Educate to What End?

I was having a conversation with an individual, recently, about “un-churched” folks and their ethos (beliefs, practices, dispositions, and habits, etc) and how they differ from many in the church today. I talked about the rejection of an assumed church culture, how the things that are important to “church folk” were alien to the un-churched, and how those without the church see nothing good being offered by the churches (or at least different than what is offered by the rest of society). Upon hearing this, the person with whom I was speaking asked how I supposed we could “educate these people?” Not understanding the question I asked, “In what are we to educate them?” The reply from my friend: “As the church we need to educate them in how to better themselves.” Still puzzled by this I returned the original question, “How do you suppose we educate them?” The reply was startling: “We need to educate them in the many things the church has to offer. But, more to the point, they need to learn to want more for themselves than the life that they have.”

This line of reasoning led into more of a refutation, on my part. First, my friend’s understanding of un-churched folks and their ethos is precisely the point to why they are un-churched. Much of the people in the church have the ideology that everyone should be the same. While people without the church have no issue with the sentiment of oneness, sameness is of no interest to them.

Second, when we say “education” what exactly do we mean? I have spent the last ten years of my life in the academic arena. Yet, I have not spent this decade because I thought it was somehow the civilized thing to do, but because I like it. The letters after my name do not mysteriously make me better than anyone else; neither do the degrees on my wall elevate me to some ridiculous, imaginary higher status. By “education” do we mean that the regurgitation of someone else’s thoughts make our lives somehow better? Or make us somehow smarter? Could we mean “re-educating” or “reprogramming?” Perhaps we mean by “educate” that the goal for any reasonable person is to join the ranks of elitism. Is it axiomatic that God’s plan and purpose for us is to climb the ever rising ivory tower?

Third, why should we educate “them” concerning “the many things the church has to offer”? Are we making disciples of the church or are we to make disciples of Jesus Christ? If there is some sort of “educating,” should it not be concerning God’s love for “them” as expressed in Jesus Christ? The church has nothing to offer, but a corporate life in Christ. If the church were expressing Christ (as is its purpose), the un-churched would not be rejecting it on the large scale that it is today. “They” are not un-churched because of any issues with God (or Jesus Christ for that matter) but because they reject the outright hypocrisy called “church.”

Fourthly, all un-churched folks are not the marginalized outcasts of society that many local churches like to imagine. They are not all drug addicts and/or alcoholics. They certainly do not all ride motorcycles and they are not nearly all tattooed. Contrary to popular belief (inside the church), what makes someone un-churched has nothing to do with economic circumstance; it has nothing to do with rebellion; it has nothing to do with “love for the world.” It has everything to do with these kinds of stereotypes, these prejudices, this out-of-touch-with-reality-state-of-mind that many in the church have.

And finally (though I could continue with much more), it is not up to “them” to convert to “Christianity” – for they see this as simply another religion of the hundreds and thousands. It is up to the church to live into their lives the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not an honor for them to be a part of our local church; it is a privilege for us that “they” would want to share their lives with us. You see, “un-churched” is not necessarily synonymous with “unsaved.” Many of “them” live in and out of the gospel every day. Many of them are part of the Church, though not “Christianity” (as a religion). When churches decide to align with the Gospel I think they will be surprised by who actually needs to be educated.

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