Elton Trueblood’s The Company of the Committed is wonderfully prophetic, considering it was written in 1961. He began criticizing several facets of contemporary church life that are huge issues for the missional/emerging church today. He points to the relative triviality of budgets, buildings, and butts in seats (attendance). He says they give an appearance of success, which only succeeds in masking the true state of affairs. Then he almost prophesies the exodus from traditional churches we are seeing today:
Much of our present tragedy lies in the fact that many who want to be part of Christ’s cause cannot feel at home in any of the … major forms which the contemporary Church takes. They are looking for a bold fellowship, and what they find is a complacent society concerned to an absurd degree with its own internal politics or so unimaginative as to suggest that the world can be saved three hymns and a sermon or a Mass. The needle seems to be stuck in a groove. Many contemporary seekers cannot abide the Church as they see it, their dissatisfaction arising not from the fact that membership demands too much, but rather from the fact that the demands are too small.
People are wanting something to live for, something good enough to die for, to commit to, and we’re offering them some mediocre entertainment most of the time. Working in a church setting (especially with young people) I do understand that there is a bit of a paradox going on here – people want something big to give their lives to, but they also cherish their ability to pick and choose, and so while they dream about dying for the cause, they can’t actually bring themselves to commit to it. But I think the message has to "set the bar high" so to speak. Instead of watering or dumbing things down, we need to be honest and up-front about what discipleship to Jesus is really all about. Jesus last will and testament to his Twelve had some sobering stuff in it: "If they hated me, they’ll hate you. You can expect persecution. In this world, you’re going to have some trouble." Not that it’s all ashes and dust; no one becomes a disciple of Jesus unless they think they’ll be better off ("a man found a treasure in a field…"). But it’s not Disney World, either, and we don’t help anything by making it appear that the Christian life is like floating three feet off the ground and singing every day.
We’re still grappling with how to have a call to partnership without turning it into a gimmick or a program. We’re trying to find ways to call people to a life of commitment to God and one another without just inventing a bunch of hoops to jump through, or creating an elite class of Christian. It’s hard. But I do think people are hearing this call to something deeper, and we’re trying to figure out what it might look like.