Pastor Carey Nieuwhof believes the church is uniquely positioned to respond to the political tension and division that characterize our age. He discusses four ways Christians can bring hope to the increasingly fragile culture around us.
You don’t need to be anything more than a casual observer of American (and Western) culture to know that something significant is happening. The current political division is as bad as it’s been in a long time. No church can pretend we’re not living in an age of heightened tension. So how do we respond to the situation we’re in? While some in our culture believe the church is part of the problem, I believe it’s key to the solution. Jesus is the love we keep missing as human beings. So how does the church better function as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem? Here are four ways Christians and the church can bring hope to the increasingly fragile culture around us.
There’s a generation of people looking for love in a world of hate. Looking for truth in an age of relativity. Looking for something to cling to when everything else seems to be falling apart.
1. Be a Confessor in a Culture of Blame
It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else. Too often Christians focus on what we can’t change and ignore what we can. All of this is what confession is designed to root out. Imagine what would happen if Christians owned the racism, sexism, and other isms that live in our hearts. Imagine what might happen if we confessed that we have not adequately loved people who are different than us. Maybe true prayers of confession are rare in church because they’re rare in leaders. It’s so easy to believe you’re right and everyone else is wrong. But you are not always right. And you don’t hold a monopoly on truth. Your perspective and mine are flawed. None of us loves perfectly or deeply enough. When you confess that you’re part of the problem, the solution becomes clearer. You will never address the wrong you don’t confess.
2. Foster Conversation in a Culture that Shouts
Thanks to social media, everybody has a platform. A ridiculous number of people use theirs to shout rather than to listen. This translates into real life too. Conversations seem to be devolving into an exchange of monologues between two people who don’t seem terribly interested in each other. People appear to be talking at each other as much as they’re talking with each other. I’ll share my opinions and then you can share your opinions. That’s not conversation.
You know what’s missing in the current culture? Listening. Thoughtfulness. Humility. Kindness. Openness.
Genuine, authentic conversation features all those elements and more. When was the last time you had a genuine conversation with someone who doesn’t share your values? By that, I mean an exchange where you listened as much as you spoke and tried to understand more than you tried to be understood. That’s what conversation is. And conversation is an endangered species in our current culture. Love listens; so should Christians.
3. Broker Meaning in the Age of Information
Information used to be rare. You had to ask. Find an expert. Pull an encyclopedia off the shelf. The last decade has fundamentally changed that in two ways. You can find almost any information you want for free, and online platforms have turned almost everyone into content producers. Now we have more information than we know how to process.
Consequently, we have a new crisis. The current crisis isn’t a crisis of information, it’s a crisis of meaning. We have a million springs of endless information and we have no idea what it all means. The challenge for church leaders is not just to produce more content but to provide meaning. I believe the future belongs to leaders who broker meaning in the sea of endless content. The key to providing meaning isn’t more, it’s better. More without meaning will make you less relevant. Better is not nearly as easy as more. Better requires thought, reflection, digestion and ultimately resonance, which tells you your content is connecting.
This provides a huge opportunity for church leaders. Who better to provide meaning than the leaders called to share timeless truth in an era starved for meaning? There’s a generation of people looking for love in a world of hate. Looking for truth in an age of relativity. Looking for something to cling to when everything else seems to be falling apart.
4. Be the Counter Culture
If there were ever a time for the countercultural message of Christianity to offer a real alternative, this is it. When the church simply reflects the social or moral values of an increasingly post-Christian culture, we echo the current emptiness; we don’t echo God. This is where the message of authentic Christianity and the church have so much to offer.
Christianity is a fusion of grace and truth because Jesus is the embodiment of grace and truth. The challenge, of course, is that most of us instinctively lean toward either grace or truth. It seems easier, but it’s incomplete and wrong. Neither reflects the heart of God. Christ is truth and grace majestically woven together. Fusing grace and truth is an exceptionally difficult venture and is usually only successful when you spend significant amounts of time in prayer. But when you see grace and truth fused, it takes your breath away. In Christ, people experience the fusion of grace and truth every heart most deeply longs for.
What Are You Doing to Diffuse the Tension?
Your most significant contribution to diffusing the tension will not be in what you think but in what you do. How diverse is your dinner table? Do you only ever have people over to your house who look like you and share your values? Or are you engaging people who are different? This is about race but also goes far beyond race to the myriad of other barriers we erect in our lives. When was the last time you listened as much as you spoke? When was the last time you confessed your sin to God rather than asking God to change someone else? How long has it been since you helped someone who is different than you?
This article is adapted from a post that appeared on Carey Nieuwhof’s blog, careynieuwhof.com. Used by permission.
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- Ten Ways to Build the Beloved Community by Tony Hunt