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Note: This blog post was written by Carey Nieuwhof (one of our favorite church leadership experts) and the original post can be found here.
If your social feed is like mine, it looks like people are losing their minds.
As the world has become more fragile than it has been in my lifetime, my feed has gotten more and more polarized, partisan, angry, bizarre and downright weird in 2020.
What’s a little alarming is we haven’t even had the U.S. election yet.
I wish I could tell you Christians were the healing part of my feed, but that’s not the case.
Christians have been sucked into the nastiness, division and partisanship along with everyone else. Often Christians aren’t providing an alternative to the anger and outrage online, they’re fueling it.
At some point, we have to stop blaming 2020 for everything and take a bit of responsibility. There are definitely important matters at stake right now. Racial equality, climate change, economic dislocation and deep divisions (just to name a few) are pressing issues that have implications for generations to come.
I understand how hard it is. Some days, I’ve been upset, frustrated and tempted to lash out at people with my words and viewpoints too.
But public discourse should be different than private emotions.
Social media has moved us all into public discourse. And the world is watching. Your friends are watching and listening, and so are unchurched people.
Here’s what’s at stake: When Christians lose their minds, people lose their faith.
I shudder to think how many people are losing faith right now because Christians are losing their minds and loosing opinions online.
Christians should be fueling the solution, not fueling the problem. In a season where the church should be gaining ground, by many measures, we’re losing.
Here are three reasons why this matters more than we think, and five things you and I can do to hopefully make our online presence, personally and organizationally, much better.
1. Influence Takes Years To Build And Seconds To Lose
John Maxwell is right. While leadership is complex, at its heart, leadership is influence.
The hardest part about influence is that it takes years to build and seconds to lose.
While you can ask anyone who’s had to resign in scandal how true that is, it’s actually more insidious than you think.
With every post, rant, video, text, sermon or link to some weird website spouting the latest theory, you’re either building influence or diminishing it. People either trust you more or trust you less.
If you’re a follower of Christ, you believe the influence you’ve been given is a trust.
You’re not leveraging influence for your sake, but for the sake of a cause much bigger than yourself.
You’ll never even know you lost influence with the people you’re called to love and reach.
They’ll roll their eyes, unfollow and decide that once again, Christians have lost credibility.
Lose your influence with enough unchurched people and you’ve lost your mission.
2. Despite What You Think, God Isn’t A Republican, Democrat Or Independent
By definition, your church should include people who are different than you, economically, racially, socially and ideologically.
Which means it should include people who vote differently than you. Five minutes in the New Testament will show you that has always been a characteristic of the church.
God is not a Republican, a Democrat, a conservative, a liberal or a socialist. He transcends all our political categories, however important they might be to us.
Politics matters, but it will never change the world the way the Gospel can (or has).
Tim Keller has a simple and profound answer on how Christians fit into a two-party system: they don’t. The Gospel can’t be reduced to a political platform. I talk to Tim Keller about how to be a Christian in post-Christian America in this interview.
The church doesn’t exist to elect or defeat politicians. It exists to glorify Christ and grow his Kingdom (which is an alt Kingdom) in the world.
As I remind myself again and again (because I have convictions too), if God has all the same opinions your political party does, you’re probably not worshipping God.
3. The Church Is An Alternative To Culture, Not A Reflection Of It
People don’t just want to know what you think is right, they want to know what’s real. As a Christian leader, you’re not pointing to yourself. You’re pointing people to Jesus.
What’s real is deeper than just your opinion—you’re pointing people to an alternative Kingdom.
If your church is just a reflection of some liberal or conservative ideology, you’ll lose the next generation.
They’re not looking for a reflection of culture. They’re looking for an alternative to it.
Nobody finds life in your kingdom. They find life in Christ’s Kingdom.
Talking about yourself or your viewpoint on the world in a loud voice isn’t cutting in. And getting louder will likely only further erode your influence.
The Dividing Line Is Through Your Heart And Mine
If only the problem was simple enough that other people were to blame. But of course, the problem lies in each of us.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
I think about that quote a lot.
I realize that I am the problem as much as anyone.
With some restraint, humility, sobriety and wisdom, perhaps you and I can be part of the solution, too.
Here are five things that, when I get them right, help me.
1. Focus On Timeless Truths More Than Temporary Viewpoints
Viewpoints change. Truth doesn’t.
The key to bringing a timely word is to anchor yourself in timeless truths.
Christians in this generation are called to speak into what’s happening in culture. But if you look at voices that endure over the centuries, they tend not to belong to hotheads, knee jerk reactionaries, people caught up in the latest ‘truth’ they stumbled on or those who hold deeply partisan positions.
Voices that have endured in the last century like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Deitrich Bonhoeffer are voices that spoke into the violence and injustices of their day with a timeless word. Their positions tapped into deep biblical frameworks at a level few voices on social media do today.
To some extent, Eugene Peterson did this in the 1960’s when he decided to respond to the turbulence by beginning a deep work that eventually became The Message (I talked to Eugene Peterson about it before he died in 2017 and write about Peterson’s approach here).
The more deeply anchored your viewpoint is in timeless truth, the more deeply it will resonate. Mere opinions never carry that kind of weight.
2. Sleep On It. Pray About It.
A lot of what’s being shared these days is emotional.
You see something, read something and feel you have to respond. Your heart starts beating faster. You feel upset, even crushed depending on what happened. And sometimes you get really angry.
When you’re triggered, your emotions derail your brain. At least, they derail mine.
I learned years ago that almost nothing good happens when I’m upset.
In an attempt to address the situation, I almost always make it worse. Even if I convince myself I’ll make it better, I usually don’t. Not when I’m upset.
So I made a rule.
When you feel an emotional reaction to something, don’t respond for 24 hours.
Sleep on it. Pray about it.
Don’t respond. As tempted as you are, just don’t.
After 24 hours elapses, something amazing usually happens. You get your brain back.
You’ve lost nothing.
And you’ve gained so much.
Even if it’s still something worth speaking about emotionally, you can do it with far more grace, integrity, balance and dignity.
So wait. Just wait.
If Christians prayed as much as they talked, we’d have a different church.
3. Start Confessing. Stop Shaming And Blaming
Christians have a centuries-old practice called confession.
The New Testament even talks about confessing your sins to each other. Today, not only do we not confess our sins, we blame other people for theirs.
I noticed a really disturbing trend in my own prayer life a few years ago. I really didn’t spend much time confessing my sins. It’s not that I wasn’t sinning (ask my family or my team, they know my faults). I had just not taken the discipline as seriously as I used to.
Then I noticed almost nobody apologizes, takes responsibility and confesses anymore.
Jesus never asked us to confess the sins of our enemies. He told us to confess ours.
Before you’re quick to shame and blame others, confess your own sins. Better, confess them to someone else.
It creates a humility and an awareness of how far we’ve all fallen.
Then, perhaps, you’ll be a position not to shame your brother or sister, but to help him. Jesus said something about that.
4. Start Real-Life Relationships With People Who Are Different Than You
In this cultural moment, most of us are surrounded by people who will tell you you’re right, that others are wrong.
The algorithm that runs social media fuels that. It automatically finds you more content that agrees with you, so you can convince yourself you’re right.
Here’s the irony: In an online culture run by algorithms, you don’t actually get more choices, you get fewer.
The best way become more thoughtful, understanding and empathetic is to get around real people who are different than you: Who vote differently than you, think differently than you, look differently than you.
If you’re a Republican, take a Democrat out for lunch and really listen. If you’re a Democrat, ask a Republican over for dinner.
I’m listening to atheists, trying to meet people hurt by the church and spend time with people in a very different reality than me. And if you’re a white male like me, hang around some non-white males (Danielle Strickland’s thoughts on this are so helpful).
If that fuels more empathy, understanding and bridge-building, the world will become a better place.
5. Ask Yourself, Five Years From Now, What Will I Wish I Had Done?
I love this question: Five years from now, what will I wish I had done?
Life and leadership are deeply complicated. And your emotions don’t always tell you the truth.
In addition to seeking the wise counsel of other people, I keep this question in my back pocket to pull out when I don’t know what to do.
For some reason, it’s so clarifying.
Often, the way I’m wired, the answer to the question is, “You’ll wish you hadn’t said that/done that.” And sometimes that’s enough.
Because the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice though, sometimes it means I have to do something that stretches me, challenges my preconceived notions or makes me uncomfortable.
When I remember to ask the question, it always means I’ll have to take the high road. The high road isn’t the easy road, but it’s the best road.
Just asking it often tells you exactly what you need to do, as much as you may not feel like doing it.
So, keep the question in your back pocket. Five years from now, you’ll be glad you did.
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