Part 1 (of 2)
When I first started thinking of writing this post, I was assuming a Hillary Clinton victory, which in the eyes of most Christians likely would have brought with it at best a continuation of a less church-friendly environment, and at worst an acceleration of current trends. However, watching the aftermath of a surprising Trump win last Tuesday, I’m not so sure that another Clinton administration would have presented churches and Christians with a greater challenge than what confronts the Church today with Trump in office:
- A nation split right down the middle, with the line defined by the media and secular society as those who care about the rights of others and those who don’t
- Churches and Christians seen by many on the other side of the line as the most radical element among those who do not care about the rights of others
How did followers of Jesus Christ come to be known as one of the most judgmental and least compassionate factions in America? The answer lies in the central theme of this blog over the last year and a half – that churches have abdicated (and/or government has usurped) the lead role in serving the hungry, hurting, helpless and hopeless. However, they’ve clung to the lead role in speaking out for Biblical values – a noble endeavor but destined to fall on deaf ears as a result of largely abandoning their other role. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Yes, Jesus rarely said who He was before healing and feeding. He knew even His perfect words wouldn’t be enough to get their attention. He chose to demonstrate His love first. Since we certainly can’t “outpreach” Jesus, we should lead with compassion as well.
The Danger of Basking in the Status Quo
Trump’s win brings two countervailing propositions into play, the same ones Jesus dealt with in Matthew 23:23:
- More legislation and policies that land on the “Christian” side of the social divide, but also
- Closer scrutiny of the Church’s response to the perceived “reprieve” it has been issued by this election.
Society is watching intently to see:
- Will Christians double down to take advantage of the opportunity to push a moral agenda on non-believers, or will they humbly serve and share the Gospel as Jesus did?
- Will churches further turn their focus internally, looking out for their own interests, or will they turn their attention to the interests of others?
- Will the Church galvanize its stance on morality in American with this newfound support from the political establishment, or will it step out of its comfort zone for the sake of those who feel disenfranchised?
Simply wielding a louder megaphone to share the same messages without showing its love for those who feel marginalized will only solidify the court of public opinion and the media in opposition to Christian ideals.
If history is a guide, four years of relative comfort and peace for churches may not be such a good thing. Over the past few decades, many conservatives and/or Christians have occupied the White House, but they weren’t successful in reversing the Church’s slow drift away from service and evangelism. Both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush even attempted to reform welfare programs while instituting a “Thousand Points of Light” to shift focus back in large part to the Christian community to care for the poor. Unfortunately, those initiatives were short-lived. There’s little evidence to suggest that churches will become more compassionate and evangelistic under a Republican president.
In fact, the opposite may be true. It’s human nature to grow complacent in times of peace and prosperity, only to awaken out of our slumber when that sense of security is threatened. For example, the “Me Generation” of the 90s was rudely interrupted by 9/11. Suddenly, we banded together in unity as a nation and it was hard to find a seat in church, at least for a few weeks. Likewise churches, in the absence of sufficiently “disruptive events”, have gradually pulled away from deep discipleship and local missions, no longer considering the Great Commission of utmost importance.
Yes, a Hillary Clinton administration may have eventually led to that “disruptive event (or moment)” that finally forced the Church’s hand. A continuation of Obama’s policies would have shifted the balance dramatically in favor of those on the other side of the line that has been drawn in our nation’s sand. The nearly even divide evident in last week’s election probably wouldn’t have been so even in four or eight more years. The ranks of those hostile to Christianity would have continued to swell, further silencing the Church’s voice and compelling it to rethink its definition of itself and its intended “customers”. Compassion was Jesus’ calling card. Maybe it would have been worth enduring whatever mounting obstacles a Hillary Clinton presidency entailed if they induced churches to abandon the status quo and…
- Move away from prevailing growth models like “Invite, Involve and Invest” which define “church” as an institution and members as “customers” to attract and retain
- Vigorously pursue and serve the “lost” in their local communities, which churches treated as their target “customers” for over 1900 years
- Equip members for ministry, resuming intensive discipleship efforts that challenge and prepare them to BE the living, breathing church between Sundays
Instead, with fewer credible threats under Trump, churches will likely maintain the current course. As a result, we should we expect a continued decline in the Church’s growth, impact, influence and perception over the next four years. If churches don’t return to making disciples who live Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles, society will continue to move away from God. If churches follow Trump’s lead and become even more outspoken (words alone) rather than following Jesus’ lead and becoming more compassionate (action, then words), the next presidential election will turn out quite differently.
Next week in Part 2, we’ll discuss examples of where persecution has stimulated more church growth than religious liberty, and reasons why a “disruptive event” is likely necessary to overcome the tremendous resistance to change in the American Church today.
It’s Your Turn
Meet The Need is reaching out to you during this Christmas season to be the personification of Church to those in your circles of influence. We’ve just launched #GiveAnEternalGift to encourage 1 million Christians just like you to pray for, serve and share the gospel with at least 1 person by December 25th. Together we can show the love of Jesus to those who doubt that Christians care about the rights and welfare of those who don’t share our belief system.
#GiveAnEternalGift before Christmas Day by:
- Performing an act of kindness for a neighbor, coworker or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the gospel.
- Posting a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
- Challenging 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.