(Image from Open Doors USA)
About half of all the pastors in America's churches today do not want to tell their congregations that there are forces in the world that persecute Christians for their beliefs, because it's a "downer," according to the results of a startling new poll.
The Barna Research Associates survey, commissioned by Open Doors USA, says a significant majority of American Christians, some three out of four, want to hear about the persecuted church.
But the same study showed that 52 percent of America's pastors don't want to talk about persecution and have no plans to talk about it.
In the nationwide poll of more than 800 Christians, 74 percent of America's churchgoers want to hear about the persecuted church.
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But the same survey said only 48 percent of the pastors want to discuss the issue.
Open Doors President Carl Moeller says the survey shows that American Christians are not isolationists.
"Much of what we've been hearing from people and in my experience of speaking with people all over the country would indicate that American Christians really want to know what's happening to their brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world, particularly those that are suffering for their faith in Christ," Moeller said.
Moeller said that perception led him to commission the study.
"And so, we did a survey with Barna that was two parts. The first part was asking pastors when they think they might preach on persecution or the suffering church around the world," Moeller said.
"We had several options there, but 48 percent said they weren't ever planning on preaching about persecuted Christians. Some said they would be preaching on it sometime in the future and a few said they preach on it regularly," Moeller said.
"That 48 percent kind of stuck with me. 'Wow, 48 percent never plan to talk about the persecuted church," Moeller said.
Moeller said the story was different in part two of the study.
"Seventy-four percent of American Christians who go to church regularly said they would like to hear sermons from time-to-time on the suffering church or persecuted Christians," Moeller said.
"That was a huge gap, we thought. Almost half of the pastors in American were never planning on preaching on something but three-quarters, almost three-quarters of their congregations want to hear on it regularly," Moeller said.
"We thought that that was worthy of reporting back to the American press and to the American church, pastors in particular," he said.
"People are really hungry; they want to know, they want to pray. They want to do something, speak out, take action, on behalf of suffering Christians wherever they can," Moeller said.
Christian human rights group International Christian Concern's Middle East Area Specialist Aidan Clay believes the problem comes from the pulpits.
"The persecuted church reminds us that the decision to follow Christ is all or nothing," Clay said. "It reminds us that Jesus promises persecution in the Scriptures and that the Christian life was not intended to be easy."
Clay said the reality about Christian persecution isn't popular.
"That's a difficult teaching to swallow in some American churches today that are centered on self-improvement and feel-good sermons. And, perhaps pastors fear that the topic of Christian persecution will drive complacent Christians or those who are unsure what they believe out of the church," Clay said.
Clay said he's pleasantly surprised that the message of persecution has a solid impact on American Christians.
"However, I’ve learned when speaking to Western Christians that the opposite is true. Upon hearing the stories of the persecuted, Western Christians are enlivened, driven to prayer, and begin seeking ways to assist and raise awareness," Clay said.
"Even complacent Christians often find greater purpose when awakened to the harsh realities Christians face in other parts of the world. We are strengthened and encouraged when hearing the stories of Christians who remain joyful and continue to trust God after being imprisoned or even tortured for following Jesus," Clay said.
Moeller agreed, saying that sometimes persecution stories bring out the best in American churches.
"Persecution teaches us what the global church, the suffering church, has learned that maybe we've forgotten. I think that maybe there's a disconnect in this way," Moeller said.
"When we speak about persecution, the initial perspective that Americans have is that it's a horrible message of suffering and destruction. The straight fact of the matter is that it's actually a story of inspirational courage and fortitude and faith," he said.
"There's great inspiration that comes from being exposed to what the suffering church is going through. So if I can put it this way: I think American pastors are still hoping to mobilize their congregations to a level of engagement with the Gospel," Moeller said.
"But they have forgotten that we can be inspired, not just by clever stories about our neighborhood evangelism which can give us techniques in how to share our faith, but we can be inspired by the big story of Christ's church expanding," Moeller said.
"It's an epic story that can inspire the church to reach out," Moeller said.
Moeller added that the story of the persecuted church can teach the American church something that many other lessons cannot.
"Just because people are concerned about their own personal lives doesn't mean that they can't draw strength and encouragement from those that are going through suffering," Moeller said.
"I like to refer to my mom who said a very wise thing to me one time. She said, 'Carl, experience is not the best teacher. Someone else's experience is the best teacher," Moeller said.
"In many ways, the American church is longing for the kind of personal purpose and satisfaction that comes from being deeply connected to God's plan for the world," Moeller said.
"They (American Christians) are finding a deep hunger to be connected to deep things for their own personal benefit, to grow in their faith by being inspired by the suffering church," Moeller said.
"I think once people understand that there are Christians who are standing firm, they want to know, 'How can I also stand firm in the struggles in my life,'" Moeller said.
Clay said that some Christians even gain comfort from the stories of persecuted believers.
"And, there is great comfort in knowing that we are not alone, but part of the same church that was built and has endured because of the trials, sufferings and perseverance of faithful men and women before us who never gave up despite the cost," Clay said.
"Those are the footsteps that we follow. When hearing about the devotion of today's persecuted Christians, we are motivated to honor their sacrifices by living out our own faith purposefully in obedience to Scripture," Clay said.
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