It sounds like the set up for a classic joke: “A Christian and an Atheist walk into a church together…” But it’s no joke, it actually happened. In the summer of 2006, Jim Henderson, a former pastor, and now publishing executive went on a road trip with his best friend, Matt Casper, an avowed Atheist. They visited eleven churches across the USA: mega-churches with superstar preachers and mainline congregations with mind-numbing liturgy and an Anabaptist-related house church (way to go, Jason!). They pooled their insights into a book: Jim & Casper Go to Church (Barna: 2007). www.amazon.com
At the end of the book, Jim reflects: “Casper saw and experienced – over and over and over again – what Christians do when they do church. He saw it done with big budgets and no budgets, in large stadiums and in small buildings. The same format repeated itself regardless of the setting. The greet-sing-preach-collect-present form played out in front of us with unrelenting predictability. And when it was all done, he would turn to me and ask, ‘Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’”
Jesus told us to go into the world and share the victory news that God does not hate anyone for anything; that God loves everyone, all the time. Only then can we baptize – forming communities of Jesus followers. Together we figure out how to live faithfully, in love with Jesus.
Yes, sometimes we get it backwards. We figure out how people should live; try with all our might to assemble a group of those folks; then tell them God loves them.
Is that what Jesus told us to do? What would it look like to start a church whose focus was not on the “show” or the “shoulds” but on the good news?