The American church is feeling the effects of several decades of no longer viewing the community as the “customer” and members as the embodiment of church. Changing the definition of its “customer” has taken its toll:
- rather than building a broad base of world-changing disciples, churches have built throngs of “consumers”
- rather than growing and uniting a diverse “body”, what has grown is a small number of very large institutions
- rather than attracting younger generations, youth are leaving the church in droves
- rather than increasing in influence, an increasing number of Passive, Pensive and Private Christians have damaged the church’s public perception
- rather than having a significant impact, the dearth of Powerful Christians has left communities wondering whether churches still care
In the past couple years, I’ve attended two gatherings of Christians from across the U.S. to strategize about ways to reverse the current course in America away from Biblical values. Nearly identical, broad-consensus conclusions were reached at both events – churches are too busy taking care of their own affairs, whether in survival mode or growth planning, to play a meaningful part in the turnaround of American culture.
Instead, they believe a louder megaphone is the answer. If Christians can recapture leadership roles on top of the 7 Mountains (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business) then we can win the “culture war”. It’s an election year and churchgoers are hoping a Christian will sit in the White House to shift the values of our nation back to those we hold dear.
Ground War or Air War?
We contend in this blog series that it’s that megaphone, used without first earning the right to do so, that has largely made Christians inaudible in most pockets of society today. We’ve lost our voice because we haven’t followed Jesus’ model of compassionately serving before saying who He is. Trying to “outpreach” Jesus, being so often heard yet rarely seen, has cost the church dearly. The strategy of grabbing an even bigger megaphone – hoping people will care about what we know when they’re still not sure we care – will only drive the prevailing view of Christians and churches deeper into the hole.
Just because a Christian occupies a more powerful position at the peak of a mountain top does not necessarily amplify our voice. In fact, if not accompanied by the mercy, justice and compassion Jesus demonstrated before speaking, more volume may just solidify the opposition’s resistance to our position on social issues. Are churches and Christians winning the culture war today? Name a moral issue that the church and Christians haven’t already lost, or appear likely to lose soon.
Why not choose a different weapon to fight the culture war? The air war has failed. Jesus waged a ground war first, of love and service to non-believers, then swooped in to fight an air war with the gospel message once the ground war had sufficiently weakened the opposition.
However, a ground war requires the right army – prepared, trained and properly motivated for battle – in other words, Powerful Christians. Passive, Pensive and Private Christians are unfit for active duty. Only disciples are ready and willing to head to the front lines – of praying, caring and, only then, sharing.
It’s no wonder so many Christian leaders no longer consider the church a base from which to build an army. Churches provide some “basic training” but lack the deep discipleship and commitment to rapid deployment necessary to establish a powerful military force. Pastors rarely if ever step into the drill sergeant role, willing to challenge even long-standing church members to charge boldly onto the battlefield, no matter what the cost. They believe those faithful church members form the foundation upon which to build the institution – and fear pushing them too hard may risk toppling the entire structure. It would also be risky to unite with other churches in battle – yet making a significant dent in the fight against social issues like hunger and homelessness requires more soldiers than any one church has at its disposal.
So like Rusty, the Pensive Christian in last week’s blog post, most churchgoers engage only at arms length in the culture war. They join the air war, the chorus of so many Monday morning quarterbacks, bemoaning the declining moral fabric of our nation. They are quick to speak out on moral issues, drawing those battle lines. Yet few strap on their boots and sling a rifle over their shoulders, heading into the trenches, getting their hands dirty in the ground war of loving service. The unchurched knows what Christians are against, but don’t believe we stand for them. The more we dig our feet in, the less we can connect with them – and the less they can identify with us. We can win the battle but lose the war – which is our calling to love.
Yes, the hesitancy of pastors to lay out the costs of discipleship and call members to the level of commitment Jesus intended in the Great Commission has paved the road that our nation is now on. It’s a slippery slope – with the opposition to Christian values and ideals firmly entrenched against us at this point. It may not be too late to set up a roadblock, a ground war of loving compassion, but after decades of launching air attacks, the runway is getting short.
What Will the Battleground Look Like?
Churches and Christians face mounting obstacles in the years to come. Generating meaningful impact, material influence and positive perception will be more difficult as the following emerging trends further unfold:
- Persecution in the form of:
- Shaming in the media and politics
- Viewing any reference to Biblical perspectives that run counter to what is considered socially acceptable to be hate-speak
- Inability to mention the name of Jesus in government settings, selectively eliminating His name from the “free speech” lexicon (Jesus was the one word I was specifically asked not to mention at the “Great American Teach In” at my son’s public school)
- Preventing pastors from expressing opinions that go against court decisions or publicly-held views on moral questions, even from the pulpit
- Refusing to hire those who do not disavow Biblical views on certain hot-button issues
- Making “coming out of the closet” far more applicable to Christians today, particularly in public schools, requiring courage in the face of the stigma that label carries with it
- As population growth and conversion rates among other religious groups outstrip the birth and conversion rates of Christians, physical persecution of Christians will ensue once those groups grab popular majorities in localities, cities, states and some day even nationally
- Forced removal of Christian objects and symbols from all public venues except for church buildings and private homes
- Requiring Christians to comply with laws that defy Biblical principles
In essence churches and Christians face relegation to a corner, rarely visible in the mainstream, in the not-too-distant future. Lest you view that as impossible here in the U.S., look at Western Europe where similar internal-focus on the part of churches and similar social trends led to that same inevitable outcome.
How Can We Win the Culture War?
Christ’s church will prevail. With increased persecution will likely come greater resolve. Churches will begin to produce more Powerful Christians. Lukewarm, on the fence churchgoers won’t persist when challenges come their way. Those conditioned for comfort and “consumption” will have some tough decisions to make. Many passive, pensive and private Christians will run and hide – too afraid to speak or act. Only true disciples of Jesus Christ will endure the trials by fire – willing to take a stand, refusing to back down when threats to their faith increase. Only those whose lives are changed can change lives. The good news is it took just a few disciples of Jesus to reverse the course of history.
Winning the culture war requires:
- Taking Ground – Training and mobilizing masses of churchgoers to infiltrate their spheres of influence
- Redefining the Church’s “Customer” – Viewing the community as the “customer” and building disciples on fire to reach the lost with the gospel through service and evangelism
- Raising Expectations of Members – Viewing members as the church personified and emphasizing that the cost of discipleship will be high
- Following Jesus’ model – Realizing the importance of linking actions with words (James 2:15-16)
- Building an Army of Powerful Christians – Who truly live out the Great Commission
- Serving Relationally, not Transactionally – Segue events into year-round service, focus on outcomes and outputs, and be there for families in need
The church must turn nearly all members into ministers – making that more than a trite catchphrase. A fully trained and effective army that cares and shares could turn the tide on how churches and Christians are viewed. If society begins to see the love of Jesus through the service of Christians, a new generation of believers will emerge from the ground up to one day occupy those mountain top positions. But attempts to take over the 7 mountains from the top down will further diminish the influence and public perception of the church and Christianity, continuing to pave the way for the mounting challenges to our faith.
It’s Your Turn
Is your church building and deploying an army capable of withstanding the assault on the gospel that’s forthcoming?