6 Leaders: How Can the Church Engage Culture?

Alan Briggs asked a number of ministry leaders to comment on their passion and prayer for the American church, and to give their perspective on the state of the church. What must leadership do to best position the church to redemptively engage our culture? His question is driven by two realities: We have influence-sapping credibility problems; and we are called to minister in the broader context of a post-evangelical, polarized culture. Here’s their perspective.

Geoff Surratt: Rise Up and Walk!

Despite broken and fallen leaders, the local church is still God’s chosen vehicle to bring light and hope to a dark and hopeless world. My passion is that the church will continue to reinvest in methods of presenting an unchanging gospel to an ever-dying world.

I pray that young leaders will shake off the modes and models they’ve seen, learn from the mistakes of my generation and create a new church for a new reality. Most of the highly visible leaders in the American church are male, over 50 and white. We must decrease while younger multicultural leaders increase.

And we must return to a New Testament version of faith and practice. We have learned a great deal from business models; what we need now are leaders who will say, “How did Jesus identify, develop and deploy leaders? Let’s do that.” We will see a return to leaders with faith like Peter who said, if I may paraphrase, “I don’t have any money. I don’t have a great system. I don’t have a well-defined strategy. What I do have is faith in Jesus who was crucified and rose again on the third day. Now, rise up and walk!”

Geoff Surratt is one of the pioneers of the multisite church movement. He coaches leaders across the U.S. and Europe on multiplication, strategy and structure.

Ernest Smith: Who Pastors the Pastor?

I want the church to be a true representation of Christ to the world—that people would look to the church for hope, life and peace. We are all broken, but the church should be the place where healing is found—not just being taught, but lived out.

I’m praying for God to protect the church, convict leaders who aren’t living for him and give strength and accountability to those who want to finish well.

We must care more about our integrity and character than the size of our churches. I also believe that pastors need to have a pastor, to care for their soul and to hold them accountable in their relationship with Jesus.

Ernest Smith is a church planter and lead pastor of Front Range Christian Church in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Bruce McNicol: Build High-Trust Communities

My passion for the church is to help nurture thousands of authentic leaders who are learning how to build high-trust communities of God’s grace. Truth only transforms when it’s trusted. Such environments of grace are essential for attracting more people to trust Jesus for the first time, and to trust God’s truth throughout their journeys.

Millions in our culture long for this authenticity. A growing number of pastors are learning how to nurture these desperately needed environments of grace, where trust can be built, and truth can transform. The how is where the gold is found. (By the way, these environments serve both the abused and the abusers, as God in his grace cares for both, regardless of consequences.)

I believe three things will help us foster redemptive re-engagement with our culture, because these three things re-engage us with Jesus.

First, pastors need to take a step back and realize that Christianity is the only major world religion which is based on trust, not moralistic pleasing or performing. Therefore, functioning humility—”trusting God and others with me”—is the first principle, which church leaders must experience. Such humility attracts God’s grace; and, only God’s grace can overcome our shame (1 Pet. 5.5–7).

Second, when pastors trust who God says they are (humility) instead of who they think they are, they realize they are saints who sin, no longer sinners striving to become saints. The New Testament always addresses Christians as saints. Sometimes, people forget that when Paul referred to himself as chief of sinners, he was talking about the time before he knew Christ. Sainthood is now the new normal, the new DNA, the new identity for pastors—and everyone who trusts Jesus. There is nothing to prove. Jesus already proved it.

This reality helps pastors simultaneously relax with assurance, while taking sin seriously. Now, they can address their unhealthy past and present, and travel a path to freedom. Christians have nothing to prove, but a lot to learn.

Third, the above actually makes it possible for pastors to eventually do the hard work of learning their story, acknowledging their story and sharing their story with authentic authority. You can feel this palpable authority in pastors who offer others the strength and joy of actually living out their new identity in Christ, without hiding or being oblivious to their story. They go straight for the pain, the desperation and the hope of their story instead of denying it, with all the ensuing relational penalties. Instead, these pastors discover the freedom for which Christ set them free. They get to live into God’s destiny for them, which is always greater than their strategic plans and more important than their goals.

Bruce McNicol, president of Trueface, based in Phoenix, Arizona, is co-author of several bestselling books, including The Cure, The Ascent of a Leader, The Cure and Parents, Behind The Mask, and Bo’s Café.

Jay Stringer: Beyond Sexual Brokenness

My passion for the church is that it becomes a place where those who have been harmed and those who have done harm experience “the curiosity of God.” Throughout the Scriptures, God approaches people with inquiry. To Adam, the question is, “Where are you?” To Jacob, it is, “What is your name?” And to Hagar, who has been traumatized by the first family of the faith, the angel of the Lord asks two of the best questions any church leader could ever inquire about with someone in their ministry, “Where do you come from and where are you going?” The voice of God is curious about who we are, inviting us to deeper reflection about how our sin and sorrow came to be.

Curiosity for others is how we offer them a taste of the presence of God. It is one thing to condemn hypocrisy, another thing to ask why all of us as faith leaders have been willing to forfeit our entire ministry for some version of a foot massage or secret rendezvous. Romans 12:2 instructs us to not be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Renewing our mind is not about turning it off or reining it in. Renewing our mind is about turning to pursue the deepest affections God has given us. It is tragic that people enter the ministry anticipating the death of their desire rather than it being a place to discover the very depth of what it was created for.

I am praying the church will be a place of healing for those experiencing sexual brokenness. For this to happen, we will need to move beyond an exclusively lust-based framework where people are encouraged to “stop” lusting and pursue accountability. This assessment contains dangerous “partial truths”—its incompleteness sets us up to continue to fail sexually because other parts of the equation, like sexualized anger or healing past sexual abuse, are left to fester in hiding. What is largely missed in our churches is the invitation to the sexually broken (all of us) to understand the stories—past and present—that inform the choices we make.

Sexual brokenness is a direct reflection of the parts of our lives that remain unaddressed. While our lust certainly drives us to the use of pornography, for instance, many are also driven to it in order to find power and control against the backdrop of a life of futility. The #MeToo movement was proclaimed to the nations precisely because it named what most faith leaders consistently miss: the misuse of power, control and anger in the sexual lives of men. We cannot transform sexualized anger and the misuse of power in our churches when we have so little language to, or willingness to, name that it exists.

As an ordained minister and licensed mental health counselor, men and women were arriving to my therapy office with little to no understanding of what freedom from sexual brokenness was all about. Believers had been told to flee their sexual sin and those outside the church were told to continue to pursue any sexual behavior that did not overtly hurt anyone. The predominant Christian and cultural paradigms however failed to provide pathways to lasting freedom that people desired and deserved. This is our opportunity.

As faith leaders, we can lead people into freedom from sexual brokenness through equipping them to understand the unique reasons that drive them to it in the first place. Sexual brokenness is a roadmap. It pinpoints the location of our past harm and highlights the current roadblocks we do not know how to navigate. Although sexual brokenness is evidence of sin, it can also reveal our way to healing.

Jay Stringer is a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing. For more information, visit Jay-Stringer.com.

Christiana Rice: Uniqueness and Calling

Cognitive beliefs without a conviction of values and an awareness of the presence of the Spirit, leaves the church without a guide to live by. I’m concerned that in our event-centered church models, we continue to prioritize cognitive beliefs without emphasizing the value of who we are becoming and how we are to follow the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives. As church becomes more of an identity around a way of life and less of an event around a set of beliefs, I am hopeful that we will see the transformation we long for in our lives and in our world.

I pray that the church becomes more creatively involved around issues and complexities that plague our society. May the Spirit of God awaken us to innovation in mission, business, activism and service as we attend to the birth of the new creation in our world today.

As leaders in the church, we have the opportunity to prioritize the holistic development of those in our congregation, helping them better understand their own uniqueness, calling and capacity. We would do well to affirm that the things we do for work, service and play are the birthplace of our most meaningful contribution in God’s mission. Some of our greatest sources of development are not always in church but in relationship with our neighbors who become our friends, teachers, mentors and models. Learning alongside our neighbors is perhaps the doorway to our own healing and the expansive pathway of the church of tomorrow.

Christiana Rice is the co-author with Michael Frost of To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities, a recommended 2018 Outreach Resource of the Year in the church category. She serves with Thresholds as a coach and trainer for missional leaders.

Ryan Hairston: A Foretaste of the Reign of God

I long to see the church recover its mission to be a foretaste of the reign of God. As a result, there will be more generosity, inclusivity, reconciliation, and justice, more peace, love, hospitality, celebration, beauty, and more individuals stepping into a life of following Jesus—all things that resemble the world to come.

I am praying that the church would be inspired by the everyday Jesus followers who are making the places they live, work and play look more like heaven than they do earth. I am praying that we would champion and learn from the stories of the everyday people alerting their worlds to the reign of God through Christ and then equip those we lead to do the same. I am praying that we would see that what happens outside the walls of church as equally important as what happens inside the walls of the church.

We must reorient our churches and ourselves around the missionary nature of God and the incarnation of Jesus. I fear that we have made Jesus look more like us than we look like him.

We must return to the Jesus of the Gospels, and as he did, embrace those we rub shoulders with in the world, and posture ourselves not as leaders with all the value, but rather as servants looking for the image of God in those we encounter.

Ryan Hairston is National Director of Forge Mission Training Network

Read more from Alan Briggs »

Alan Briggs is the author of Staying Is the New Going, Guardrails and Everyone’s a Genius. His feature, “On-Ramps to Burnout,” appeared in the July/August issue of Outreach.