Josh Cousineau is church planter of Redemption Hill, located in Auburn, Maine, and core team member of the Gospel Alliance New England. He enjoys spending time with his high school sweetheart – now his bride since 2002 – and their three children. Josh blogs at JoshCousineau.com.
I have heard stories about people who live in the Bible Belt and how everyone down there is a 'Christian.' I have visited the South and been blown away by how many church buildings there are, and how big they are. I grew up in the Northeast and this is my home. I love it, but it is a little (ok a lot) different than what I hear the South is like.
I remember one trip to Alabama where I met with a Southern Baptist pastor for breakfast. When we were at the local breakfast joint, he started to pray for our food. There was nothing special about his prayer, nothing that stood out to me as unusual. During the prayer the waitress came to the table. Now, I don't know if you are like me, but this seems to happen often when I am out with my family or friends for a meal. We pray and almost like clockwork, the waiter or waitress walks up to see how our food is. This is what stood out to me. Not that she walked towards us during our prayer; that was normal. The strange thing was that the waitress stood about five feet from the table, bowed her head, and waited for us to be done praying. This would never happen where I live. More often than not they just walk up and ask you their question. It is not that they are intentionally interrupting your time of prayer, it is that they don't even know or notice what you are doing. In the Northeast, people don't pray before meals.
It is not that those who serve us in the Northeast are slow to notice that we are eating and those in the South are that quick. It is that the thought of praying before a meal is not normal to those who call the Northeast home. Not only do people not pray before meals, but the 'Christian-culture' that so many of us have grown up in and are used to, is non-existent in the majority of people's daily lives.
To say that we (those who live in the Northeast, especially New England) are in the midst of a gospel-depleted culture would be an understatement. I could throw around statistics about how dry it is up here, but who really cares about statistics. I would much rather talk about real life stories of real people, with a real eternity looming on their horizon. I could point to a local coffee shop where the people who work there are all about spirituality, but this spirituality has nothing to do with biblical worldview. It is actually fully opposed to those beliefs. I could talk about a guy who told me he could not believe in a church that has rooms full of gold and does not care about the poor or the down and out. I am not sure, but my church doesn't have rooms full of gold. The church he was talking about is the Vatican. His view of Christianly and the Church is based only off of what he knows about the Roman Catholic church, not my little church plant, or any other church I know of. I could tell story after story about students, parents, and teachers who do not see an issue with premarital sex, as long as you use protection.
In the Northeast, Christian is more likely to be found on the lips of someone making a derogatory comment, than someone talking about the hope which they live their lives by. Jesus is about as far back in people's minds as who won the medal count in the 2008 Olympics. Not only do the vast majority of people not know about Jesus, they don't even care that they don't know about Him. It is not relevant for them, so therefore there is no need. See, it is not that they have turned their backs on the family religion, or let their parents down by bailing on the Easter service this year, or the Thanksgiving Eve prayer service. Their parents probably didn't go to church much in the first place, so they don't really care. You would have to go back to grandma, or even great-grandma before you would find someone who actually had a 'Christian-Rhythm' to their life. This is just how life is, and there is nothing one can do about it.
There is Hope
In the midst of this darkness, I find hope. The pastors I talk to have a joyful expectancy upon their lips. Student ministers are eager to pour their lives out for the next generation. To be honest I would rather work with people who don't have a care in the world about God, the Bible, the Church, or Jesus. Because what I find is when these people come face-to-face with the gospel, it changes everything. They are more like the prodigal son who 'comes to his sense (Lk. 15.17 NIV) that living as a servant with his father is better than the life he has now, eating pig slops, than the elder brother who sits by ticked that his sinner brother got back into the family (Lk. 15.28).
No matter if the waitress comprehends that people will pray before a meal or not, the gospel is still the same. That is our only hope. Not that she would see us praying and think, 'oh, I need to be considerate and wait.' No, our only hope is that Jesus is in the business of bringing people to Himself, lost, sick people. People who don't know they are lost or sick. People who think they have it all together. This is what Jesus came to do, and as a pastor and missionary, this is what I cling to. Jesus came to save the sinners.
(Photo courtesy: TGC)