6 approaches to engaging culture
How do we faithfully engage culture?
All Christians are faced with this question. And we all see how other Christians (and church leaders) go about it. Some of it inspires us. Some of it makes us queasy. And depending on your personality, gifts, and tendencies, different things will elicit different reactions. Perhaps you feel out of place. Perhaps you find yourself being critical of other Christians for not being “careful” enough or “bold” enough. In reflecting on this, I have personally witnessed at least 6 different “types” of Christians when it comes to engaging with the world. Some of which (I believe) can be more faithful than others. However, I believe all of them have particular strengths and weaknesses. And I have a growing conviction that, if we work together and learn from each other in humility and respect, we will be more faithful and effective in reaching our world with the gospel.
6 types of Christian engagement
1. The Pacifist
“Why fight the world about morals and beliefs? Isn’t it better to live at peace?”
This type of person often is a peacemaker. They are sympathetic to non-Christians who are regularly frustrated with how Christians talk to them. They see the dangers of fighting and conflict. They think controversial stuff should probably stay “indoors” and not be so publicly flaunted. Aren’t we called to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18)?
Empathetic to the hurts and discomfort of others
Cares about unity and peace
Often has good relationships with unbelievers
Can sometimes sacrifice truth on the altar of peace
Often struggle to talk about Jesus with unbelieving friends
Can avoid important conversations because they feel confrontational
2. The Nomad
“We should be kind to everyone but really it’s all about our connection to Jesus.”
This type of person values listening to the Spirit and following him where he leads. They like experiencing different kinds of churches and often have strong social skills. They are ready and willing to drop everything and follow Jesus. They can easily talk about Jesus with others (Christian and non-Christian alike) but have a hard time settling down or persisting in deeper relationships.
Winsome and friendly
Willing to live simply and sacrifice comfort
Open about Jesus and his impact of their lives
Often not committed to a local church or under spiritual authority
Can be tempted to move on if they aren’t excited enough
Often more driven by personal experience than biblical truth
3. The Monk
“It’s better and safer to be immersed in the Christian community.”
Monks are inherently “communal” in nature. They are often strong in spiritual disciplines and would prefer to stay around others who are passionate about Jesus. They often are kind and loving but personally prefer to keep the world at a distance. They often have very strong and stable Christian relationships and enjoy committing to a church where they are around others Christians that share their passion and conviction.
Spiritually disciplined and mature
Strong biblical convictions
High value on Christian community
Can often be disconnected from what’s happening in the world
Often has few to no non-Christian connections/friends
Often less effective at sharing their Christian beliefs in a winsome way
4. The Soldier
“We are losing the cultural war. We need to take a stand for the biblical worldview.”
This type of approach is the boldest and most direct. The soldier is primarily concerned with pleasing God, not man. They are advocates and intercessors. They don’t mind directly speaking to the issues and structures of our day that go against God’s Word. They don’t mind the disapproval of the world. They are driven by a higher cause and wish to see the values and morals of God to spread throughout culture, for the greater good.
Bold and courageous
Willing to endure in hard situations
Willing to say hard things (both to Christians and non-Christians)
Can be perceived as angry and judgmental
Can be insensitive in personal conversations
Can be imbalanced or sometimes even divisive
5. The Reformer
“Our world needs Christians of conviction who aren’t afraid to live and speak the truth.”
The reformer is bold like the soldier; however, their concern is less with the world and more with the Christian community. They see their calling to exhort other believers to live in line with Scripture and then live that out for the world to see. They are sensitive to how churches accommodate or cave to culture. They seek to inspire and sharpen others. They live out their faith in the community boldly, seeking to be Christians of deep conviction and noble character.
Bold in biblical convictions
Inspire others and exhort them to live faithfully
Care about the faithfulness of Christian families, churches, and movements
Can sacrifice unity on the altar of truth inappropriately
Can be unnecessarily critical or provocative
Can be less effective at relational engagement with non-Christians
6. The Missionary
“We need to understand our world so we can speak and show the gospel well.”
This type of person is passionate about Jesus and helping others come to know him. They are less concerned with in-house Christian debates and more concerned with declaring and displaying Jesus well to the world. They are very familiar with cultural norms and values. They befriend non-Christians regularly and are often winsome and effective at communicating the gospel to them. They tend to be very emotionally-intelligent, good at listening and asking insightful questions, and often motivate other Christians to live missionally too.
Fluent in both the gospel and their culture
Sacrificial and intentional in how they live out the gospel
Value the gospel (and Christians) being perceived accurately
Can be overly-critical of how other Christians engage culture
Can care too much about relevance and attractiveness
Sometimes can have a lower value on spiritual authority
What no approach should lack
Perhaps you see yourself (for better or worse) in one of these approaches. But most of us probably have a primary and secondary approach we lean toward. Some of us started with one approach and have gravitated toward another. I’m not going to assess these different approaches more than how I already have. I hope you see that I’m trying to be as charitable as I can. However, let me share some things that all of us need to make sure we care about:
1. Displaying and declaring Jesus
We need to make sure we are displaying the heart and character of Christ in addition to declaring the words and message of Christ. If our words and actions don’t match, people will not understand or be drawn to Jesus. Saying and showing, proclaiming and picturing, word and deed. Both matter.
2. Making and maturing disciples
We all need to be involved in helping people come to follow Jesus and we all need to be involved in helping other Christians grow in their knowledge, love, and obedience to Jesus. We can’t choose one to the neglect of the other.
3. Truth and peace
Unity cannot be attained at the expense of the truth. And truth cannot be so hard and narrow that peace can never be experienced. We need the balance of being passionate alongside being gentle, being bold as well as being humble, holding strong convictions while also being great listeners. You can care about what is true and be a peaceful person.
4. Personal and public
Our greatest love must be for Jesus Christ. But our second greatest love must be for our neighbor. In fact, both are connected. If we let our relationship with Jesus get put on the back-burner because of all the things we are “doing for him,” we are not being faithful. But if we think we can love Jesus and not live life with other believers or engage with the world, we are deceived. Both are critical, in their proper place, and in proper balance.
5. Inward and outward
Every believer needs to be committed to a local church. submitted to spiritual leaders, and fully invested in gathering with, giving to, and growing with those fellow believers. But also, every believer needs to care about understanding, engaging, caring for, and welcoming those who don’t know Jesus yet. This is the way of Jesus’ kingdom.
A call for mutual respect and sharpening
The body of Christ has many members. Some are hands, others are mouths. I long to see a holy hesitation in Christians that prevents them from too quickly criticizing others in their hearts because they are not like them. Sometimes, it is necessary to correct and sharpen. But our first inclination should be to ask, “How can I learn from the strengths and perspective of my brother or sister in front of me?” It might be that God is bringing them into your life to sharpen you, not the other way around. But often, it is for the purpose of both! I believe we will be more faithful in engaging culture when we show respect to each other and submit to one another in a spirit of humility. And in that environment, the sharpening will be more fruitful.