I arrived at university 25 years ago as a young, fresh, undergraduate who thought the best way to witness to Jesus was to make him cool by being cool myself.
I am not sure how I thought this tactic would work, as I was (and still am) a cricket-loving folkie, with a poor sense of style and an even worse haircut.
I thought that if I could dispel the idea that Christians were “uncool” that somehow this would draw people to Christ. Sadly, it did not work; and it will never work.
I read an excellent column explaining why Jesus isn’t Instgrammable. It’s a simple blog on why our attempts to prove ourselves to be cool will not and do not work.
“Climbing big mountains with worship music in your ears; or whitewater rafting while praying at the same time. Or… going to a new coffee shop across town to read the Bible with a skinny flat white” may sound cool – hipster-style things that we could or should be doing, the author noted. Yet, ultimately they have missed the point because “Jesus actually told us it was going to be tough.”
I was listening to someone speak a few years ago about how he was not interested in Jesus because he thought that becoming a Christian would prevent him from doing things he liked doing.
He discovered later, he shared, that it was possible to do all the things he used to love, but this time as a Christian (a nice addition to his already happy life).
This mindset is symptomatic of our age: We don’t want Jesus to truly impact our lives. We don’t actually want to carry a cross; we want all the bits of Christianity that we like, but none of the stuff that makes it hard.
Jesus was never afraid to make it hard, and the story of the rich young man (Luke 18:18-3) is a classic example.
What would you have said if that young man approached you with the same question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Would you be prepared to say to him that he may have to lose everything he loves in order to follow Christ?
We have tried to make a Christianity without sacrifice, to make disciples without discipline and to make Christianity cool, on trend and easy.
But Jesus said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25).
It is sadly not a trendy, cool thing to say, but Jesus was never up for making the life to which he was calling people trendy or cool.
Jesus warns us to count the cost (Luke 14:25-34). He talks about how we must be prepared to give up our friends and family for the sake of the gospel; he tells fishermen to leave their boats, farmers to leave the plough, children to leave their dead fathers.
Jesus is fundamentally uncool, untrendy and difficult to follow.
I wonder if rather than trying to follow culture, which prizes the trendy things of this world – the latest gadget, the latest haircut, the latest fashion trend, the latest celebrity, which are here today and gone tomorrow – we need to offer something that is timeless, true and tested: the gospel that promises a full life, but not a cool life, not an easy life and not an on-trend life.
That starts with saying what Jesus said, that we need to take up a cross, which will affect the way we live our lives. This may prompt questions that do actually lead people to Christ.
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth, United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared in the Baptist Times – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @mikepcshaw.
Minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth, United Kingdom.