In the previous post, we looked at eight indicators of an unraveling culture:
- Biblical illiteracy
- Breakdown of the family
- Rise in pagan practices
- Hostility toward authority
- Social media addiction
- Laodicean churches
- Distracted pastors
We don’t study the needs, however, to become discouraged by them, but to more effectively meet them.
I would suggest eight ways New Testament churches should be responding to an unraveling culture.
1. Publish the Word
If our culture is biblically illiterate, it is our job to bring the gospel to it. This is what first-century Christians did.
And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.—Acts 13:49
From canvassing your community through door-to-door evangelism to using media to biblical preaching, work to saturate your community with the gospel in any and every way you can get the Word of God into lost people’s hearts.
2. Encourage Families
If our culture is experiencing the breakdown of the family, New Testament churches should work to edify families.
And that goes for all families—regardless of their makeup. Remember that in a culture that is experiencing widespread divorce, many who come to Christ as adults will be on their second or third marriage or will be dealing with needs related to being a blended family or a single parent. So offer ladies’ and men’s classes, a Wednesday night elective with teaching for blended families, or preach a series on the home and relationships.
Young Christians who have special needs related to the family need to know that the local church is a caring family.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—Acts 2:42
The local church should be the place where fatherless children, single moms, and broken-hearted people find fellowship and love.
3. Witness to Your Whole Community
If our culture is engaging in pagan practices, it is our job to bring the gospel to it.
One of the most encouraging passages in Scripture is where Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, named some of the very worst sins we see around us today…and then said “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). Obviously, the gospel works even in a pagan culture.
Look for ways to engage your community. Some of the ways we have worked to do this (in addition to door-to-door canvassing) have been special days to thank our law enforcement community, having a booth at the local fair or farmers market, and serving the community by delivering Thanksgiving baskets, cleaning up city parks, providing a breakfast for local school teachers, and other acts of service.
Because the church must take a stand for truth, communities sometimes think of it as a place of judgment. Be a church that models grace to your community
4. Lead Like Jesus
If the culture is becoming hostile, we must be public representatives of Christ.
G. Lee said, “If you wake up in the morning and don’t meet the devil face on, it just means you are going in the same direction.” Yes, there will be hostility, but we must lead like Jesus. What does this look like?
First, it means we walk in the Spirit. Jesus came as God in the flesh to reveal the Father (John 1:14). As we walk in the Spirit, our lives and responses will demonstrate Christ to the world.
Second, it means we stand for truth. The church is the only identity charged by God to be the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). We must take this responsibility seriously and not capitulate to the whims of a culture that is moving away from God.
Third, it means that we stand with grace. Our purpose in standing is not to prove a point or to show a martyr complex. It is to lead people to Christ. The Lord has often given our ministry the privilege of seeing people saved who once misunderstood us or took a contrary position to us.
Finally, I believe it is important that we speak against extremism. Philippians 4:5 teaches, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Whether it be abortion clinic bombings, sexual sin cover ups in a church (of any kind), racism, or hatred toward people with ungodly lifestyles, we must speak out against sins that have been committed in the name of Christianity. If we are not willing to make it clear where we stand, there are plenty who will lump us with these kinds of actions.
5. Engage the Apathetic
If our culture is becoming apathetic, we must seek to engage Christians.
I know that Millennials (technically, those born between 1982 and 2004) are often labeled unfavorably by those in my generation. But I believe this group is a great untapped resource! We can either become frustrated with the differences, or we can work to understand them and even become more well-rounded by learning from them.
One of the strengths of Millennials is that they value relationships. So establish relationships with them. Don’t be so quick to insist that your relationship with a millennial must be strictly top-down and authoritative in nature that you lose the opportunity to minister to them. Jesus Himself modeled a leadership that was both declarative and relational.
If you want to engage apathetic Millennials, establish relationships, enter discussion (nobody likes to be talked about more than they are talked with), and involve them in service.
6. Engage in Social Media
If our culture is addicted to social media, we must engage it through social media.
For a church, this means that you should establish your online presence. Realize that many visitors will check your church website before they ever visit your campus. You may also want to consider purchasing ads on Facebook or other media platforms.
Also, be aware of all audiences. I think many pastors are on social media to impress their peers, but in doing so they alienate their own community. Remember that unsaved people read your tweets and posts. Be mindful to speak the truth in love and, even in public dialog with other Christians, to work toward restoration.
7. Avoid Ecclesiastical Drift
If churches are becoming Laodicean, we must purposefully keep our love for Christ hot. Remember, the local church is God’s Plan A to reach the world…and He does not have a Plan B.
How do we avoid drift?
Determine above all that your goal is to please Christ—not your culture (or your mentors or peers). Success is a moving target, but leadership is a fixed goal. For the spiritual leader, that goal is Christ.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.—Acts 5:29
I recommend that pastors write and regularly review their non-negotiables. What in your ministry is merely preference, and what is truly conviction? What are the checkpoints that will tell you if you are losing your moorings? If you can’t answer those questions, you are setting yourself up for drift.
I thank the Lord for young pastors who want to make a difference for Christ and are willing to challenge assumptions and seek creative methods for reaching the lost.
The caution I have for you, however, is to consider the end of where something might lead. Some methods are not easily “proved or disproved” with a chapter and verse reference. There is wisdom, however, in seeking counsel and looking a generation or two down the road as you consider the impact of a decision. So be creative, yes! But do it with a carefulness to avoid ecclesiastical drift.
8. Love the Brethren
If pastors are distracted, what is the biblical response? To serve and encourage one another.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.—Galatians 5:13
Sometimes we are so quick to criticize—even before we pick up the phone to call or send an encouraging note or invite someone to lunch. Sometimes we become exactly what Paul told Timothy we should not be—quarrelsome.
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,—2 Timothy 2:24
But pastors need to be encouraged. May we be people who lift up each other’s arms and work to strengthen another pastor.
The Time Is Now
Given the speed at which our culture is unraveling, these responses are not good ideas for sometime in the future when it is convenient.
The time to engage our communities with the gospel and encourage Christians to reach the lost is now.
(This blog is adapted from a Spiritual Leadership Conference session, Ministering Grace in an Unraveling Culture. If it has been a help to you, I would encourage you to watch or listen to the full session. Notes are also available.)