We’re seeing a lot of criticism recently of pastors, writers, speakers, filmmakers as well as others about how they share the Christian message with the outside culture. Some are criticized for making it too easy – they lead with the “grace” message, and are hesitant to talk about tough issues like sin, hell, or punishment. On the other side, those who preach a more serious message about tough subjects are labelled as “out of date,” “insensitive” and “hard core.” I know the debate well because over the years, I’ve had friends and clients on both sides of the argument. But here’s the problem: It’s the wrong argument, and here’s why:
Today we live in the most distracted culture in the history of the world. There’s more competition for people’s time and attention than ever. Which means that if you have an important message, your FIRST priority is to get that message heard. I’ve said many times on this blog that no matter how great your message, if no one’s listening, you’ve failed. Getting a person to walk in the door of a church, turn on a radio or TV program, buy a book, or find you online is absolutely critical. Without that, there’s no impact, and no transformation.
That’s where having a bit of openness and grace comes in. I’ll give people a wide berth when it comes to getting folks in the door. Will contemporary music help? Fine. How about a more professional presentation? Great. Valuing people’s time by keeping the service moving? No problem. Having hipper graphic designs or video presentations? I’m all for it. After all, why drive them away before you have the opportunity to present the message? It’s not about bait and switch – it’s simply creating an atmosphere and environment other people (not necessarily us) want to experience. And we start by not making choir robes, drums, concert lighting, music styles, or the pastor’s wardrobe a theological or doctrinal issue.
So while I obviously wouldn’t excuse everything, the bottom line is – let’s do our best to get them in the door. Jesus was brutally honest (the woman at the well), provocative (when religious leaders caught the woman in adultery), unafraid of the spectacular (the loaves and fishes), outrageous (with the money changers in the temple) and amazing (when he healed the sick). He was a master at communicating and preparing people to hear his message.
But when it came to delivering that message, Jesus was unafraid to speak the truth. He did it with sensitivity and discernment, yet showed us that we do no favors by pulling punches. Study after study indicates that this generation is serious, they want to find purpose in their lives, and they want to make an impact. Social media is filled with millions of people pursuing great social and humanitarian causes. Rarely have we ever had audiences so interested in hearing about reality. Which explains why I’ve seen no proof that avoiding the hard questions hurts your message.
Don’t drop the ball on getting them ready to listen, but then don’t drop it when it comes to delivering the Truth.
It’s not about either/or – it’s about both/and. Unless it’s taken to excess of course, it’s rare that either side is completely wrong – however in most cases, they’re only half right – because slanting either way ultimately undermines your impact and your message. But the right balance is what it will take to change people’s lives and impact today’s culture.