God has put a growing burden on my heart about the idea of Christians impacting contemporary culture.
I’ve been reading the “horror stories” about our post-Christian and post-church culture. I get it that young adults are dropping out of church in droves - and that the “nones” (the “religiously unaffiliated”) are the fastest growing people group in this country.
Reading about these trends can lead one to believe that the church, and even Christianity itself, is in deep trouble in today’s culture. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that the church is failing, and that Christians or Christ-followers have lost our influence. However, I would like to take this opportunity to state that I unequivocally disagree!
Christ Himself made it abundantly clear that believers ARE “light” and ARE “salt” (see Matthew 5:13-16) and that we ARE radically different from the world around us. Just as salt thwarts decay, and light shines in darkness, Christ-followers will impact culture. This has been true since Jesus declared it in the Gospels. It was true in Jerusalem with the early church (the book of Acts). It was true in the cross-cultural city of Ephesus. It was true in Metropolitan Rome – and it was also true in the immorality-infected city of Corinth. God’s people, God’s Word, and God’s work (via the church) WILL impact culture.
So, what is going on today? Why are present-day authors and speakers seemingly saying that today’s culture is influencing Christians more than we are impacting culture? Christ Himself has already assured us that His work will last (see Matthew 16:18, “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”) His church does “work” – and we must realize that it is the Lord’s plan, and His only plan for accomplishing His mission (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Ephesians 4:11-16.)
Genuine Christ-followers certainly have the ability to significantly impact today’s culture; perhaps just not with the methods or techniques we used before. The days of sharing a memorized evangelistic outline are probably long gone. My guess is that approach went the way of the two-week evangelistic crusade.
So, how can believers today reach out in an increasingly post-modern, pluralistic and often hostile society?
I am convinced that effective outreach in today’s culture will usually center around 4 basic priorities:
1. The clear, complete, and creative presentation of the Gospel.
We must never forget that it is still the Word of God that changes people’s lives, (Romans 10:17), and that the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) is still the “good news”! It is becoming quite apparent that today’s churches must stick to a strategy of the consistent exposition of Scripture . Taking principles or thoughts out of their full Biblical context may lead to confusion and even criticism from nonbelievers. It is imperative today for us to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:1-5). The “clear, complete, and creative” exposition of Scripture has maybe never been as important as it is in today’s culture.
2. Building genuine relationships within your community.
Perhaps more than ever before, today’s believers will need to build caring, authentic, and lasting relationships with others in order to effectively share our faith. Of course, the Lord can still bring people across our paths in airplanes or in other opportunities for brief conversations – and yes, Christians must be “ready always” (1 Peter 3:15) to share the Gospel. However, this so-called post-Christian generation wants to see our “genuine faith” (2 Timothy 1:5) lived out day-to-day. Living and demonstrating an “unfeigned”, or “un-faked” faith is likely to be a growing necessity for effective evangelism. I understand that the concept of “lifestyle evangelism” has been around for a long time, but it has become fairly imperative for believers to develop authentic relationships out of which Gospel-conversations will naturally happen.
3. Serving others with genuine humility.
Social justice has become a defining mantra for Millennials (today’s young adults). This is a generation that is deeply committed to causes, action steps, and making a difference in the world. From Steph Curry’s donations to “Nothing But Nets” for every 3-point basket he makes, to Toms Shoes’ support of needy children; today’s culture is driven by a desire to do something that is important – something that matters. This push for action must be more than a wish to do something good – it needs to be galvanized by a motivation to share the Gospel. More and more churches are developing outreach strategies that include meeting the needs of the communities in which they are located. Serving others out of genuine humility is becoming more and more important as a catalyst for real evangelism.
4. Looking for opportunities to have a voice within the “public sphere”.
I also believe that Christians will need to look for creative ways to have a voice today’s secular culture. Let’s face it, our world is certainly becoming increasingly secular and anti-Christian. However, there may be growing opportunities for Christians today to impact culture by taking an active role in arenas within the “public sphere.” I’m talking here about Christians becoming intentionally involved in their communities through sports, the arts, media, schools, and other public venues. I think there are very tangible opportunities here for Christ followers to make a significant or profound impact. This approach is much like what the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17:17, “…he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the Gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily…” He took opportunities to publically share his faith in key places where people gathered.
We may be living in a culture that views today’s Christians as “irrelevant” and “extreme” – or even dangerous. However, it is still within our grasp to make a difference and to boldly share our faith. I’ll state it again, God’s people, God’s Word, and God’s work (via the church) WILL impact culture!
For more information on this topic see: Preaching: How to Preach Biblically by John MacArthur, published by Thomas Nelson, 2005.
For example see: Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around, published by Multnomah Press, 1981.
See: Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, published by Baker Books.