A significant number of people outside of the faith (and some inside of it) have huge misconceptions about Christians and Christianity. While we should work to clear up those, that does not mean our job is to make Christianity popular.
We should assure people that we are well aware of the fact we are not perfect and that we are sorry if we ever gave off that image. We should make sure they know that Jesus does love everyone including those that are engaged in activities the Bible calls sin. We also must let them know that we love them too even though we don’t act like it enough.
However, while we are out working to correct the misconceptions, we must be careful that another motive does not sneak into our minds – making Christianity popular.
Apart from Jesus, I think Paul dealt more with misconceptions about him and about his beliefs than anyone else. I also think that he was also second to Jesus in understand the fickle nature of crowds who love you one minute and literally kill you the next. Both understand that truth must be declared to the masses, but that popularity among the crowds was not the way to accomplish that goal.
While Paul’s preaching never varies in terms of the central message, the way crowds view him swings wildly. When he heals someone in Lystra in Acts 14, the crowds believe that he is a god. They are about to start sacrificing animals to him.
Paul then explains that he and Barnabas are only human, but that they know the way to find the One True God. Verse 18 says they still had to work to keep the crowd for worshiping them.
However, it all changes in the span of one verse. The next verse (19) details how Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, over 100 miles away, to speak against Paul. They won the crowd over, which stoned Paul, drug him out of the city and left him there believing him to be dead.
In this case, Paul cleared up the misconception and it got him stoned to death. He could have continued being popular and justified that by claiming he was only going to use it as a platform to preach Christ. After all, they are much more likely to listen if they think I’m a god or if they really like me.
But the establishing truth was more important. The gospel cannot be proclaimed rightly with dishonest methods. The truth will not move forward on wheels of lies.
We may often face a similar choice as Paul. Simply because we work to clear up misconceptions about who we are as Christians, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like us.
Sometimes truth is accepted. Sometimes truth is rejected. If Truth personified was rejected when He lived on Earth, we should expect to be rejected as well.
While we are to be as winsome as possible, proclaiming the gospel in love, faithfulness not popularity should be our goal. That does not give you the right to be a jerk about it, merely to be firm in your convictions.
Our job is to make sure that it is truth that people are rejecting (or accepting) and not mistaken perceptions of what Jesus and His followers are about. Crowds will chant “Hosanna!” as well as “Crucify Him!” Popularity is too fickle to be our goal.
Christianity will not always be popular, but it will always be true.