This summer was the bi-annual all staff conference for Cru out in Colorado, and Alistair Begg was the keynote speaker. He has long held a place on my list of favorite pastors, and it was a joy to join the sessions via the live feed even though I am no longer on staff.
He spoke to us from Jude on how to live as believers in light of our culture, and something he said has stuck with me for weeks:
Right now the world’s greatest need is our godliness, not our giftedness.
My first thought has to do with how we as the church react in light of our current culture. There is a tendency in ministry to want to fit in, to make our message palatable and acceptable. Many of us are drawn to try new methods and new programs, to change the outer wrappings to make it look pretty. We falsely think that by acting like the rest of the world, the world will want to join us.
The second thought has to do with the culture of performance within the church. Great pressure is felt on our hearts and minds to have the best sermons or talks, the most current programs, the nicest buildings, the best staff. We are convinced that we actually bring something of our own to the table, that our ‘giftedness’ in a certain area is of more value than anything else. Again, we falsely believe that the mission will go forward based on our talent, that people will be drawn to us based on what we do, not who we are.
I am using the plural pronouns because I have both seen these trends and been a part of them. And yet, in reading Acts 2, we see a completely different scene. The early church believers were set apart in virtually every way from the culture of their day. They lived authentic community. They shared their possessions. They gave freely to the poor. They showed forgiveness to their enemies as well as their friends. They lived the gospel of Jesus Christ as a lifestyle. They spoke differently, loved differently, even died differently. They had a reason for finding joy in death, because their hope lay in what was to come, not in anything they had on earth. They were fearless, bold, confident, and captivating to the world around them.
This generation on many levels seems farther away from the Lord than ever before, and I wonder how much of it has to do with putting our giftedness above our godliness? Of putting our desire for relevance above our passion for living distinctly from the culture? This generation actually needs us to show them a different way a live. A way that is so captivating because it is nothing like they have ever seen before. It is counter-intuitive in a sense; this idea that living ‘other’ is more significant and will have a greater impact than living as close to the culture as possible.
Godliness, not giftedness. We don’t need to model our great talents, or show how hip we are. We need to model love for Christ and others, dedication to the Word, and a lifestyle in line with all that the gospel holds. Our culture cannot change if it has nothing better to strive towards. There is a better way, and that way is found in Jesus. True culture change will come when we stop living like everyone else and start practicing true godliness.
This challenge is just as much for me as for anyone else. What do people see when they look at my life, or at your life? Do they see the gospel? Or do they see someone who looks just like them? Are they drawn towards Christ in us? How can we be culture changers today, this week, this year? How can we engage with the culture, yet not forsake the truth of the gospel?
This is my prayer for the church….that we would become captivating as we continuously choose to pursue godliness.