LONDON – The most important role for Christians today is not to rehabilitate the church, but rather to help people realize again that the God Christians serve is a good God, said the former head of the U.K. Evangelical Alliance.
Joel Edwards, who stepped down this year to head Christian anti-poverty movement Micah Challenge, said Friday night that a worse problem in the world than people's disobedience was the "defamation" and "demonization" of God.
People outside the church see God as vindictive, mean, prohibitive and a killjoy, he said.
"We're obsessed with an incredibly good God [inside the church] and outside people have got a very different take on God and it seems as if we live in these two worlds," he noted. "God has such a bad image and we share that bad image … a lot of our effort is about rehabilitating how people see us."
The evangelical leader said the biggest problem affecting the human race was the misrepresentation of God, with Christians in particular representing God as an ogre and a bad guy. Very few people, he said, actually think of Christians as being about abundant life.
"The whole of Christian messaging and lifestyle, and sometimes church, is all about the God who's always telling people what not to do. That's why people think we're so boring and depressing," he lamented.
While "dressing up" services and engaging the congregation in social activities are important, this is not the primary purpose of the church, he contended.
"There is no greater task of the Christian church than to present God as a God who is fundamentally good, fundamentally pro-people," he said. "The importance of what you do isn't just about rescuing people from having a bad view of Christians, this isn't just a PR jobs for Christians.
"We're not even called to rehabilitate the church or Christian integrity or Christian perceptions," Edwards continued. "We are called to get people to understand again that the God that we serve is a good God and that his goodness is demonstrated in his liberation of men and women from every kind of situation."
He noted that the church so often talks about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked but comes across as a "drop-out club" and a religion that is only really good "if you've got a problem."
"It's not just about rescuing people who are depressed," he said. "It is still the case that people see our ministry as an antidote to distress but that we haven't got anything to say to anybody who might actually be okay."
He pointed to the words of Jesus to Jewish men at the Feast of Tabernacles: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink."
"This is life abundant. Life abundant says when you think you have drunk to the overfill I can still offer you a quality of life you haven't even begun to think about yet," he said.
Edwards' address was made at the first anniversary celebration of City Chapel, an East London church planted by Global Day of Prayer London convener Jonathan Oloyede with the vision of being truly multi-cultural and soul-winning.
"We don't preach doctrines, we don't preach concepts," he emphasized. "We are preaching a person. We sense that sometimes the lens on Jesus is blurred in the church and we want City Chapel to be a church where you see the Christ in high definition."
Also speaking at the celebration was Labor Vice Chair for Faith Groups Stephen Timms who said there was a need for more people to serve their communities from a perspective of faith.