Pastor Ray Johnston wants to have a few words with American Christians. In Jesus Called--He Wants His Church Back: What Christians and the American Church are Missing, Johnston writes "American Christians, in general, don't look much like Jesus . . . or love like Him . . . or lead like Him . . . or live like Him. We may be believers, but we're not becomers."
Ceremony, tradition, legalism, institutionalism and exclusiveness tend to characterize American churches. "Christians seem to want to attend church but not necessarily follow Jesus." Johnston wants us to "avoid becoming an old, cranky, boring, uptight grown-up." Christians often fail to recognize that "The God of the universe longs to be close to you." Johnston writes, "You are as close to God as you want to be." To get there, we might have to give up "the idol of safety." "Authentic faith is developed only when we respond to the call of God and take a risk."
I appreciated Johnston's church-centered approach to evangelism. Without disparaging evangelistic efforts outside the church walls, he emphasizes the importance of the gathering of believers, "not giving up meeting together." Johnston writes "if they are not connected with other believers to worship, then they are not living authentic Christianity." He is a big fan of simply inviting people to church: "Witness all you want, but also bring them to church. 'Come and see' is always more effective than 'shut up and listen.'"
However, he recognizes that church culture can tend to be off-putting to non-Christians, which we must avoid. And, most importantly, remember Jesus' "three-word invitation to all people at all times, "Come to me." The invitation is not to rituals, religion, confirmation, or liturgy, but to "life-giving relationship that is the heart of the Christian faith."
Johnston book is clarion call to churches and Christians to be more authentic and deliberate in their faith. Rather than being filled with servants, as the early church was, "our churches today are filled with spectators," which leads to church stagnation. Any job demands the right tools and equipment. "God has created a piece of equipment to use: the church." We can use this tool to reach our communities and reaching people for Christ. Johnston's church, Bayside Church in the Sacramento area, has been doing this well. Jesus Called is a helpful, readable resources for Christians who want to live like Jesus and see their churches turn to Him.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
2016 Reading Challenge: A book about the church