Christianity is great, but not everything we say or believe about it is necessarily true. Here are the most common stereotypes that Christians have about Christianity that are wrong:
You’re Always Happy:There’s an unhealthy expectation within many faith communities that we’re always supposed to be joyful, as if being anything other than a smiling, peaceful, and jolly spiritual cheerleader is detrimental to Christianity.
“Being a good witness” is often the Christian way of saying, “act the part.” But while contentment and happiness is a spiritual virtue, it should never come at the expense of honesty, transparency, and truthfulness. We shouldn’t pretend to be happy and use the facade of joy as an evangelism tool.
God desires reconciliation and renewal, and this often means confronting broken relationships and dealing with sin within our lives. Asking for forgiveness, admitting addiction, confronting abuse, seeking justice, requesting help, and serving others often makes you the opposite of happy — and that’s OK.
There’s a season for everything, and some of life’s most important, loving, and holy moments are times of trial, sorrow, and sadness — so let’s stop trying to turn Christianity into something it was never meant to be.
Your Problems Will Disappear: Some people use Christianity as a form of escapism, a crutch, and a way to avoid the pain, suffering, and struggles of life. But at the center of Jesus’ life and teaching is (again) the concept of truth. Christianity isn’t about ignoring reality but embracing it, engaging the real world and all the baggage that comes with it.
In many ways, following Jesus causes us to accept — and confront — the facts, whether they are good or bad. We shouldn’t hide or pretend or ignore difficulties, but address them.
A faith in Christ requires honesty and bravery, and it demands sacrifice, service, and heartbreak. The New Testament shows us that Jesus’ disciples faced even more problems when they decided to follow him: persecution, poverty, and ultimately martyrdom.
No, our problems won’t disappear, but a relationship with God is worth the accompanying struggles that may come with it.
You’ll Be “Blessed”: If you’re seeking wealth, prosperity, comfort, and security, Christianity isn’t the place to go.
Contrary to our consumer tendencies, Jesus’ teachings continually instruct believers to sacrifice and be willing to give everything away for the sake of loving others. The disciples of Jesus lived a dangerous and hard life that continually relied on the hospitality and generosity of others. They often ended up in jail or were even killed because of their faith.
Some of the most holy and righteous people I know have lives that are extremely rough and filled with all sorts of trouble. Disease, sickness, poverty, crime, abuse, and a litany of other horrible things happen to good people — even Christians who passionately love God.
Does this mean that they don’t trust God enough or aren’t being good Christians? No! Our faith isn’t a pathway toward gaining an array of physical, financial, or social blessings — it’s not a formula for worldly success, so let’s stop treating it like one.
Missions and Ministry Is Fun and Rewarding: Don’t get me wrong, it often is rewarding, but from the time we’re in Sunday school throughout high school and college, and even as adults, we’re told that “missions” and “ministry” and “evangelism” is fun, exciting, and rewarding. We go on exotic mission trips, work at car washes to raise money for local charities, and spend a day volunteering at the homeless shelter. Most of us then have the luxury of going home, back to our “regular” lives.
Missions and ministry is hard work. There’s a reason the burnout rate is absurdly high for people whose primary vocation is ministry-related. Pastors and missionaries are considered high-risk candidates within the medical community because of their susceptibility to addiction, stress, and abuse. It’s not an easy life.
Being a full-time missionary and minister requires constant service, with very little recognition and plenty of conflict. Combine this with long hours, low pay, and hardly any respectability, and it’s an existence that few can handle.
But within our churches and Christian institutions, we glorify the idea of serving others without presenting an accurate or truthful picture of what it really looks like or requires from us. Instead of telling the horror stories of relational conflict, emotional pain, and physical turmoil, we’re fed stories of revival, spiritual renewal, and miraculous wonders. That’s great, but in many cases it gives us false expectations of what ministry honestly looks like.
We need to start portraying ministry accurately instead of marketing it as some sort of superficial fun-filled adventure. And for those already within ministry, we need to give them all the support and encouragement they deserve.
All Your Questions Will Be Answered: Christianity is full of doubt, uncertainty, nuance, and complexity. There are very few clear answers, and the ones that exist are debated among hundreds of theologians. For those seeking resolutions to life’s deepest questions and mysteries, Christianity will provide some clarity, but ultimately it leaves much to the imagination.
As believers, we need to start accepting the fact that we don’t know everything. When we try to turn the Bible into a set of answers to all of the world’s challenges and questions, we end up manipulating the message of Christ and forming it into our own agendas just to appease our curiosity or quell the objections of others.
The Christian Community Is Great: Many people leave the Christian faith not because they hate Jesus, but because they hate the people who represent him. Christians hurt people. They fight, argue, yell, scream, and do horrible things.
Nobody knows this better than Christians themselves, who routinely suffer through denominational splits, church infighting, community gossip, and an avalanche of interpersonal conflicts.
Christians aren’t better than anyone else. The divorce rates, crime rates, and other “moral” comparative data show little difference between them and the rest of the world. So let’s stop pretending Christians have the market corner on what’s right and wrong.
We need to start listening and talking with others instead of self-righteously judging and convicting others. There’s a reason why you can’t look across a mall and point out who’s a Christian and who isn’t — because there’s no noticeable difference.
It Makes You Better Than Others:This is the hardest truth for Christians to swallow, that they aren’t any better than anyone else. In fact, Jesus continually tried to instill the virtues of humility and humbleness throughout his ministry, repeatedly trying to teach his followers that everyone was loved by God, regardless of social, financial, or spiritual status.
When we see ourselves as superior, we become like the Pharisees, who craved power and control and authority. But God, the ruler of the world, made himself nothing, and died on a cross for the sake of others — for the sake of those who were in the process of murdering him! Are we willing to become nothing for the sake of others, even for those we dislike?
The problem with romanticizing Christianity is that we turn our faith into a product, using various selling points to make it look more attractive. It’s not that the above headlines are entirely false, it’s just that Christians publicize them as being entirely true. This creates false expectations and idols, and inevitably leads to disappointment and sense of failure.
Instead of promoting Christianity as a set of benefits, we need to promote Christ. In the end, when everything else fails and falls short, Jesus will remain faithful through it all. We can trust him above any form of religion we attempt to turn Christianity into.
Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta .
Photo: Dennis Kuvaev/Shutterstock