A nationwide poll commissioned by the Episcopal Church in 2021-22 revealed that 84% of all Americans (religious and non-religious combined) believe Jesus to be an important spiritual figure. In other words, most Americans see something positive and important in Jesus. Even more interesting, 50% of non-religious respondents identified Jesus as an important spiritual figure. In other words, there are a significant number of people who are non-religious and, therefore, not part of our churches, who are interested in or think positively about Jesus as a spiritual figure.
Jesus didn’t need survey data to know it, but this data shows that the harvest is plentiful.
The same survey revealed that Christians overwhelmingly described themselves as being: Giving (57%); Compassionate (56%); Loving (55%); and Respectful (50%). However, Non-Religious and Other Religious respondents described Christians as: Hypocritical (55%); Judgmental (54%); and Self-righteous (50%). One might interpret this data to imply that Christians, or their reputation, might be a barrier to people growing in relationship with Jesus. People are positive about Jesus, but not so positive about Christians
So, while the harvest is plentiful, it might be that the “laborers”, are not only few, but need to change the way they work.
How we labor—how we live the faith we proclaim, is all about discipleship.
Despite all the worries and losses that we have experienced over the pandemic, now is not the time for us–for Christians, to focus on all that has been lost or changed in our congregations. Nor is it time, given our exhaustion, to fret about how we are going to restore our churches to the good old days. Instead, now is the time to focus on discipleship, trusting that the Holy Spirit’s power will renew the church. Now is the time for each of us, the whole church, to recommit to the purpose of living a “Jesus-shaped life;” to making disciples who live the faith and hope of Jesus in such a way that they become an invitation to a life that is consistent with His way of love. Though it is easy to get stuck wondering how we are going to get more people in our pews or how we are going to save our church from dying, we would be better off asking: How can we become better disciples? How can we better do the things Jesus tells us to do? How can we better tell and share our love and hope in Jesus?”
These are questions that call us to discipleship and to mission—God’s Mission.
I call the Diocese of Alaska to be renewed in your work of discipleship. Turn your fears, worries, and exhaustion over to Jesus. Pray that the Holy Spirit will renew our communities. Let each of us, instead, focus on discipleship: being strengthened in our faith by the one who calls us by name, offers us refreshment and renewal, healing and hope, and shows us how to walk the way of love in this world, the one in whom all hope found, Jesus Christ our Lord.