Engaging Culture

It’s Time to Change the Perception of Christians

I was talking to Jonathan Bock last week and he had a great question:  How can Christians change their perception in the culture? For 2,000 years Christians have stuck out – mostly for the unusual things they did.  For instance, during the Roman empire when sons were more desired, wealthy Roman families would put unwanted baby girls on the city wall to die of exposure.

It was the Christians that took in those unwanted children, and the idea of orphanages was born.  When barbarians were sacking the empire and burning their way across Europe, it was Christian monks who hoarded and protected books and learning.  They eventually created the university system.   Some of the greatest scientists and artists throughout history were believers.

Throughout the years, Christians have done the things the rest of society wouldn’t do – care for lepers, the mentally handicapped, orphans – anyone the world despised.  They built colleges and hospitals.

But today, with some exceptions, it’s getting harder to tell Christians apart from the rest of the culture – based on the things we do.  Today, there are secular organizations that work in most areas of need, and especially during the last 50 years, believers have retreated into a “Christian bubble” and nearly stopped engaging the culture altogether.

So what’s the answer to Jon’s question? What should we be doing today?  And don’t just give me vague issues like “eliminate poverty.”  Give me specifics, and give me the things that would not only do good, but change the way the rest of the world looks at Christians…

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  1. I wish we could tell stories with texture. Like ‘Slumdog Millionare.’ Are there storytellers like this in the Chrsitian community? Why aren’t they connecting with the people who make film and TV? If it is fear, how can we help them overcome it?

  2. I think we have to live with distinctive "humble holiness." Demonstrate remarkable integrity with a loving smile rather than looking down our noses. Then, serve people's needs expecting no pay off in return – sometimes doing things without so much as the motive of collecting any contact information. And we have to avoid the extremes of selfish traditionalism and shallow coolness. These are just some quick things that jump to my mind. 

  3. Great article and discussion, am looking forward to the comments on this one.


    I personally think we Christians have become too 'political correct', we as Christians do not reform to society, we change society. We stand up for things like Jesus, anti abortion, beliefs on homosexuality and the list goes on and on.


    We cannot be afraid of what people think. The people who took in the orphans did not worry about what people saidand neither did the monks, scientists etc that are listed above. We've become too soft and week…


    In regards to poverity, you have to change the mindset, beliefs and ideology before poverty will be defeated. One perfect example is that in areas of India, rats are a religous icon and they eat, destroy and keep the tribes in poverity because they cannot touch or destroy the rats that ruin the crops.

  4. I think it begins with our actions matching our claims. “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” – St. Francis of Assisi We have to show others through our actions. They MUST match. If we claim to follow Christ then we must do our best to be His example to others. I also think we need to stop being so politically correct and start getting back to truth. The lines of absolute truth are getting further and further distorted. Christians are all over the map on what they accept and don't accept as true in the Bible, there has to be more consistency. Pastors need to preach from the authority of the Word and not be so compelled, in some settings, to preach on what people WANT to hear versus what people NEED to hear. Bring back addressing issues that people are really struggling with (yes, SIN) and stop the constant prosperity preaching "Accept Jesus and here's what he'll do for you…" We know Jesus will do amazing things for us but there is also a massive element of discipline and obedience on our end that seems to get left out of the conversation a lot. Obedience and discipline have been an overall missing theme in our culture for years (hence the current financial crisis, Greed, etc.) Having said all that… I do think we are entering a new era. I see tons of pastors and churches moving back to a Simple Church model. I see many church leaders preaching on truth and topics that help people change. I see the Holy Spirit moving in people's lives and moving them from head knowledge to heart change. 

  5. I don't think we're supposed to be liked very much in the larger sense. Scripture tells us we're going to be reviled and rejected and persecuted for our beliefs.

    This isn't to say we shouldn't try to do anything about the reputation the church has earned itself (the "God hates gay people" crowd is an example). That I'd love to correct.

    Still, don't take to the task of a PR makeover for the church. The world will always have a perception of Christians that is largely inaccurate and full of fear and even hate. That's the nature of the church alongside the world. As it should be.

    Just some things to remember. I'm all for doing what we can, but not in the name of earning the world's approval. 

  6. We need to clean up the many rooms in our own house first! By this I mean enough with denominational, doctrinal divisions that put us in opposition to one another (e.g., Christians who don't think Catholics are really Christians; Catholics who don't accept Protestants as authentic Church). 



  7. While I certainly agree that keeping God's Word is primary, I've come to believe that Christians should do more than simply follow trends in culture. For example, though I enjoy GodTube.com, the very nature of the site is a "me-too" design, which makes it seem like Christians are playing catch up because we're out of touch.

    I love the idea of starting Christian services that have a must-have quality about them, are free (donation funded), and go beyond what's already out there—and places that others do not want to go. For example, starting a charity that pays for medical coverage, medications, and all services for those with AIDS. After all, if we say that we are to love the sinner, then we have to prove that. The witnessing there is two-fold: to those suffering and to the taxpayers.

    Also, I'd love to see premium-style Internet/desktop/phone services offered up for free—that is, a Christian open-source project that builds free servers, applications, and even network platforms. What better way to impact the net culture than to make the things that make the net go. Perhaps it could even be called, "Light So Shine." 

  8. I agree that trying to change our perception in the culture is the equivalent of beating your head against the wall, but just because the culture is always going to look down on us doesn't give the Church the right to not make a difference in the world.  I believe making a difference in the world around us is where every Christian needs to start.  In your home, in your workplace, even in your own church.  The old saying comes to mind: "People don't care what you know, til they know that you care".  I feel Christians need to be relevent, not in the cultural sense, but relevent to the people who are hurting around us.  (I mean, really, do we need a coffee shop in the front of every church? Isn't that what a Quick Stop is for?) Wasn't it the Apostle Paul who said that we are to comfort others with the same comfort that God comforted us?  Be real, that is what everyone in this plastic society is longing for, some place that is real and safe.  Some place – some one –  they know is real and will care about what they are going through; who they will trust when answers are given to their questions.  I think this "change of perception" needs to start with each indivdual Christain. Practically speaking, find out who needs help getting to the doctor's office, find out if there are young mothers in your area that need babysitting, or find out if someone needs help sorting out an health insurance issue with the local hospital.   

  9. When I was in Washington DC for Lou Engel's The Call last year, a very good point was made. If Christians are going to fight to get abortion illegal, are we prepared to take in all these unwanted children?

    Lou then pointed out that the REAL way to stop abortion is abstinance programs.

    He then addressed the young men in the audiance, and laid the blame of aborted children on thier shoulders for not keeping it in thier pants. I was really impressed — I had never really thought of it like that. (Of course, I'm not saying that it's only the guy's fault, but rarely do we think of the would-be-father, only the mother.)

    Anyway, I think Christians tend to fight for the surface issues without realizing they aren't treating the wound. In the case of abortion, it is absitnence. In the case of poverty, Jermyn made a good point. Those in India need missionaries to lead them to Christ so they stop seeing rats as sacred.

    We need to look at the root of the problem in whatever situation we feel called to make a stand for. 

    I too would like to see the "God hates gay people" eliminated from our culture. He doesn't hate gay people any more than he hates prostitutes. The root problem of being gay seems to step from children not being able to relate/connect to the smae-sex parent. (Often, they were abused by the same sex-parent, and not necessarily sexual, emotional abuse is enough to cause them to seek healing with a same-sex partner. If a girl is abused by her father, she often times seeks abusive men in a subcousnious attempt to heal herself from the pain of her childhood. The same applies to a boy abused by his father.)

    The only thing I can think of that would solve this, is getting some sort of Emotional Healing progam in elemntary schools and highschools, under a different name of course or the kids who attended would be harrassed. Maybe it could be disgused as Emotional Well being, and cover other topics, but still have a comprehensive heal-from-abuse aspect.

    The other thing is for the men in the church to stand up. So often it is the women who are willing to volunteer thier time and efforts into children programs and functions. But very few men seem to realize their importance and the impact that they NEED to have on male youth. We need men in our churches to take them to the movie, to a ball game, or out to play basketball and be the godly father-figure and role model they need.


  10. some great comments in this discussion.  from my perspective, too often we are known as Christians who are against things: against abortion, against homosexuality.  What are we for?  if we are for unwanted children, and put muscle behind that, we might be perceived differently.  Let's find the issues the Scriptures command us to work for, and there might be a shift in perception and in results.

  11. As an emerging artist in the content creation arena, I feel strongly that Christians should be creating excellent content that contributes to the current cultural conversation; but that's probably because it's my calling.  

    I think Christians need to excel in their respective fields.  Content creators should excel.  Scientists should excel.  Educators should excel. Businessmen and women should excel.  Janitors should excel.  Farmers should excel.  We should take the talents that God has given us and sow them as seed in the fertile soil of obedience.  What God has given us to do, we must do and do as well as we can as unto the Lord.  We must be obedient.  If we are obedient to our individual callings, a collective change is possible.  The unique and unusual historical occurances such as university systems and orphanage origins happened because individuals were obedient. If we come up with ideas for "all of Christendom" to employ, we may risk forcing or coercing many who have alternate callings off their course.  The only general change I would suggest is to love more, have more grace and mercy, learn to hear His voice, and be obedient.

  12. I believe we have to go back to being people-focused instead of focused so much on our success or the progress of our ministries. So many ministries, or individuals trying to reach out, are thriving by doing so many things. The traffic, attendance, or even finances could be going along smoothly. But deep down the true relationship is not there. There's a shallow feeling with relationships these days, and the internet doesn't help. When discussions like these take place it sure does. Thanks Phil!

  13. I think gilliebean is onto something – talking about Christians excelling in their respective callings.

    God gave Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah keen minds pertaining to knowledge and skill in literature and philosophy. Daniel and his friends then applied this ability to their learning, and were found many times wiser than their contemporaries. As they went forward (in a society where they were held captive), they combined their intellect and learning with good, old-fashion hard work. And this combination made them stand out in their work AND put them in a place where they were able to positively impact the lives of the society in which they lived.

    We can learn a lot from their example – trusting/relying on God + intellect + learning + skill + excellence in work + helping others = IMPACTING THE CULTURE.

    Allen Paul Weaver III

    Author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers


  14. So combined with Gilliebean & Gabe Taviano, the good equation to have in any form of organisation that involves working with and for people, it would be:

    good relationship skills (within & outside of Church) + excellence in work (regardless of the field) = ?

    By the way I like your equation Aweaver3.

  15. I agree with gilliebean, gabe and aweaver 3.  I have been thinking about this very issue.  My questioning has been following this particular line of thought: If I have been created by God as a unique, one-of-a-kind creation, with certain aptitudes, interest and skills, a place or position to serve in now while God transforms me into the image of Jesus, then what happens when I cross over from death into eternity?  


    I believe that the one who God created (me) will not change, I will be the same person, with a resurrected body, but the same person.  That means that all of the unique qualities that God built into my spiritual DNA would only be enhanced.  So, those unique qualities, gifts, will be used by him in his kingdom.  He will take all that he created me to be and transformed into his image, then place me in whatever role he wants me in.  To me that means he is using, transforming all that I am today, especially those areas that cause me to have a sense of "abundant life" when I exercise them.  It is those areas of interest, passion and aptitude that I have, which he will use in eternity.  With that in mind, I need to find those areas that cause rivers of living water to run out of me, and walk in that river of life.  


    I honor God when I understand and live my life, expressing his love, through the ways that he has uniquely gifted me.  I have spent many years trying to live a Christian Stereotype existence, rather than being the unique and authentic person that he has created me to be.  My gift to the body of Christ and society is to be that unique, authentic person.  Not a poor imitation of someone else.  I will rule and reign with Jesus as the unique person he created me to be before the foundation of the world.  

  16. I agree with gilliebean and Nathaniel in that God has created us each with unique temperaments, gifts, and talents. All too often we feel ill equipped for the tasks God asks of us forgetting that he equips us for these challenges. We allow His still, small voice of His Holy Spirit to be muffled by the shouts of society telling us we’re not good enough. Good enough for whose standards? If we believe, digest, absorb, and live Psalm 139 confidently, we can conquer fear that distorts our thinking. After all, it is God Who works through our obedience Who accomplishes His mission with our cooperation ("All things are possible through Christ Who strengthens us." Ph. 4:13).

    Gabe, you’re right. In this web-based society we live in, we exclude generations of people who have no access to this mode of communication and long for personal compassion. Sometimes it’s just our quiet presence that soothes. How are we to reach the aged and lost if we are hiding behind walls of indifference & fear? We need to get out of God’s way and allow His grace to flow through us. As Mother Teresa said, "we are pencils in His hand, & do no great things; only small things with great love." Perhaps this is what He was trying to show us in sending His Son, Jesus, as an infant Who could only be loved into being; that we need to crawl, walk, and run one step at a time…one loving act of random kindness at a time (ARK).


  17. I think we can be proud of the Christians who have pioneered very positive good in our society.
    We’ve sown the seeds and Western culture has reaped the reward.

    The best thing we can do now is be counter cultural and humble before God in our personal lives. Because the culture needs a Christlike witness. People are looking out for a Christlike people who are totally different from society. Christians, as we’re being attacked in this secular society, need to respond with grace and humility as well as honesty and firmness. Its a hard balance to achieve.

    Here’s a nice site that encourages us to rejoice over our Christian past:


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