Recently, I had a conversation recently which focused on matters of faith and Christian ideals. The person I was talking with had her share of Christianity, and was nonplussed at many of the things that were being presented. Quite frankly, I can’t really blame her.

She asked me if I felt like it was my responsibility to try to change people when they come to my church. It was then that I realized why so many people have been turned off by the Church in general. If I were to think of “church,” I have to ask myself what kind of a mental image I get.

What does someone who’s been turned away from the church think of it? I don’t think I want to get into any of the possible specifics right now, but some of the general elements surround a perception of religious arrogance.

Let me backtrack for just a minute. When I talk about “the Church,” I’m talking about the whole collective of churches across the country. I take care to not address any specific denominations or ministries unless absolutely necessary. If it seems like I’m “bashing” or “lambasting” the Church, then it’s for one reason: I’m lambasting myself.

In all reality, I am critical of Christianity because I am Christian. I see the faults because I see my own faults. I can not judge or scrutinize anything unless I first look at my own closet. It’s with all of this in mind that I write lovingly on the frustrations that some of us have faced when dealing with either traditional or institutional Christianity.

In short, I’m keenly aware of the reality that I, too, am arrogant, have stabbed backs, and have been self-righteous. I’ve failed to show the love of Christ on countless occasions, and I’ve been a poor witness for the faith and my Lord on more occasions than I even want to try to count.

So please, as you read further, understand that my desire to be real is as paramount to me as the desire to be broken before my brethren and my Lord.

Now, I’ll get specific. If someone befriends us who happens to be in leadership of a church, what’s the first thing that goes through your mind? “I bet they want me to join their church.” This person will be friendly–overly friendly, even–almost to the point of being irritating. They’ll show all kinds of love. They’ll be kind, generous, even compassionate.

“But,” you think. “Is there a hook?”

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Is there a hook? Is it possible that there really is an ulterior motive to all of the doting, friendly calls, kind little gifts and extra birthday cards? This is when I have to check my own motives for my actions. If I show love, do I have a hook attached to it?

And if I do have a hook attached, then all of my loving actions have a new label: bait. It’s a harsh reality for me to consider, but isn’t that all we’re doing when we show love in order to get something back?

Let me take it out of the church context for a moment and back to our romantic lives. Love with a hook is all over the place. One of the most extreme examples of “love with a hook” in my mind is the “I love you so much, and if you love me you’ll sleep with me.” That’s quite a hook, isn’t it?

That boyfriend or girlfriend might bestow on us a number of gifts, free dinners, and heaven knows what else, but there might be a hook… marriage… sex… a new car… you name it. In times like this, “love” is actually bait…a lure… in a word, it’s a trap.

Isn’t that what we do when we befriend someone in order to get them to join a church? There’s a hook. Maybe it’s like when we give money to someone in order so they’ll tell their friends what we did. It’s a hook.

When love becomes bait, it actually becomes something far more sinister: manipulation. It’s very subtle, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?

In all fairness, though, this kind of subtle manipulation is often so subtle that we don’t even realize when we’re doing it. After all, it’s what we’ve been taught all our lives. If we perform well, we get a paycheck. If we do good works, we get a pat on the back. We’ve been taught to take the hook at every turn.

This is why Christianity in its truest form is so unique. With Christ, there is no hook. God has given everything to us… and He knows we can’t… and won’t pay him back! The hook was pulled. “I love you,” Jesus said. And his actions always backed up his words. He showed love by showing mercy, compassion, and kindness.

Yes, it’s true that a hook is great for fishing. We even want to use the biggest, flashiest lure that we can in order to entice the fish to bite. After all, didn’t Jesus call us to be “fishers of men?”

Not so fast. In Christ’s day, there were no hooks. It was simply a net. The fishers would cast the net and reel the fish into the boat. There was no deception, no lure, and of course, no hooks. Would Jesus actually say, “I will make you a fisher like the ones who use shiny, flashy lure to bring in the biggest, greatest bass of all?”

No. He cast the net. And pulled in every fish that would fit within it.

Maybe it’s time for all of us… especially me… to check our motives for our actions. Do we have a hook? Or not?