Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Our Changing Culture and the Ever Present Need for Jesus

I almost missed seeing it as I set the newspaper aside. But something about the picture caught my eye. I picked the paper up and looked at the picture again of the couple that was embracing and realized it was a same sex couple. The article was about love and family and I realized that the editor has chosen a picture of a same sex couple to illustrate the article. It was not an article about same sex marriage, the article did not address that issue at all. It was just a stock picture that was chosen to go with the story.

Twenty years ago, such a picture would have never have been published. Ten years ago, depending on the newspaper, it might have been published in an article about same sex marriage. Even two years ago such a picture would have produced a flurry of letters to the editor, both pro and con. But now, in our rapidly changing culture, it was just a stock picture in a mundane article that did not appear to stir up controversy at all.

Regardless of where a person stands on that particular issue, we can all agree that our culture is changing. Pick about any topic or issue, and it seems that the public opinion is drifting to the left. Things that only twenty years ago would have been unthinkable have no become so common that we almost miss noticing them when they show up in daily life.

How should churches engage such a changing culture?

Some churches have chosen to adopt the culture as their own. Such churches jumped in with both feet and happily accepted the culture's view on such things. They assumed it would swell their ranks with left leaning parishioners. That did not happen. The majority of liberal churches remain in steep decline. Tony Robinson, president of Congregational Leadership Northwest, speaks and writes, nationally and internationally, on religious life and leadership. He concluded:  It may be that relatively comfortable liberals … simply feel little need for religion.

Other churches have adopted more of a fortress mentality. They have withdrawn from public life and huddle in their basement hoping the world will just leave them alone. Recently I had a conversation with the leader of a major fundamentalist religious organization that has taken often this approach. He lamented, "We once had 50,000 people at our events, now we consider 20,000 to be a good year." The fortress mentality is clearly not working either.

Churches that want to remain vibrant must look for ways to engage the culture, without adopting it. Though there may be many ways to do that, it seems that the best way is to focus on the life changing Gospel. When we focus on passing legislation for the community as a whole, or internal regulations for the organizations we serve, we miss the point. The human heart is sinful. It will remain sinful regardless of what the law or the rule book says. The only thing that can change the human heart is the Gospel. As we lift up Jesus and expose men and women, boys and girls, to the Gospel of Christ, they are drawn to Him. As His Spirit enters them, they are transformed. That transformation is far more powerful than all the rules and laws.

It is time to emerge from our holy huddles in the church basement and start engaging our friends and family with the Gospel. Let's talk about Jesus. Let's sing about Jesus. Let's replace those political bumper sticker with ones about Jesus. Let's pack up our t-shirts promoting sports teams and musical groups and start wearing ones that talk about Jesus. It may be counter-cultural, but let's make faith once more about Jesus and just see what happens.

To learn more about how churches can engage the culture, read Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree. Being a Christian biker I wear my leather vest with all my Jesus patches every where I go. Even when I am not on the bike. It is more than just a testimony it is an accountablility.