When the world sees churches built to mirror the bland expanse of the shopping mall, the world sees religion as a product marketed according to taste and preference, without truth strong enough to bind the disparate and diverse but weak enough to mirror the existing divisions and choices that mark the people outside the faith.
When the world sees worship that looks like a variety show on TV, the world sees a church that is grounded in the present moment with little to offer the pain and shame of yesterday except a diversion and a church that has no future so it can only glory in the moment with an entertainment designed to distract rather than offer the promise of something more.
When the world hears worship music that sounds like what is on the radio, the world hears the beat and feels the rhythm of the moment, of trend and fad, of user preference, that sounds like today without a connection to those who have gone before and without a bridge to what is to come. It is music that exists for the individual and for the moment alone.
When the world hears preaching in worship that focuses on the person and on the moment, the world hears a motivational message designed to help the person help themselves to reach their dreams, to accomplish their goals, and to find the success in relationship or business or experience that will be enough to tilt the scales away from death. It does not hear hope beyond the grave or healing that ill cannot touch or holiness no longer stained by sin.
When the world meets a happy Christian whose God has the job of making and keeping that person happy, the world meets a self-centered person whose God not only approves but serves this person centered in their pursuit of their own wants or dreams. It does not meet someone who has been born again from this self-serving and self-righteous life and clothed with immortality and with a righteousness strong enough to set the individual free from the imprisonment of ego.
When the world sees a church whose architecture mirrors its horizontal direction, whose worship is absent the mystery of the Divine, whose preaching has forgotten sin and death, cross and empty tomb, whose music taps the foot but fails to address the heart with the living voice of the Word, and whose goal is personal happiness, the world sees a church desperate to find acceptance and approval and Christians who have the same rather pathetic need to be relevant or to be judged relevant by the world around them. It does not see the heavenly city glimpsed in temples built with hands or the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem anticipated in worship and song or the Word that speaks and sinners are born anew in living water and fit for everlasting life.
Nobody in their right mind is suggesting that the doors to the church be closed and no voice or presence venture beyond the safe refuge of the sanctuary but when we open the doors and address the world around us, we had better have something more to offer them than a pale and shallow reflection of their own world complete with all its limitations. We had better offer something more profound than a voice for social justice that has no moral compass but desire and no cause greater than the moment. We had better show them in liturgy and song the vision of the future that inhabits the present moment but is not captive to it. We had better preach a Word that has the power to bestow upon the fallen, the guilty, the shameful, the weak, the dying, and the sinner something more than a pallid acceptance of their brokenness. We had better wash them with the water of life that kills what is already dead and gives life to that which had only death. We had better be more concerned with being faithful to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God whom the Father has sent to save us, than we are trying to be relevant to a world which finds our vain attempts to be cool laughable and pitiable.
The Church has not failed because we were the Church. The Church, if it is failing, is failing because it is not the Church, its Gospel is not THE Gospel, and its concern is on today without thought or hope or promise for the eternal future that is the heart and core of Christian identity. So the only option for the Church is not to abandon the world but to recapture our own identity so that we have something to offer the world and this comes only from a renewal born of the Word and Sacraments and the repentance that is the good fruit of the Spirit at work in those means of grace.