There is a statement that has almost become a cliche. You hear it mostly in settings where people want to talk about church growth. Or when pastors want to argue the church needs to change. It's statement I've probably used myself, unfortunately. What many church leaders claim is that we live in a culture that likes Jesus but doesn't like the church.
Is it that simple? Does our culture really like Jesus but can't stand the church? The conclusion is Jesus is not the problem, but the church is. If only the church can change, then all will be well. Granted, there is some truth to the fact that churches often misrepresent the reign of peace in Jesus. That being stated, I doubt we can conclude that the church is always the problem because everyone likes Jesus.
To challenge the simplicity of this idea, we can ask, What Jesus does our culture like? Is it the Jesus who stands against greed in all of its forms? I'm not sure American culture would naturally embrace the Jesus of Luke who speaks several times about the dangers of money and possessions.
Is our culture enamored with the Jesus who calls us to love our enemies? I doubt it. Learning to love enemies is not natural and therefore not easily embraced.
Does American culture like the Jesus who calls for repentance--the Jesus who is not offering a spirituality but new way of life shaped by a cruciform discipleship? Does our culture like the idea of the cross? Suffering? Again, I doubt it.
You see, the assumption most church growth experts make is that Jesus meets our deepest needs. He solves our problems. He makes our lives easier. Everyone will love him. All we need to do is get rid of all the noise of religious activity, offer Jesus and the world will come to church again. Lost in this naive narrative is the reality of sin and evil from which Jesus longs to deliver us.
Another way to state the matter is to recognize that our culture is probably not any less idolatrous than the one that nailed Jesus to a tree. We live in a time when greed, violence and the narrative success above all else dominate our lives. These idols do not go down without a fight.
So Jesus very well might be the problem. Jesus very well might be a hinderance to our church growth. In some settings, Jesus will be embraced and the church will be loved; in other settings, he will be rejected and the church will be hated.
Regardless, we are called to witness to the Son who has rescued us from this present evil age and has called us to into the light of God's new creation in Christ. This work is not easy. We might grow numerically. We might shrink. We might be loved. We might be hated. The results are beyond us and out of our control. So we are called to a full faithfulness to Jesus and his way. Nothing more, nothing less.