Thoughtful Church: Leading Your Church w Intellectual Virtue (Gabe Lyons of Q Ideas)
“I find that many people who are in churches today aren’t 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 not realizing that their people are longing for these conversations. Longing to be equipped to think well, to know how to engage, how to talk to their children.”
I’m just prayerful and hopeful, I woke up this morning excited, I’m not always excited when I wake up in the morning. This morning I was, I was just excited to get to spend the day here, and then this evening as well, talking about ideas and why they matter, but more than that, trying to help us discern the times, and how ideas matter, and how they inculcate in so many different ways within generations, within families, within our children, within ourselves. How do we, as people of God, walk forward in the midst of a culture that’s changing so rapidly, and yet not have fear?
Not think the sky is falling, and that our reaction to a changing world is one of fear and backing away, but that we look to God’s word, and understand what does it mean for us to be bold, to be people who know how to lead, to be people who know how to winsomely show up, with what we really believe is true, for all human beings, not just for Christians. We’re not here, purporting a bunch of ideas to try to just win coverts to our faith, so that we can have more than some other faith. When you really get down to it, what we really believe is that we understand how human beings were built, to flourish, and how civilizations would then flourish, because human beings knew how to flourish.
Our ideas about the Christian faith and how they apply to all of life are meant to be much bigger than just let’s try to convert some people to our religion. When we remind ourselves of that, I hope it gives us some courage, I hope it continues to stimulate that conviction that only God can give us, about the truth, and how the truth can continue to show up in a world that looks so different than maybe it just did 20 years ago, 30, 40 years ago. I want to begin by talking about the context a little bit. A friend, Dale Kuehne, he wrote a book called Sex and the iWorld, and Dale has become a great friend.
He’s a great thinker, he’s somebody who is hired by foreign governments to come over and assess how they’re doing with their economics as it relates to families, so the E.U. brings him over, he goes and visits the Chinese government, to think about where the future of their families are going in society, and how does that affect economics, because, you know, most countries, the main thing they care about’s the economics. As long as the economics are going well, they’re not gonna ask too many questions, but when they start to see the economics start to dip, they start to ask much bigger questions about how is this going, because that means power could be lost, and control could be lost.
One of the things that Dale points out, that I find very helpful for pastors and church leaders, is to understand where we sit today- I’m gonna move this mike just a little out of the way. … and talk a little bit about what he would define as the new rules of social engagement. Why this is important is because every one of us, we’re out in this world, whether you’re a pastor who teaches on Sundays, whether you’re leading small groups, whether you’re discipling people one on one, whether you’re hanging out at a cookout with your neighbors, playing golf, whatever it might be, you’re operating now in a world that has certain rules, and if you don’t know the rules, guess what?
You’re probably breaking them all the time, and you don’t even know it, and you don’t understand why people are reacting the way they’re reacting. Let’s just take a moment to understand the rules we all live in, the air that we’re breathing right now. The first rule, and probably the most important of the three I’ll share with you, is that one may not criticize someone’s life choices or behaviors. One my not criticize someone’s life choices or behaviors. You see, when you do that, and pastors, I mean, what do you do every Sunday, in some cases, right?
You’re called to come into a place where you sit a bunch, a bunch of broken people sit around and are wondering why they’re broken, and what to do about it, and sometimes that means the words that come out of your mouth, and the words that come out of scripture means the person on the other end might feel like they’re being criticized, or that you’re giving them a different way to think about their life choices or behavior, but when we, as Christians, do that in today’s culture, we’re the enemy, we’re the worst.
People would rather hang out with anybody else besides somebody who’s going to, with conviction, criticize someone’s life choices or behavior. The second one: One may not behave in a way that coerces or causes harm to others. So you can’t behave in such a way that your fellow citizens are gonna somehow have harm because of the efforts of you. I’ll say it again, to pastors, when you’re educating your church about how to think about life, think about culture, think about certain issues, there could be a day coming where you’re coercing people to think in such a way that it could be perceived that you’re causing harm to others, can you imagine that? I would imagine 10 years ago, you would’ve never imagined that, that you’d have thought this is ludicrous, why are we even wasting time talking about it?
I would imagine in this room today some of you know, you can see a little bit into the future, and realize that even the work that we do as Christian leaders, and pastors, and those who are in churches, speaking the truth out of God’s word, that it could be perceived, in a secular environment, as coercing others, or causing harm to others. In all these places, what we’re talking about is ideas, we’re talking about how ideas start to form themselves into cultures, into people, and then they start to show up in our institutions, in our laws, in our policy-making, so if anybody questioned whether ideas matter, they matter tremendously.
You see, the final one, and this one’s a little more specific, and something I think everybody would agree on, but we’ll dig into it a little bit, that one may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent. All right, that sounds pretty good, right? We shouldn’t engage in a sexual relationship with somebody without his or her consent. This is the actual one sin everybody in our society will agree on. This is the one.
Now keep in mind, in general, this is referring to rape, but it doesn’t spell out exactly who consent needs to be with. There’s a lot of freedom in the consent, in ages, this could be adult/child, this could be three adults, as long as there’s consent, that’s that golden rule in our age. Consent for sex, and you win. If you break that one, like we saw with Bill Cosby over the last few months, how much that story just gained traction, do you know why it gained so much traction? Not only because it was horrific, but our culture all agreed, there was nobody who disagreed that that’s horrible.
So within this context, we’re called as Christians to be faithful, to keep telling the truth, to love people really, really well, to do it in a way that’s respectful, that’s civil, that’s kind, and yet understanding the rules of this engagement, that the times are changing. Today I want to talk about these three different ideas of curiosity, courage, and care, these intellectual virtues that are critical for any ideas that we’re trying to put forward.
Our organization is called Q, and Barry mentioned that a minute ago, we call it Q Ideas, and Q stands for questions. We wanted to create a place where no question was off limits, a place where you could ask a question, and not necessarily be told the answer every time, but asked to think for yourself, to be presented with multiple perspectives, right? That’s what we do in philosophy, we have conversations, we try to understand the other person’s perspective, we try to learn from one another, we try to study history.
We wanted to create a place where Christian leaders could come together, and have that same opportunity, because it felt like, for many of us, the experience had been you come into a place, and somebody tells you how you’re supposed to think about every single topic, and if you divert, in your own mind, from how you think about it, maybe there’s not a freedom to share that, so where do you engage, where do you really have a place to ask your biggest questions?
Chuck Colson, who was one of my mentors, I was so privileged to get to have a relationship when I was in my late 20s with Chuck, I’ve never seen somebody at the age of his mid-70s, be so curious. We would sit together and have long conversations about every kind of topic or issue you could imagine, and he was always curious. He wasn’t there to tell me how I should think about it, which is kinda what I wanted, I’m like, just tell me, I don’t need to go through all this, just, what should I believe about this?
He knew that was a shortcut, he knew that if he told me what I should think, or what I should believe, that that wasn’t going to produce in me conviction, it was just gonna produce in me a set of ideas that I could roll off, and once they got challenged, maybe I wouldn’t stick with them, I would just say, well that’s what Chuck thought, that’s not what I should think. Instead, we would banter back and forth, he’d ask me questions, he wanted to know what I thought, and why, we’d have these really stimulating conversations.
I remember one night in particular, we were talking, and we were talking about just war theory, and we were talking about immigration, and we were talking about sexuality, and as we were engaging some of these really divisive topics, I’m just seeking this wisdom of this man who I know has lived a lot of life, and had a lot more than me, and he said Gabe, you know this isn’t the first time the church has dealt with these topics, right? I go well, I’m sure in some ways they have, but I feel like they’re kinda new today, I feel like there’s a little different twist and spin on this .
He goes, no, actually, there’s not anything new about what’s happening today. The church fathers, for many, many years have thought through these things, written really well about them, thought through how this should apply, and that what’s happening today isn’t necessarily anything new, it’s just kind of a cycling effect that happens throughout history. I walked away from that meeting with an incredible courage, a sense of not being so fearful, a sense of understanding that within this context, maybe it seems dramatic, maybe it seems like things are crazy right now, and yet that God’s seen this happen, throughout this church, throughout the ages.
Part of our job today is to recognize that, and to recognize that our faith is the one faith, and the reason it’s grown so much in western cultures is because it answers all of life’s big questions. Humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Where did I come from? What went wrong with this world, and with me? How do I fix it? What am I supposed to do with my life? What’s my purpose? We hear that question a lot within the younger generations, I think everybody’s asking it, but the younger generations feel a little more empowered today to ask it. They’re not sure they wanna go to college anymore, they’re not sure they want the debt, they’re not sure that their life really matters if they just go get a job and make some money, they wanna know that their life matters.
You see, humans ask the same questions, generation after generation after generation, and we, as Christians, have this opportunity to apply these truths, and this wisdom throughout the ages to the current questions. Recognizing that, what I want to do is just spend a few moments on these three ideas: What does it mean to be curious? What does it mean to have courage?
How do we do that in such a way that’s caring, and loving, and kind, and pastoral to the people within our churches, and within our relationships. First, with being curious, I think our philosophy ought to be that we should be curious about every single thing in our good world, there’s no idea that should be off limits for us to pursue and try to understand. Christians should be the first to ask the most difficult questions.
We shouldn’t shy away from that, we shouldn’t be fearful to ask questions, because if we believe God’s world is designed and ordered in such way that it bears resemblance to the truth, that it bears out and gives witness to his beautiful design, for each of us as human beings, as well as for this world, then there’s no question that should be off limits, so we need to create places where people are okay asking questions. I think of my son Cade, he’s 14 years old, he just turned 14. He has Down syndrome, and he has challenges with speech, and if he were in this room, and I were talking to him today, he would make you smile so big, and you would giggle a lot, but you wouldn’t quite understand half of what we would have talked about.
So he’s kind of in that situation, and, but when I think about curiosity, I think about Cade. Here’s my 14 year old boy, who doesn’t, he doesn’t get to sit through classes where he fully understands how the world works, he’s just a curious little boy. One of his favorite things is to look at these slides, and anything that sort of winds in and out, where he realizes something deeper’s going on there, I don’t quite know what’s going on, this could be a water slide at a water park, with a bunch of hoops and spins, and then it comes out and he sees the bottom, and his eyes always light up when he sees something like that.
They’ll light up when he sees even the little toys we have for him, where it’s like a little marble goes in, and you have all these little tracks that the marble can go down, and it can kinda go different ways, these are his favorite things, and it’s so interesting to watch him, because he always gets his head in there, too close to the toy, or the water slide, or whatever it might be, it’s really dangerous sometimes, in certain places, and he really tries to investigate, and figure out what is going on.
He’s not scared of it, he’s not fearful, his parents are fearful, we’re like, you can’t crawl up the slide that way, you’re going to get killed, but he’s not even thinking about it, he doesn’t have any fear about it at all, he just knows he wants to know what’s going on here, how does this work, how does this function? Every one of us, as human beings, has that intrinsic need to know, to want to understand. We find purpose in our life when we’re in a place where we do understand. So, for us in the church to push away people who have questions is the worst thing we could possibly do.
Instead, we should be the ones inviting the questions, because we have such confidence, such faith in what we believe and what we know to be true from scripture and from Revelation, and from the great world around us, that we can walk forward, into that truth, and welcome questions, and it doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. Many times, as pastors, I know you feel like you’re supposed to, ’cause you probably deal with a lot of tough questions, and people look at you, and they kind of put this weight on you, like you’re supposed to give the answer to my biggest challenge in my life right now, and you don’t always feel confident that you have the answer, it’s okay not to have all the answers, say I don’t know, [laughing] yeah.
We need to practice that phrase, probably quite a bit, because when we do that, we should our humility, instead of propping ourselves up, and possibly acting like we’ve got all the answers, and putting forward the confidence we’ve learned from years of teaching or wherever it’s been that you’ve kind of been mentored under, we’ve been taught that we’re supposed to know everything, and at least if we don’t, kind of express as if we do.
To acknowledge in humility that you don’t have the answers is a good thing, and it actually promotes a curiosity within your community. We should be people who are full of wonder, I think of my friend Kevin Kelly, up in Palo Alto, CA, Kevin’s one of the co-founders of Wired magazine. He’s a fellow believer, amazing guy in technology. Every day, one of his jobs is to look at the latest technology that’s coming out, because all of the major inventors and developers will send their technology ideas to him when they’re about to launch, because he has one of the most popular blogs that writes about technology, so he sort of evaluates them, and every day puts out a new thing, it’s called “Cool Tools.”
I’ve never met, probably, a more curious person, Kevin’s the type of person that just is constantly in wonder of our universe, and he’s so creative. One day, I went over to his house, and we were hanging out, and he has this, he has like two floors of bookshelves, literally books covering 20 feet of wall space, you have to use the ladder to get up to get them, it’s amazing, but I look down on the floor, and there was a bunch of styrofoam, just laying everywhere, and I’m like Kevin, what’s the deal with the styrofoam? He says oh, we’re about halfway through, me and my daughter, we’ve been collecting styrofoam over the last two years, every time somebody ships us a gift, or ships us something that has styrofoam in it, we just take that styrofoam, and we keep it, and so what you can see is sort of the bottom, it’s about six feet tall, I think, at the time, this is the bottom, these are like the legs of a robot that we’re building out of styrofoam. I’m like, really, you’re building a robot out of a styrofoam?
Yeah, me and my daughter, we love it, it’s just so fun, we were just creating, you know? But Kevin’s thoughtful about these things, he doesn’t just think every new technology is a good technology that everybody should use, and we should all endorse, no. As somebody who’s aware of the most technology in the world, I believe, I was surprised to hear from him that he rides his bike to work, that he doesn’t take a laptop on trips, that he borrows his wife’s cellphone when he travels, because he doesn’t want to be connected to the phone all the time. That when he’s interacting with another person, he makes it a practice to look them in the eye and have a real, embodied conversation.
That if you were to call him on the phone right now, and he were to answer the phone, and that would be how he would prefer to do this, he doesn’t want to do voicemail or texting, he wants to answer the phone, he wants to be an embodied human being, right there with you in a conversation, he will be sure to not be distracted by looking at an email, trying to carry on two conversations at once, because he understands the idea of embodiment, and where we think we’re being productive by doing two things at one time, and we think we’re becoming 200% human, by both talking on the phone and trying to correspond with someone else, he understands that we’ve just made ourself 50% human; 50% human to the person on the phone, and 50% human to the other person that we’re trying to engage with, and in that way, we’ve divided who we are as a human being, and we’re not fully present, we’re not fully embodied.
We have to be like Kevin Kelly, right? We have to have wonder, we have to love all the good things that come in this world, and then we have to understand, as leaders, how do we adopt that into our world, how do we have rhythms and practices that keep us grounded, even amidst the beauty of innovation? So we must stay curious. The second word I want to talk about, though, is courage. With courage, I want to spend a little bit of time, because I feel like we’re in a moment right now, in the church, and I just want to level with you on this, to where I sense a real lack of courage.
I’m not sure that’s meant for anybody in this room or not, I’m not meaning that judgemental, in a judgemental way, but I can tell you, I’ve had so many conversations with leaders and pastors today, who know what is right, know what is true, know what is good, that don’t have the courage to say it as much, anymore. The challenge for the church is when we get into a place to where its leaders don’t have the conviction and the courage to speak up, and to say what they know to be true, because of fear, because they’re concerned about how they’ll be reacted to, because they’re concerned about how culture will think of them, or how they’ll be labeled, we’re getting to a place where our church has no leadership.
We’re getting to a place where the church actually becomes confused, where truth starts to become a bit distorted, there starts to be chaos, there starts to be space for other leaders to come in and start to purport their ideas that don’t align with the truth, but maybe are a little more popular. Part of us advancing ideas is that we can’t just believe ideas, we have to put those ideas on the table, in a winsome way, in a kind way. If we’re not offering our ideas into the conversation, what is the next generation supposed to do?
They’re gonna move forward with whatever idea sounds kinda the best to them, while we sit quietly, going I don’t think that’s true, I know that’s not true, but I’m not sure I want to say anything, or I’m not ready yet, I need a little more time. While we sit back, asking for more time, what’s happening is an entire generation’s being devastated by lies, by deceit, and I would say by the enemy, who loves to take really bad ideas, and try to inculcate them into the lives of people. So when we think about courage, you have to understand first that courage doesn’t come just from anywhere, it’s not just this ability to speak up and have some boldness at some moment in your life.
Courage comes specifically from conviction. The conviction that you have in your heart is the foundation for any kind of courage you’re ever going to express. If you, as a leader, don’t have solid convictions, or you’re questioning your convictions, then that’s the first place you have to start, is conviction, what are your convictions, and where are those coming from? I believe our convictions have to be grounded in God’s word. As Christians, even in the midst of a day where we’re feeling a bit more like we’re out of step with culture, we don’t have all the same responses to every topic that comes up as those in our culture might have, we have to understand where we’re rooted, and where we’ve been rooted for over 2,000 years, and we shouldn’t think too much about this, and try to be too cool, try to keep up too much, that we actually move away from what it is that grounds the Christian faith, in a culture just like this. You know, I had to deal with this myself, a couple of years ago.
One of the conversations I found myself in the midst of was a discussion about, in American life, this idea of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, what does it mean for Christians who might have different viewpoints on issues such as LBQT issues, topics, sexuality, etc. What is it going to mean for Christian institutions, and pastors, and churches, to come down on a different side of this than where our culture seems to be going? So I really rolled up my sleeves and dug in on this one, tried to understand our history, try to understand this bigger idea of freedom of conscience, Os Guinness has written so much about this, and so many others, James Madison was really the one Founding Father who just fought for this, he believed this was critical, this was the only way that America was ultimately going to be different than where we had come from.
Once I got into that discussion, it meant you also had to get into this discussion about the church and sexuality, because this is the pressing issue that churches and Christian leaders and institutions are feeling so much cultural pressure on, if you don’t know how to respond to what’s happening around questions of how we should think about homosexuality, you’re not gonna be prepared to advance your ideas. I know many of you in this room probably are still in that place, well I found myself, a couple of years ago, sitting around in private conversations, trying to learn, trying to understand, trying to figure out what is the way forward on this?
I mean, for goodness sakes, me and David Kinnaman in 2007, our book unChristian, the number one perception we put out, and said to the church this is a huge problem, is that we’re anti-homosexual, 91% of 16-29 year olds, that was their first thing they identified the church with, that’s where we were starting. So I started with the question, how are we going to get through this one? How is it that we are going to be a people of God that aren’t anti-homosexual, and yet also don’t have to be people who just go with the culture swims?
But the moment came for me when I got an email, mid-summer a year and a half ago from Stamford University, an email went something like this: Hey, we’re having this conversation at Stamford with Gene Robinson, and Gene Robinson is the first Episcopal Bishop who is consecrated as a gay bishop. We’re having him out for two days, and were really love Gene, and we love what he’s advancing, and his vision for marriage equality, his vision for the church to fully embrace this, and we’re wondering if you’d come out, and just have a conversation with him, onstage, in front of all of our students, as sort of a conversation partner that might just disagree a little bit.
And so I said, delete, [laughing] Why in the world would I want to do that? Who in their right mind would do that? Well, a few weeks later, another email came, same guy, Hey, I never heard back from you, wondering about this, we really think you’re the right person to do this, the book unChristian, you dealt with being antihomosexual, we think you could deal with this. So I got on the phone with him, and said tell me more, I listen, I got off the phone, I say there’s no way I want to do this, and, and part of me is just pure fear, why would I want to do this conversation, and put at risk actually having to come out, on record, and be very clear about what I believe about something?
It’s much safer, to me, to just kind of guard Q, we’ve got this organization that’s growing, that seems to be gaining traction with younger people, I don’t want to lose that influence. I don’t want to be the guy that’s like they anti-gay guy, why would I do that? I don’t want to be on YouTube for the rest of my life, and my kids have to deal with the fact that I’m, I’m the guy having this conversation, right? [laughing] So, over that next month, as I would pray about this, I am tellin’ ya, the holy spirit just grabbed my heart, and just would not let go of this conversation, I could not ignore it. There’s plenty of things I’ve ignored in my life, and this was one of them that I could not ignore. I went back to my wife, and I said Rebecca, I feel like I have to do this. I feel like I’ve had all these private conversations, and I’ve been fine having this conversation in private, I’ve been fine understanding what I really believe, and I actually feel way more confident, as I’ve worked through this, in what we believe as Christians about this topic.
But the Holy Spirit’s saying to me, look, you’re fine doing this in private, but you’re embarrassed to do it in public? What’s that about? That conviction got ahold of me, and I called him back, and I said I’ll do it. So, the next two months, I spent a great deal of time trying to prepare, trying to understand, listening to people who I agreed with, I thought, theologically, and those who I disagreed with, I tried to really understand how to communicate these old ideas that feel so outdated, about Christians, and how we think about sex right now, it feels like we’re so outdated. How are we gonna communicate that to a 20 year old who just doesn’t get it, because the rest of culture isn’t saying this stuff?
And I showed up that night, in Stanford, and met Gene, and really, genuinely liked Gene, just a really good man, fun guy. As we went on stage though, that night, I was overwhelmed. I was nervous, I don’t usually get too nervous about things, I was super nervous, I just prayed, I said God, you have to give me the words for this thing.
Like, I’d studied, I had studied, but, but I don’t know that I’m ready for what’s about to happen, and sure enough, I go onstage that night, we have a two hour conversation that I felt like went as well as it could have ever possibly gone, we got along on several points, Gene and I totally agree on. The church should not be anti-gay, the church should not be, should be a very welcoming place for people who are gay.
We shouldn’t be people, you know, treating people who are gay as a lesser class, or anything like that, it’s ridiculous, we need to call that out. But in terms of our vision for the way forward, we have very different opinions about what was best for human beings, and what was best for the church. I was able to express those, clearly, and we were able to challenge some of the big ideas, but I walked outta there that night, and I think I was probably the one most affected. Not anybody sitting in the room, I don’t think I persuaded, I’m sure I didn’t persuade one person to change their mind, and I realized that wasn’t actually what this was about.
This is about God saying, to me, Gabe, if you know the truth, and you know it’s true, than live up to your convictions and have some courage. Start saying what you believe to be true, because being silent begets more silence, being courageous starts to beget more courage, and so, in our own lives, that was, for me was a conviction, but you have to wrestle down your convictions, you gotta know where you stand on these things.
There’s a generation we are going to lose, not because we decided to stick with our convictions, in my opinion, but because we decided to be silent about our convictions. So, as we think about scriptures, I look to Daniel, and I think the story of Daniel is one that should give you courage. I’d ask you to go back and read it, and I know you’ve taught on it a hundred times, but go back with a little bit of a new lens on it, and read through these first few chapters of Daniel. Here you have Daniel, he’s in Babylon, many, David Kinnaman I know, says this a lot, and others, but, that it feels like we’re kind of in a new Babylon situation, right?
We’re in a culture that’s just thinking so differently, just in a totally different place, and here Daniel comes in, and it actually describes Daniel as being good looking, basically a fair man, who was smart, and intellectual, this wasn’t a weak minded Christian, this was somebody that the king wanted to be in his court, wanted to spend time with him, probably was challenging his ideas, but did it in a pleasant way, and here’s Daniel, this hero of the faith that we look up to, who we think his courage was to confront the king. No, he didn’t confront the king, he hung out with the king. He ate different food, but he was in, he was in some sort of a respected relationship, but you know what else happens in the story of Daniel? Do you know where God really flips things in the story of Daniel, and Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar?
It isn’t through just his intellectual prowess. No, something supernatural actually happens in that story, and that’s what converts the king to start to understand and appreciate the God of the universe. He has a dream that nobody can interpret, including all of his staff that was there to interpret the dream, so he kills them, and then he says to Daniel, Daniel’s about to be killed in the same way, and Daniel just asks for a little bit of time, and says God, please speak to me, please give me an interpretation of this dream, and he didn’t even know what the dream was, and then one night, in the middle of a dream, God drops it into his mind, the dream that the king had, and the interpretation.
He goes and tells the king, and the king’s first reaction is to celebrate Daniel, and to celebrate this God, because he’s never seen anything like it. You see, one of my problems in leading Q, and trying to think a lot about ideas, is that I can sometimes put so much weight in the ideas, and how well we can articulate, and how civil we can be, how credible and plausible we can make them sound, that I forget about the power of God to actually change things. If we’re not careful, we can get so caught up in how we talk about things, that we forget about the conviction that comes from God’s word.
Later on, there’s another story, right? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, guess what? The same thing happens, and these are people who are committed to Babylon, they wanted to see Babylon flourish. They weren’t antagonists to Nebuchadnezzar, until the point where they were told to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar. At that point, they stand up and say no, actually, this is the line. I have some conviction, there’s the line for me, and I’m gonna stand, and I know that means I’m supposed to get killed. They’re thrown into the furnace, and what happens? Nebuchadnezzar can’t believe it, right? Because standing in the furnace he sees a fourth come into the furnace, and he sees that they’re not burned at all, and they come out, and he says we are gonna worship your God, because of what I’ve just seen, and it changes, starts to change everything. These are supernatural occurrences.
I know that’s not cool to talk about at a philosophy lecture, but I wanna remind us of the truth of God’s word, because if we’re going to be people of conviction, we’ve gotta be in the word. We’ve gotta know what this word says, because it’s true not just in Nebuchadnezzar’s days, it’s true today, and it’s always been true. So we can’t get too cute and clever, we need to remain grounded. I’m going to share with you a few other scriptures, as pastors, because I just want to encourage you to think about how God’s word might be speaking to you even. As we think about this third part of this conversation today, this idea of care, how do we care for those, pastorally, how do we care for the people around us? What is our job, what is our role as leaders to care, to love, what does love even mean? I know it’s a question that The Center for Christian Thought’s taking on next year, this whole idea of love.
Does love just mean sex, and affirmation? If you say I love you, that means I should pat you on the back, as you’re going towards something that I think, actually is really bad for you, is that really love? As pastors, you’ve gotta really think through this. What does it mean to really care for people? First Corinthians 4.14 and 15 says this, Paul says to the church in Corinth. I do not say this to shame you, but to warn and counsel you as my beloved children. Check this out.
For though you have 10,000 teachers in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Does that remind you of the situation the church might be in today? That you have 10,000 teachers in Christ, 10,000 people with great teaching gifts, but many of our churches right now, the biggest churches in the country, are led by people with great teaching gifts, great teachers, but Paul says you do not have many fathers. What’s the difference between a teacher and a father?
I’m a father, I know many of you in this room are fathers, I have three children, so imagine we’re out camping one night, we’re in the mountains, we’ve got out fire going, we’re standing around the fire, and all of a sudden, my children are sitting there, we’re roasting marshmallows, but I see, out of the corner of my eye, there’s a wolf that’s lurking around this fire, with is eyes on my children. What am I going to do as a father?
I’m gonna do everything I can to either kill the wolf, or get that wolf out of here, he has no business around my children, my family, that’s what a father does. A father steps up in a moment where he starts to see that his children are at stake. Paul says here, you have 10,000 teachers, but you don’t have any fathers. I’d ask you as a pastor, are you being a teacher, or are you being a father? Are you thinking about the people that you’re, that God’s put you in charge of?
It’s a huge responsibility. Visions 5, 4-13 as we just kind of keep this going. He writes to the church of Ephesus: Let there be no filthiness, nor foolish and sinful talk, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting or becoming, but instead voice your thankfulness to God. For be sure of this, that no person practicing sexual vice, or impurity in thought or in life, or one who is covetous, who has a lustful desire for the property of others, and is greedy for gain, for he in effect is idolater, and had no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ.
Let no one delude and deceive you with empty excuses and groundless arguments for these sins, for through these things, that wrath of God comes upon the sons of rebellion and disobedience, so do not associate or be sharers with them, for once you were in darkness, but now you are in light and the Lord. Walk as children of the light, for the fruit of the light, in every form of kindly is in every form, goodness, uprightness, and trueness of life.
Try to learn in your experience what is pleasing to the Lord, take no part in, and have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds and enterprises of darkness, but instead let your lives be so in contrast as to expose, and reprove, and convict them, for it is a shame even to speak of or mention the things that people practice in secret, but when anything is exposed and reproved by the light, it is made visible and clear, and where everything is visible and clear, there is light. As fathers, that’s our job, we’re supposed to help bring light into the darkness, help people who aren’t thinking much about these things to see clearly. It’s a huge responsibility we each have.
We’re reminded in second Corinthians, 10.4-6: For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons of flesh and blood, but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds. Inasmuch as we refute arguments and theories, and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we lead every thought and purpose away, captive into the obedience of Christ.
We’re told there that this isn’t just a battle of philosophy, it’s not only my ideas trumping your ideas, we have to understand as leaders in the church that there’s spiritual warfare going on. The spiritual warfare that we’re taking on is met with us taking captive our thoughts, and also standing with conviction. We see in Ephesian 6, 11-13, this is a summary, But therefore put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist and stand up against all the strategies and the deceits of the devil on that evil day, and having done all that the crisis demands, stand firmly in your place. You see, that’s conviction.
You stand firmly in your place, even when it’s not making sense, even when you’re not sure what the results will be , cause guess what? Many of us, we get too caught up in thinking about the fallout, right? I was with a very prominent Christian leader, who has a huge following, Barry and I were both in a conversation with this leader a few months ago. He acknowledged, I don’t talk about the sexuality thing, I don’t talk about it because I don’t know what to say.
I’m scared I’m gonna say something that actually means these tens of thousands of people who listen to me, who read my books, who have found themselves to be discipled in some way by the work that we’re doing, I’m worried that I’m going to lose them. I’m worried that I’m going to say it wrong, I’m worried that somehow this audience and influence that I’ve been giving’s gonna fall away. In the course of that conversation, I think it became clear, that we were reminded that, do you really think you’re the one who got that audience?
Do you really think you’re responsible for the fruit of the work that you’ve been doing in faithfulness? Do you really think that we’re supposed to think so much, strategically, about not saying certain things, ’cause we’re worried our audience is going away, and not reminded that God’s the one who brought that increase anyway?
So as pastors and leaders, let’s be convicted about that. Let’s not be so worrier and thoughtful, thoughtful, about how we’re gonna grow our platforms, how we’re gonna grow our audiences, how we’re going to have quote/unquote more influence? You have no idea what God’s doing. Let’s not be arrogant and think we’ve got this plan figured out for the next few years, of how we’re going to see the world, move forward in the proper ways? Let’s trust God, let’s be faithful, let’s be convicted.
Let’s share our ideas in a loving, kind way. We don’t have to be hateful, in fact, Romans 2.4 tells us it’s kindness that leads the heart to repentance. It’s not beating up on people and telling them every reason they’re wrong, it’s kindness that leads to the heart to the repentance. If you care for somebody, you’re going to lead forward with kindness, and love, and you’re not going to be afraid of any idea, but you’re also not going to be afraid to confront the ideas that you believe to be wrong.
We’re called as Christians to be a part of cultivating this flourishing place, flourishing institutions, and people, and human beings, which means we do have to have a set of ideas, and I believe these Christian ideas are the ones that lead to the most flourishing for people. There’s something human beings were built to do, and there’s way societies flourish. We just have to get a little more grounded, I think, on how our ideas play out, how we can communicate them in a way, to help those who have been skeptical, or who have never understand Christianity to be more than just a set of ideas to get them to heaven.
Part of what we’re competing with in the church is this bifurcated view of the gospel, that believes our job is just to convert people so one day we go to heaven, and they haven’t ever understood the depth at which God’s called us into this world, to be a part of cultivating, and renewing , and restoring that which is broken, because when we do, we start to give witness to people, of the love of God in very physical and tangible ways.
I think that as we come out of this conversation today, I want to encourage you to have that courage, to do so in a way that civil, and it’s discourse that’s kind, and how you take it forward, but I think I’d leave you with let’s not get so thoughtful that we forget about the power of God’s words, about the truth, as pastors, of your job to protect the sheep, to sense and see when a wolf is nearby, and to take very seriously your responsibility to do that, but let’s do it in ways that are so loving and kind, that you could never be accused of being hateful and mean.
You can never be accused of pushing people away, but that you’re always inviting people in, because you’re not afraid. You’re curious, you’re not afraid of any ideas, you welcome the conversation. And if you don’t know the answer, say I don’t know, and point them to another resource, point them to another person, point them to something that they can watch, or see, or read, that might help them express what it is that you’re feeling, but you’ve had a hard time of saying.
As we do this together, I think what we’ll find is, is that in the days ahead, we’re gonna have a church that becomes a little more convicted and faithful, and that a younger generation is looking for that. They’re not just looking for hey, everybody’s in, let’s just do out thing, they’re looking for a church that knows what it believes, that’s willing to say it, it’s honest about it and transparent about it, and loving about it. And let’s trust God for the fruit, not ourselves. [upbeat music]