Today’s Blog is part 5 of a 6-part Blog Series called “Reopening Christianity: 5 Questions Every Pastor Must Answer.” This series is intended to challenge pastors by asking five challenging questions that will help spur their churches to become greater collective expressions of Jesus Christ. Miss prior blogs or want to read the next ones in this series? Find them here. Questions 1-5 go live January 11-15, 2021.
Question 4: Pastor, Is Your Church Known For What You Are For Or Against?
Christians are not known for the same words as Jesus. Judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, political, out-of-touch, prejudiced, and bigoted are all words that get tossed around to describe Christians by non-Christians.
Why this matters for us as pastors is because we lead churches, and churches are filled with Christians.
In the last question, I challenged you to take the Good News of Jesus along with the unique gifts He’s put inside of you to others and to do it now! However, it is tough to do a good job of spreading the Good News if we don’t have a good reputation. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If we have the message that they need but there is an inherent lack of trust, they may never truly receive it.
We have to change our reputation. What is your church’s reputation?
The first thing you might do when you hear what words describe Christians is refute the feelings of those that label Christians, or your church, a certain way. You might feel that they are wrong. Perhaps you point them to all of the good deeds that Christians do. Then you might go through your list that Christians are the first in line and most helpful in disaster relief, they’ve brought clean water to so many villages, and have been working on prison reform for decades. You might point to hostile media characterizations and think that that’s why the non-Christians say those ugly things about us. You might even think about all of the great things your church, filled with Christians, has done for your city. But hold on a minute.
Barna Research found that more than half of the respondents that had used those harsh words to describe Christians based it on personal experiences with Christians.[i]
And let’s state the obvious: if 65% of Americans claim to be Christian, then out of the 215 million of us, there are going to be a few crazy ones who twist the Word of God and live a poor representation of Jesus. And there might even be a few of those crazy ones that inhabit the walls of your church! You might even be able to name a few right away!
But in reality, we are all sinful, broken, and messy people. That includes me and that includes you. We have to admit that we don’t always do things right, and we also don’t always do everything that we should do. It is easy for us to jump to judging others. Because we tie ourselves to a particular moral standard, to a higher level of obedience, when we see others not following suit it’s easy to lash out in judgment.
Jesus came to bring both grace and truth, but many Christians, and churches, skip the grace and go right to the truth. As we reopen Christianity, we have an opportunity to be known for what we are for and not what we are against. And what we are for is Jesus and His redemption for all people, no matter what race, age, gender, or spiritual qualifications they may or may not possess.
In the midst of a pandemic that shut the world down, racial injustice and systemic oppression reared its ugly head again, and it caused great division. Perhaps the greatest invitation we have to flip our reputation lies in our ability to be a part of the current day injustices that are before us.
Astonishingly, Barna Research did more polls in the midst of all of the racial tension of 2020, and found that the percentage of practicing Christians nearly doubled from 17% to 30% that are unmotivated or not at all motivated to be a part of the solution when it comes to racial reconciliation.
This is so sad that a people group is crying out, and we who have received God’s grace cannot extend grace to those who are hurting. The truth is that God has acted on our behalf while we were still sinners, and very plainly tells us that we are called to act as well. Many Christians take the lead from their pastors, and so each of us has to examine, how am I leading? Am I doing everything that I can be doing when it comes to battling injustices?
As pastors we need to plead with our people to intervene and step into the injustices in our world. The problems of this world, whether the people in your church struggle with them or not, become the problems that your church must get involved in. We have a God who stepped down into our stories and made us right and has now given us the ministry of reconciliation.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The challenge we face in this world as Christians is that we are called to stand up against injustice and at the same time to stand up for Jesus. We cannot escape this world. The “cancel culture” mindset that has become popular is something that Christians must avoid at all costs. It shows no grace and only judgment. And yet, at the same time, we cannot embrace everything in this world. The world is beautiful, but it is messy, sinful, and broken.
How do you, then, operate with both grace and truth? It comes by spending time in relationship with God.
A Christian research company found that those who were most likely to spread the Good News had a regular practice of confession in their lives. Those most willing to talk about and spread the Good News of Jesus started with an understanding that they are the one most in need of God’s grace.[ii]
I’ve written more on the benefits of daily confession here.
Sadly, many times it is easier for pastors to give grace away to others but not spend time themselves receiving God’s grace. For pastors to properly lead with grace they must regularly receive it themselves. While others may look up to you and place you on a pedestal, you know the truth about yourself. Just like everyone else you need God’s grace to help make you whole again.
It’s when we come from that place, that we ourselves were broken until Christ made us whole, that we can truly be the light in the darkness that Jesus is asking us to be. Rather than leading with judgment and what we are against, we must lead with grace just like Jesus did for you and for me.
We are called to stand in the middle. And in the middle, we Pray, Listen, Educate, Act, Speak, and Expect. And even though the middle is typically messy, we know that the mess is where God always does His best work.
Pastor, are you known for what you are for or what you are against?
For more action steps, I have previously laid out a step-by-step guide to battling injustice and pursuing reconciliation using the simple acronym “Please.”
P – Pray
L – Listen
E – Educate
A – Act
S – Speak
E – Expect
While these blogs are written specifically for pastors and church leaders, we have an eBook Reopening Christianity and small group resources available for individuals at your church right here. Many small groups and churches have found this to be a powerful small group or church-wide study. To inquire about using this as a sermon series and for bulk rates on the ebook, email email@example.com.
[i] “A New Generation Expresses Its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity.” https://www.barna.com/research/a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity/. 21 September 2017. Web. 6 November 2020.
[ii] Im, Daniel. “Input vs. Output Goals for Discipleship. https://www.danielim.com/2017/08/15/input-vs-output-goals-discipleship/. 15 August 2017. Web. 6 November 2020.