Friday, June 17, 2011

When Values Collide

The heart of this blog is evangelism.

Baptisms have been trending down each year, and churches really are shrinking. Specifically, this blog is about evangelism and discipleship among those who don’t readily fit into a church’s culture. The American church is has been negligent in cross-cultural evangelism. As a result, in many churches evangelism is anemic at best.

It is among those outside of traditional church culture that the fields are white unto harvest. This is where the lost sheep have gone. As Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Many Christians think that crossing cultures is a step beyond the general mandate. There is a myth that only select missionaries are called to cross cultures in order to make disciples. The rest of us should only focus on people like us. But, the Great Commission actually commands otherwise! Jesus commanded his mostly Jewish audience to go to a mostly Gentile people and make disciples. In other words, the Great Commission itself is a mandate to cross cultures.  --Joey Shaw via Guy Muse (reposted)

Churches are not transitioning.

One of the great challenges for churches, however, is to make that transition to real evangelism among those who don’t readily fit. Many churches don’t even understand that a transition is needed because they have a skewed perspective of who they really are. These churches readily make bold declarations and purpose statements. “We are a Great Commission church.” “Our purpose is to win the entire city for Jesus.”

But the values a church claims to hold are not always the values a church demonstrates by its actions. A church’s true values are revealed in their behavior, not their mission statements. This is the reason transition is so difficult. Churches try to implement new programs without understanding the conflicting values in the church.

Wayne Key gives a good example.

One church brought in a new youth pastor to reach out to the community. But when he began a skate park initiative, the trustee board stalled action so long that the initiative was killed. We helped the church discover it held an unspoken value—“Protect our Christian kids from worldly kids”—that directly counteracted its stated value—“Reach out to youth.”

When values collide, churches stagnate.

Value conflicts, especially between these unstated, unperceived values and the stated values of a ministry can lead to much dissension. The sad thing is, those on both sides of the issue feel like the other side is completely out of touch with what is really important. This can lead to distrust and disunity. It can kill a ministry and split a church.

The unspoken values of a church, revealed only by behavior will always win out over the stated preferred values of a church, unless they are recognized and brought to light. Only then can a church honestly wrestle through what they really value most. Once they have done that, they can change their actions, policies and perhaps even authority structures.

Help me out here in the comments section by suggesting some of the unspoken values that churches may have that can be barriers to real outreach and evangelism when they are prioritized to an unhealthy degree (or at all in some cases). Here are some that I have thought of.

  • Financial Stability
  • Cleanliness
  • Orderly Church Growth
  • Protect our Christian kids from worldly kids
  • Control
  • Convenience
  • Prominence in the Greater Community
  • Formality,
  • Being “Dignified”
  • Being a Pretty or Picturesque Church
  • Familiarity,
  • Protect our singles from singles of other races
  • Entertainment
  • Please add to this list and suggest ways of lovingly exposing these values to the church.

7 comments:

Andrew said...

I've run into this issue in every church I've been involved in. The last church I was at -hired- me to come up with ways to make the services more contemporary and, then, refused to try any of the initiatives I planned. Up until the church sold it's building and land to sustain its archaic services just a little longer. And, in the end, money has been at the core of every decision in every church I've been at. Not people.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. You are right on target in saying the unspoken values carry more weight than anything we might put down on paper or speak publicaly.

I think another unspoken value is the one you mention in the first part of the post, "only select missionaries are called to cross cultures in order to make disciples."

For all our talk, this value remains embedded deeply into our church DNA.

Thanks again for an insightful post.

--Guy Muse

Anonymous said...

Boy, is this a battle! I think David Platt and Francis Chan do a great job of pointing out this conflict in their books. As a mother of six, I am always trying to find the balance between outreach and protection (of my kids). I do believe our very "traditional" church is making headway in this area. I see a great love for all people there and a confronting of our "comfort".

Andrew said...

I've run into this issue in every church I've been involved in. The last church I was at -hired- me to come up with ways to make the services more contemporary and, then, refused to try any of the initiatives I planned. Up until the church sold it's building and land to sustain its archaic services just a little longer. And, in the end, money has been at the core of every decision in every church I've been at. Not people.

Stephen M. Young II said...

(from Facebook)
Jamison May
Placing denominational pride and loyalty above real Kingdom growth, Southern Baptists are especially notorious for this. Lack of expository preaching of scripture in preference to jokes, cultural trends, and pop culture allegories. Unwillingness to let "sinners" in the church, desiring that people become disciples BEFORE joining the community of faith rather than joining the community of faith so they may become disciples. Pastoral "personality driven" churches that don't replicate leaders for kindgom work.

Alix Strickland May
Your cousin thought you were seeking more ways that churches are not focusing on evangelism. Ways of lovingly exposing these values to the church? That is going to take some further pondering, because my initial idea is to say, "Which of these matters most to Jesus?" I mean, does Jesus REALLY care about the landscaping at the church entrance? Or if a "dirty, little" kid dropped popcorn on the brand new CLC floor? These are my loving responses to the church- thought-provoking questions. Thank God that our salvation is not based on our attire.

Stephen M Young II
Jamison, "Lack of expository preaching of scripture in preference to jokes, cultural trends, and pop culture allegories," is a result of valuing entertainment and familiarity over the discomfort of daily exposing our sinfulness in light of Christ's righteousness.

Unwillingness to let "sinners" in the church, and desiring that people become maturing disciples before joining the church is a result of valuing cleanliness and order over kingdom growth.

You are doing a very good job of identifying the behaviors that expose the values. We've got to dig a little deeper to get to the value that the behaviors expose. Getting from the what to the why can help a church transition.

Lack of leadership production reveals another hidden value. What is it?

Stephen M Young II
Alix, the reason lovingly exposing the values to the church is important is that if the unspoken values are not brought to light, many will just assume, because of their emotional reaction to a matter, that what they value is what Jesus would approve of. So, someone who values a church being clean, pretty, and dignified might well fool themselves into believing that Jesus does prefer the landscaping. That is, until their eyes are opened to the underlying value.

Frank Doiron said...

As funny/strange as this may seem the church service stands (along with materialism) as the number one hindrance to spreading the gospel. Somehow attending the church service has been elevated to the status of the temple. It seems to be the goal of everyone in church is to get people attending the church service. Going to church is mandatory while loving one another, sharing the gospel and helping the poor are optional....... it is deeply engrained....

Stephen M. Young II said...

Frank,

Our heritage has caused us to make some very strong associations between church and certain symbols, places and events.

For some, the church is a building. For others it is an organization. For others, as you said, it is the Sunday worship service. Every one of these things is deficient as a definition.

I am not one of those people who thinks we have to reject all the cultural forms Christianity has taken. (In the book Pagan Christianity, many examples are given. I agree with the premise, but not the conclusion. Yes, many forms are non-biblical, but I don't think they need to be rejected. Some cultural things were taken and redeemed... dedicated to Christ and given new meaning. It's okay.)

The problem is when those forms begin to stand alone as a replacement of biblical Christianity. This has happened in some areas, but not in everything.

Getting back to unspoken values. Requiring everyone to attend a certain church service or be members of the same body, sharing the same budget, and using the same building is a behavior that reveals a value. The unspoken conflicting value might be “growing our own church” over “Growing the Kingdom.” A lot of times churches can be uninterested in reaching others if they don't get the credit for it.

Other possible hidden conflicting values reflected in what you shared might be control, financial stability, desire for prominence, or simply familiarity.

I enjoyed your thoughts. Thanks for your contribution.

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