The Table: Christian pastors are often seen as gatekeepers of their communities—they’re responsible not only for their congregation’s faith and spiritual life, but for their intellectual life.
They are in a really unique position to be shaping their community’s intellectual character.
What would you say to pastors about the current state of the Christian church’s intellectual character?
Gabe Lyons: Well, to the pastors and church leaders, the weight that scripture puts on this role of being a pastor that’s responsible for a flock of people is very, very high and to be taken very seriously.
I find many people who are in churches today—many Christians—aren’t being equipped. They’re not being equipped to think well about the world that we live in today.
If anything, some of the toughest topics are being avoided, out of sensitivity, and yet [pastors] are not realizing that their people are longing for these conversations. Longing to be equipped to think well, to know how to engage, to how to talk to their children.
On the other side of it, pastors are feeling smugly confident that they theologically know how to think about it, but they’re doing very, very poorly at communicating that to the people that they’re leading.
Research is bearing this out now. We’re seeing this disconnect and this longing from congregations to know how to be equipped to engage the real conversations they’re having with their friends and their peers and their colleagues and their children.
And what can church leaders do to respond to this longing for tough conversations?
I think pastors and leaders need to be emboldened to step up into this. To demonstrate this idea of humility… open‑mindedness in a sense of listening.
Not just open‑mindedness of believing that any idea matters and is equal, but open‑mindedness to say, “I can listen to the other and learn from that. There’s something in a conversation, even if I disagree with somebody else, I’m going to model something differently that people in my congregation and in my community want to see modeled.”
To understand the creation mandate—the cultural mandate that we’re called to have dominion, to hold back the evil that would otherwise overwhelm the world. To love scholarship and science and art and beauty and music and all these wonderful things that I already really enjoyed, but I didn’t realize there was this Christian rooting to it.
I think my encouragement of these pastors is that conviction, that boldness, that sense of why you went into the ministry… of why you went to seminary… why you planted a church and always imagined that you would lead these people towards a way of living life as a countercultural community in the midst of a world today that might be at odds with us…
Get back to that.
Understand that that’s what’s needed today.
We need that more than ever. Don’t shy away from it because it’s uncomfortable.
If you feel uncomfortable because you don’t know what to say, well, go deeper into how you’re thinking about it. Read more sources. Come at this with a full-orbed view that’s going to be helpful to people.
But then when you do and you’ve reached that moment of conviction, don’t be shy about sharing your conviction. That’s what your people are hungry for. They want a leader that’s going to share with them what they’re convicted about and what they believe God’s trying to say to that community today.
That’s what the church is. So I would encourage leaders to embrace that. God’s called them for such a time as this and to walk forward into it.
When was you’re “Aha!-moment” when it comes to this stuff? Was there ever a person or a book that made you think differently? Do you remember a moment where something that you encountered made you change your mind?
I would say the book that did that for me was a book called How Now Shall We Live? by Chuck Colson. I was given that book by a friend in the late ’90s. I finally read it in 2000, I believe. When I did, he talked about the Christian story and there was this theme throughout this book that Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals.
I had grown up in the church and my belief had been that the main call to a Christian was to redeem individuals—to help people get saved—and that that was the only thing that counted as it related to being a Christian.
That book single‑handedly transformed my view to understand Christian worldview. To understand the creation mandate—the cultural mandate that we’re called to have dominion, to hold back the evil that would otherwise overwhelm the world. To love scholarship and science and art and beauty and music and all these wonderful things that I already really enjoyed, but I didn’t realize there was this Christian rooting to it.
So when I saw that, I just woke up to it. I thought, if more Christians could understand that we are called to actually not only appreciate these things—but create these things—to enjoy this wonderful world that we get to live in and experience. That would be a different story for Christians to understand and to wake up to.
But I would credit all of that to this book by one of my heroes and mentors, Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live?