One of the more famous comments to come out of the Vietnam War is: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." In the so-called culture war in America, it appears that some of us Christians are oblivious to the fact that in our attempts to save the Church, we are destroying it.
In many of our minds, the Church is threatened by wokeness, attacks on religious liberty, and racial Marxism. But the greater threat is the ways in which many of us respond to these issues.
Jesus, the head of the Church, said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.
Yet, as many of us respond to these threats, we are not loving one another. We are demonizing one another. Hating one another. Fighting one another. No wonder fewer Americans claim to belong to the Church.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, the share of the adult population who identify as Christian is 12 points lower in 2021 than it was in 2011.
Moreover, there are signs that society's values are influencing the Church, not vice versa. Bill Haslem, the former Republican governor of Tennessee, notes: “Christians are acting just like everyone else. We’re just as likely to send a nasty message on the internet. We’re just as likely to think we’ve won a battle because we have the most clever rhetoric on Twitter.”[i]
These observations are not meant to minimize the threats to the Church. However, it is to suggest that when our response to these threats is to support candidates regardless of their virtue and to prize "winning" over the display of our Christlike values, our response does more to damage the mission of the Church than these threats ever could.
Our crusades against the “radical left” and, sadly, against fellow Christians who do not believe as we do, and our focus on the "ends" (defeating our enemy) and not the "means" (loving our enemy) have driven people out of the Church.
According to the same Pew Research Center study, the share of the public who identify as religiously unaffiliated is 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago.
Though Jesus calls on us to serve rather than exercise “great authority,” we, like the world, seek to exert influence through the exercise of power and authority.
However, we cannot use the tools of the world and hope to influence the world for Christ. We must rely on the weapons employed by our role model for revolutionary transformation, Jesus. His weapons are not carnal but mighty in God to the pulling down of strongholds.
Unlike us (we seek the "right" president, the "right" members of Congress, the "right" Supreme Court justices to advance our cause), Jesus did not change the players to advance the Kingdom, He changed the game. ("You have heard it said, but I tell you…)" As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "The will of God . . . is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them."
So, how do we change the game and overcome the threats to the Church?
One way to accomplish this is by establishing Kingdom culture throughout our society. Kingdom culture in this instance is defined as our shared Christlike values (e.g., unconditional love), attitudes (e.g., esteeming others more highly than we esteem ourselves), and beliefs (e.g., we are here on the earth to serve not to be served).
Increasing the display of these values, attitudes, and beliefs cannot be legislated, regulated, or policed. We must influence people to adopt them.
The local church (and by that, I mean any followers of Christ who assemble together regularly in His name) is uniquely equipped to lead this change. It is the place where believers, regardless of their sphere of influence (the home, office, classroom, athletic field, factory, farm, house of worship, etc.) come together to be discipled, i.e., learn the doctrines of scripture and the lifestyle they require.
By making, equipping, and sending Kingdom-minded disciples who make more disciples and who change the essential nature and character of their sphere of influence, the Church can transform culture. Through influence gained by serving others motivated by love, these disciples can replace society’s current set of values, attitudes, and beliefs with Christlike values, attitudes, and beliefs.
The Church “sends” disciples in several different ways:
- Releasing: encouraging disciples to serve where they have been called rather than automatically recruiting them to serve the local church.
- Aligning: helping disciples to exercise their spiritual and ministry gifts within the context of their secular environments not just in church and in ministry environments.
- Supporting: engaging in intercessory prayer, providing wise counsel, and supplying other support for disciples as they perform good works/acts of service in their sphere of influence.
Yes, such an approach to overcoming the threats to the Church will take time. And it will make a demand on each of us.
As Os Hillman said: “We are each called to become change agents in the sphere of influence God has called us to impact. As each of us does this, we reclaim the culture one person at a time, one industry at a time, one [aspect of society] at a time.”[ii]
Meanwhile, we can rejoice in the fact that we are no longer engaged in an approach that contributes to a decrease in the number of people who describe themselves as Christians but one that is contributing to an increase in the number of people who embrace Jesus, the Christ.
[i] Emma Green, “The Evangelical Politician Who Doesn’t Recognize His Faith—Or His Party: Bill Haslam, the former governor of Tennessee, is trying to figure out how religious Republicans got so extreme,” The Atlantic¸ June 8, 2021
[ii] Os Hillman, “Impacting The 7 Mountains Of Culture: A New Move of God,” GodTV, February 19, 2019
This article is based on Greg Wallace’s book, Becoming Great: Loving A Culture In Conflict, published by Vide Press.
Greg Wallace regularly teaches, writes, and consults on leadership, change, and governance in the corporate, non-profit, and ministry arenas. He is the Chief Academic Officer of Wagner University, an online Christian university in Rancho Cucamonga, California. In this role, Greg builds the capacity of leaders to meet their own definition of success. He builds the capacity of organizations as well as leaders as the president of his own enterprise, The Wallace Group, and its ministry arm, KG Ministries. He and his wife, Linda, parent a blended family of four adult children and six grandchildren.