty, form-first religion; and refused to be intimidated by them or by the most powerful political and military empire in history. He laid down his life for the people he had come to call his friends.
Wouldn’t we look different if we actually did what Jesus did? What would it look like if we, in our time and circumstances, “raised the dead,” or “overturned the money changers’ tables”? If we didn’t just criticize the church, but instead went out there and actually lived like the body of Christ in the world? If we submitted our politics and economics to our religion, instead of the other way around, and gave our lives to raise up people who were hopeless, helpless, lost, teaching them that the Kingdom belongs to them?
We’d be a dangerous people, a threat to the powers of this world. We’d be magnetic, intoxicating to be around. We’d be loving and joyful; we’d be the epicenter of a cultural and economic revolution. We’d be so comfortable eating and drinking with outcasts and sinners that we wouldn’t be intimidated by the occasional invitation to do the same with the power brokers.
We’d be an irresistible force, lifting up those who have been oppressed, setting free those who have been imprisoned, returning sight to those who were blind—the power within us would liberate rather than dominate, create rather than consume, and would render us vulnerable rather than unassailable.
Others would look at us and say, “So that’s what Jesus looks like . . .”