“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16
The “John” in our verse is John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus Christ, and is baptizing in the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sins. In verse 15 we are told that the people were wondering if John was the Messiah, but his answer in verse 16 sets the record straight—no, he is not the Messiah. In fact, John proclaims that he is not even worthy to untie the sandals of the coming Messiah.
The idea of loosening the bindings of sandals was work that was reserved for slaves and servants. When the master returned home from work the servant would remove the sandals and wash the master’s feet in soothing, cool, clean water. Yet John, the most famous man in all of Israel willingly revealed to the people that, not only was he not the Messiah but he wasn’t even worthy to be his servant.
How different from our own world where evangelists, pastors, and church leaders clamor for fame and recognition. Churches are listed in the “top” ten for growth, Sunday School attendance, and facilities. Pastor’s boast of the number of seminars, retreats, workshops, and rallies they are invited to preach at during the year. Big budgets, big ideas, big crowds, and big time promotion sell religion and celebrity pastors to a more and more gullible Christian community. The result is that an ever-increasing secular society is turning away from Christianity.
Oh! You think I’m too harsh? Listen, not only do many of us in ministry think that we are worthy to untie the Messiah’s sandals but we actually believe that God can’t get along without us. And the reason for so much boasting in numbers, statistics, and programs is because we are trying to expand the kingdom of God on our own. We step back at the end of the week, survey the crowds, and declare that all is well in the Kingdom. But is it?
A survey released a few years back by the Barna Group listed 5 basic reasons that young people are no longer attending or considering attending church. Here they are.
1) The church is irrelevant, the leaders are hypocritical, and leaders have experienced too much moral failure. I know, this is three reasons rolled into one but that’s how Barna does it. What is so sad about these reactions from young people is that they are right. All three of these problems in the church shouldn’t be problems if we honestly believed that we were servants of the Messiah and not the Messiah. Moral failures, hypocrisy, and being irrelevant are not things that are unfixable in the church. Morality, honesty, and relevance should be keystones of the church.
OK, I thought the first reason was fixable the second reason better be fixable or the church needs to close the doors and everyone go home and watch TV.
2) GOD IS MISSING IN THE CHURCH. When I first read that I couldn’t really comprehend what I was reading. Here is a real no brainer. If the graciousness and wonders of God are not being taught in the church, then what is the point? And let me say it again—no, donating to a tele-evangelists new jet or listening to prosperity gospel pastors is not returning Christ to the center of Church proclamation and life.
Young people see through the charade and shake their heads in disbelief at the foolishness of what we present as Christianity and what we tolerate in the name of God. Just when we think we have become as shallow as we can be as a Christian nation, there is always another scandal or crazy scheme just around the corner. Once again, putting God back in church is not hard to fix if we are serious about the Gospel.
The third reason is fixable as well. 3) Legitimate doubt is prohibited. Come on! You know this is true. To question leadership, teachings, and church culture is not welcome. People want to be comfortable in their spiritual world and anyone who questions is seen as a pariah and can very quickly find themselves on the outside looking in. Yes, there can be a lot of tension over questions that people are seeking answers for but one of the roles of the pastor and church members is to be able to discuss these questions. When people are hurting and wondering where God is we need to be there and at least attempt to comfort and support from the Word of God.
Fourthly, 4) They’re not learning About God. I’m not sure what the solution is for this but I know from experience that one “45” minute sermon a week is not going to transform people into dynamic Spirit filled believers. Church needs to pull up its socks and members need to get involved. But for the visitor or the person wondering about Christianity there has to be something more. Opportunities for people to ask questions and have honest answers is a beginning.
Lastly, 5) They are not finding community. This is both fixable and unfortunately true. I know numerous people who have left church because they felt unaccepted. You might be saying right now that that‘s not so because you have a great circle of friends in the church. And that is part of the problem. Someone goes to church alone and sees everyone else in social relationships but, unable to break into those groups, the loneliness only becomes stronger. Churches should really make this an important aspect of their ministry.
Now, back to our text. The second half of Luke 3:16 reads, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is the solution to all of the 5 reasons Barna Group lists why young people don’t attend church. Our ministries need to be Spirit led and filled with the fire of the Gospel. Baptism into the forgiveness of sins encompasses being baptized into the Spirit and receiving the power of the risen Christ who comes to dwell within us through the Spirit. There is a transformation when we allow the Spirit to lead our lives, our ministries, and our churches.
Instead of believing we can do all things through Christ we need to remember it is the Spirit who can do all things through us.