I was watching one of “those” movies the other day. In this case, the space ships were flying and the ground troops were storming the asteroid. Suddenly reinforcements for the axis of evil show up and the good guys have to regroup and retreat to fight another day. Except one of the ground troops was pinned down on the asteroid and the next twenty minutes or so of the movie was spent making sure there was no man left behind.
Leave No One Behind
Every branch of our military includes this commitment to its troops. It’s a sacred honor promise that marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen swear an oath to. As a former Air Force sergeant, I totally support the concept … for our military. But that kind of sentiment has crept its way into the church in ways that even Jesus himself wouldn’t (and didn’t) embrace.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that Cultural Christianity has increasingly adapted to make itself as palatable to society as possible – because we don’t want to leave anyone behind. Many of the church’s adaptations have been made in response to flagging attendance and dwindling giving numbers. Who can blame them?
In a consumeristic culture, it’s counterintuitive to be countercultural, right? It’s important to fit in and work to get everyone to like you, right?
It’s not just that we have a story to tell to the nations, we’ve a story to sell to the nation – as in convincing people why being a Christian and a church member are good things. And if they’re not buying, and by-and-large they haven’t been, then we have to adapt the product. Right?
It’s an episode straight out of Shark Tank. If the consumer doesn’t like what you’re presenting, then offer something else … because we don’t want to leave anyone behind. That’s not just a commitment, that’s a sacred vow.
Funny thing, though. I don’t see any of that in the New Testament. And the times I see it happening in the Old Testament, it doesn’t go well for those who had “adapted” the Law to suit the culture. In fact, when it comes to the whole “no one left behind” concept, Jesus seems to be the worst of the worst.
Case in point. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16–22. He comes to Jesus and clearly wants to be a part of the in-group. “What must I do?” So Jesus spells it out for him and …
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.Matthew 19:22
This story is retold in Mark 10 and Luke 18 – and all three versions record Jesus’ response to the wealthy young man who walks away. Instead of Jesus chasing him down to negotiate, compromise, or offer a better deal, he uses the incident as a teaching moment about how difficult it is to become one of his disciples. Jesus’ response is almost cavalier, even though Mark’s account says that Jesus loved him.
A love that allows people to be left behind?
There are a number of other incidents where Jesus appears perfectly willing to tell individuals, small groups, and even the larger crowds that the gospel is what the gospel is. It’s good news for those willing to obey the commandments that Jesus liberally handed out. And if someone wasn’t willing to make a commitment to get on board the obedience bus, Jesus was more than willing to leave them behind. In fact, in at least one instance, he seems to bait even his closest followers to see if they’d bail on him (John 6:66–71). If they didn’t want to get on his bus, he was ready to close the doors and drive away.
So, where am I going with this?
Those of you who’ve been reading and following me for any amount of time know that I believe it’s the church’s job to communicate the gospel in culturally relevant ways. I’m a 1 Corinthians 9:19–22 kind of guy … we’re called to do whatever it takes to win some. That is, whatever it takes short of compromising the gospel. If it takes a fog machine, a light show, and hip hop music to create a setting where the most dangerous message on earth can be effectively communicated, then I’m all for it.
But that dangerous gospel message is just that … it’s dangerous. Jesus doesn’t need a large fan base to follow him and turn him into a superstar. Instead, he invites people to become permanently indentured slaves. We are not Jesus’ servants – that’s a different Greek word that’s used to tell us how we’re to serve others. Instead, make no mistake, we’re called to surrender every one of our freedoms and preferences and habits and addictions and the control of our finances and even our relationships if necessary to become a slave of God. To be completely obedient to what Jesus taught.
I took a course in copywriting for social media recently. The woman leading it has thousands of followers and is a major influencer in her field. One of her teachings really hit home for me.
“Don’t be afraid to polarize your audience. Not everyone is going to love you.”
Wow. In most churches, we’re petrified to loose a single member. The thought of polarizing our congregations between the committed and the uncommitted is frightening – I mean, we might even lose one of our life-long members – or a bunch of them. But because of our fear of polarization, we’re dooming ourselves from reaching the unbelievers in our community. Like the sci-fi movie that risks it all to ensure no one’s left behind, we may not only lose the skirmish, we could even lose the war (or at least, our place in that war … remember, we’re closing over twelve churches in the US every day).
We’ve made a choice. When we choose to “leave no one in our church behind,” including those who are committed to the “church club” rather than to the Kingdom of God, then making the necessary changes to the church’s culture becomes impossible.
Leading the church today isn’t for the faint hearted.
Let’s be honest, there’s not much going for you. The culture isn’t interested in your success. The congregation wants the church to grow, but doesn’t want to make the changes or do the work to grow the church (it’s like wanting an income but not wanting a job). And you’re tired of being tied to the church office and still not getting the important stuff done.
Getting a congregation to move forward can feel like an impossible task.
That’s why The Effective Church Group developed the Next Level Coaching Network. A six month church leadership training course that helps pastor break through the status quo and gives them a plan and path forward to their next level of leadership. On the way, you’ll reset your priorities so you can live your best life while effectively leading your congregation into a sustainable future.
Interested in talking about the possibilities? Click here to set up a FREE one hour strategic planning assessment to see what your future could look like.
What we are all experiencing in the Western world is the collapse of cultural and institutional Christianity. This makes it a very difficult and uncomfortable place. We are caught between what was and what is and what is coming. The church is going to be much smaller and very counter cultural. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. You don’t get to resurrection without death. I am convinced God is doing a new thing, we just don’t see it yet. It will be a complete reinvention.