Posted by: Philip Rushton | May 8, 2014

Beyond Technique: Why character matters in a post-Christian age

“How powerful are the words of a person of God.”
Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest

Over the past couple of months I have had a lot of conversations about the decline of the church in America. In my contemporary issues class on Wednesday evenings we evaluated the statistics that suggest that the church is declining in number and influence. At our board of directors meetings we have been wrestling with these realities and exploring what it might look like to grow the church in this our current context.

In response to these challenges I find that the conversation often begins by focusing on technique. Perhaps if we found the right program, structure, or outreach plan we might grow the church or influence our culture. Perhaps if we had a better marketing strategy or the right evangelism script we’d see more people coming to faith.

To some extent these technical conversations have value. Churches need to be intentional and strategic in how they reach out. I have gleaned a lot of insights and ideas from practical leadership books and seminars that focus on techniques and strategies for organizing ministry.

However, this is not where the conversation should begin. It is certainly not what the early church focused on when they sought to impact the pagan culture they found themselves in.

I have been studying the book of 1 Peter with my Thursday morning coffee group. The writer of 1 Peter spends a lot of time instructing the early church on how to spread the gospel in a hostile context. What is interesting to note is that the focus is almost entirely on developing godly character. For example, in 1 Peter 2:11-12 we read:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

In the midst of all the challenges we are up against as a church, perhaps we need to begin by asking some deeper questions. What type of people are we becoming? How are we growing in godliness? What kinds of things transform our character? How are we remaining connected to God so that he can shape us?

As Georges Bernanos articulates, there is power in the words of a person of God. The opposite is also true. Rhetoric is not influential if it is spoken from a person who lacks integrity. Evangelism is not effective if it does not come from a place of humility and compassion. Integrity, humility, authenticity and compassion are issues of character. These are the things we need to attend to if we seek to make inroads with a skeptical culture.

In my experience, people outside the church have a pretty good integrity detector. If you watch late night comedy shows you’ll discover that our secular culture can parody the inauthentic aspects of Christianity pretty well. On the flip side, Christians who live with integrity seem to gain unexpected credibility in our pluralistic world. People like Pope Francis and Mother Theresa are hard to parody! This suggests to me that our first step toward reaching our culture begins by looking below the surface and attending to our own personal character growth.

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Responses

  1. This is so timely. Such a good word. We can’t show what we don’t have!
    Thanks

  2. Thanks Phil! This is something I tried to articulate to my church last Sunday. I wish you were a week earlier with your post! 🙂
    With faith, joy, and integrity as our foundation we will stand out as a peculiar people. Authentic, loving, honest words and actions on a daily basis is the best way to “grow the Church.”

  3. Phil, this is excellent. And, it’s not just the spoken word…it’s the body language that goes with the words! And, our ability to listen with compassion. We need to learn to “speak the truth in love” and avoid the “little white lies” that have, unfortunately, become acceptable in our society.

  4. I enjoyed what you said here Phil I am reminded that our godly integrity must use love as it’s form of delivery to validate it’s true character and be received genuinely. Thanks for sharing and challenging me!


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