“We must change our methods for shining God’s light into the world without changing the light itself.”
In your view, what is the largest challenge and greatest opportunity that we’re facing as church leaders today, and what do you think we need to do in order to overcome the challenge and seize the opportunity?
I can answer that question in three simple words: change without compromise.
I believe that the largest challenge facing churches today is to stand with integrity on God’s truth. We need to live, lead and teach biblical truth without compromise.
The pressure is on to redefine, explain away and/or totally reject scriptural truth. Though clearly understood and accepted for thousands of years, many are compromising the truth in order to satisfy the ever-changing values and views of our world.
If Jesus had done this, he would have maintained huge crowds and avoided the cross. Of course, if he had done this, he couldn’t have fulfilled God’s purposes or provided the means of redemption. The same is true for us.
I believe that the greatest opportunity that we’re facing is to be “light in darkness.” Darkness is advancing in this world exponentially. It’s getting further and further away from God, his purposes and his truth. In their search for love, meaning, acceptance, freedom and hope, people are getting further and further away from it. This provides an unbelievable need and opportunity for us to shine the light of Christ clearly, brightly and meaningfully.
I believe that, in order to overcome the challenge and seize the opportunity, we must change without compromise.
We must change our methods for shining God’s light into people’s lives and the world without changing the light itself. If we don’t change our methods, then we’ll have a hard time genuinely reaching people living in this dramatically changing world. If we fail to stand with integrity on God’s truth, at best, we’ll be reaching people with a light that’s no different than their darkness.
Here’s how I address this issue in my book, Change Your Church for Good.
Fulfilling God’s Purpose
If we are going to fulfill the purpose that God has assigned us on this planet as believers, as his church, it requires that we communicate God’s truth with doctrinal integrity and cultural relevance. We cannot corrupt God’s truth. We cannot poison God’s truth. We cannot water down God’s truth, as so many are doing, to try and reach people by making the truth less offensive. The truth is the truth. It’s the only truth. It’s the only hope that people have to find freedom and forgiveness. We cannot change the truth.
But it will not help or impact people unless we present the truth with cultural relevance. Though many Christians and churches miss it, the Bible assigns the responsibility of both doctrinal integrity and cultural relevance to them. While cultural relevance is nonnegotiable when fulfilling the purpose of the church, it’s vital to understand that the truth has the value, not the culture or relevance. The language we speak isn’t valuable. The truth is valuable. Yet many Christians are valuing and fighting to preserve the culture and language in which they found Christ more than the truth itself. As a direct and predictable result, they consider it compromise to make any attempt to change the language or culture of the church. They see relevance as compromise. But, the reality is that by valuing language and culture more than the truth itself, they are the ones compromising. They are displaying greater value for their preferred culture, language and traditions than for the people whom Jesus loves and died to save. In truth, they’re focusing on themselves rather than God, his will or other people. For the sake of traditions, they are keeping the church from effectively communicating God’s truth to those who so desperately need it. This is compromise.
The Decisions We Must Make
The church is the hope of the world when it’s working right. But it can only be working right when God’s purpose for the church is being fulfilled. For this to happen, there are a few decisions that must be made.
First: We must decide to continually give our hearts to hearing, understanding and applying God’s truth to our own lives. This is an ongoing and never-ending requirement. I’m in my third decade of pastoring, and I need as much growth today as ever. In fact, the more I grow, the more I understand that I need to grow. Every day of my life I need to get into God’s Word and allow it to shape my thinking. If I don’t, then my thinking will begin shaping it. This is one of the significant reasons why the church is not working right. Too many Christians—pastors and church leaders included—allow their thinking to shape their understanding of God’s Word instead of allowing the Word of God to shape their thinking.
Second: We must decide to continually give our hearts and energy to shaping the church to communicate God’s truth in culturally relevant ways. Since Christians are the church, this is the responsibility of all believers. For this to happen, we need to establish culturally appealing environments, culturally engaging styles and culturally connecting languages. And we need to make sure we’re connecting God’s truth to people’s needs. When we’re doing these things, the church will be relevant. The church will be the hope of the world because it will be working right.
Third: We must be careful never to confuse our cultural forms with God’s truth. We are to value the truth above all.
Fourth: We must never allow ourselves to love our way of doing ministry more than we love God and seeing lives changed. Unfortunately, many churches have fallen in love with the wrong things. As a result, those churches aren’t working right. If the church is going to live up to its billing, as the hope of the world, we must return to our first love.
And finally: We must commit to following Jesus, leaving our comfort zones and doing whatever it takes to “seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
In short, we have to change without compromise. The only question left is, are we willing to face the challenge in order to seize the opportunity?