The overwhelming perception of Mosaics and Busters (those aged 16-29) is that Christians are hypocrites.
Mosaics and Busters define hypocrisy as saying one thing but seeming to do another. Add to this that this age group is skeptical by nature, and they aren't impressed with what they see in the Christians around them - and a lot of them have been in churches or "tried the Jesus thing."
Interestingly, according to Kinnaman (co-author of the book unChristian) 84% of this age groups personally knows a Christian but only 15% see an actual lifestyle difference.
Another really interesting thing the research showed up was that this age group are not all that bothered by hypocrisy. Since they expect everyone to be working the system to make themselves look good, they don't see Christians any differently. Four out of five in the 18-29 year old age bracket name wealth and personal fame as their top priorities. They see Christians through the same make yourself look good lens - out to promote their own image.
Kinnaman wrote, "Christians are not known for transparency, or for digging in and solving deep-seated problems, but for trying to project a picture of having it all together. They see us as employing the same tactics as everyone else to preserve an appearance of strength."
However, we all know that perceptions and reality are sometimes very different. And it's true that some people use "all Christians are hypocrites" as an excuse. The question is - is this younger generation right about us?
Kinnaman and the Barna Group did more research, this time with born again Christians. They defined born-agains as, "a person who says he has made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important, and that person believes he will go to heaven upon death because he confessed his sin and accepted Christ."
While there were distinct differences in religious variables such as born-agains owned more Bibles, attended church more frequently and donated more money to non-profit religous groups, the differences in actual lifestyle were almost non-existent.
In one study when Kinnaman compared nonbelievers and believers (based on the definition of given of a born-again Christian) behavior in the past 30 days, believers were just as likely to have bet or gambled; visited a porn site; taken something that didn't belong to them; consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk; lied; used illegal drugs; gotten back at someone; or talked meanly about someone behind their back.
Based on lifestyle alone, you couldn't tell the Christians from the non-Christians. It gets worse though. It's not just that we don't live any differently than nonbelievers, but we also (according to the study Kinnaman did) say that our top priority of our faith is our lifestyle - as in being good, doing the right thing and not sinning.
Kinnaman sums it up when he wrote, "Given the pervasive perception that Christians are hypocritical, it is telling that 'being good' is the primary way we define what being a Christian is all about. That gives the temptation to give a false pretense of holiness."
In other words, Christians themselves say that how they live (being good; not sinning) is the primary priority of being a Christian, but then we don't live any differently than those around us.
It's also interesting that only 1% of born again Christians place family faith - discipling our children and shaping the family's faith - as a priority. Only 30% place a priority on discipleship in general - learning about Christ and studying the Bible.
Instead, four out of five Christians agreed that the Christian life is well defined as "trying hard to do what God commands." Two-thirds list strict rules and standards as important parts of their church's teachings. Another three out of five Christians feel they don't measure up to God's standards, and a quarter serve God, not from love, joy and gratitude, but from guilt and obligation. These types of phrases were used in the study done by Kinnaman.
Obviously, the Bible has a lot to say about our fruit as Christians. The fruit of our lives is supposed to be an outward sign of our salvation, but we have gotten this whole concept on its head. Our outward behavior does not effect an inward transformation. It's the exact opposite - a growing, dynamic relationship with Christ changes us on the inside and then produces outward changes.
Kinnaman suggests that transparency about our flaws and focus on Jesus' power to transform us despite our weaknesses would change this perspective outsiders have that Christians are hypocrites. It would make us real.
The Greek word for hypocrite is the same word used for wearing a mask. The problem is, Mosaics and Busters are savvy enough to see our mask.
The younger generation is seeking people who are real and authentic. They want to find people who they can trust, but often those people are outside the church because we, as Christians, are trying to "fake it until we make it."
In Matthew 23:4, Jesus said this about hypocrites, "They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden."
Does my life point people to Christ because it is full of the joy of freedom, restoration, purity and authenticity? Or am I too busy trying to look good and seem like I have it all together? Am I placing an impossible list of rules and expectations on behavior on non-believers instead of point them to the grace and power of Christ which is the only real way to transform behavior.
The big deal about grace is that I don't deserve it, can never deserve it, but God gave it to me anyway. John the Baptist had a good handle on the whole hypocrisy thing because his focus was the correct one and a humble one. He said I must decrease and He (meaning Jesus) must increase.
May my life be transparent enough - warts and all - to allow Christ's glory, grace and love to shine through to the people around me!
~ Blessings, Bronte