I have something to admit. Sometimes (probably more often than not) I will be involved in a conversation with one or more person(s) and the subject will become…somewhat…how should I say…less than righteous. Perhaps it will be that there are off-color jokes being told, or perhaps some crude humor, or maybe even gossip…but nevertheless the conversation would not be something I would be comfortable with a lot of people hearing me involved in. It was said about the basketball legend, Bill Russell, that he did not like coarse humor or inappropriate discussions, and that when he came into the locker room, the language would clean up. So here I am…the pastor of an evangelical Christian church…and people don’t necessarily do that when I come into the room…and I wondered, “why?” Let me be clear…it’s not that I’m offended by these things usually, and it’s not that I think I’m anything special…it’s just that it makes me wonder if people are reacting this way due to the fact that they believe I’m not judgmental or due to the fact that they don’t think that I’m any different.
I really hope it’s the former and not the latter.
I really hope that people see me as something different than the world around them.
But…truth be told, I think I wear the skin of a chameleon much more than I wear the color of blaze-orange…I think that I blend in much more than I contrast with my surroundings…and though I have been called as a Christian (not a pastor but simply a Christian) to be different from the things of this world…I find that I’m not quite so different. As alarming as this truth is, the reasoning for the compromise is even more alarming and essentially more harmful in long run. I find myself wanting to connect with people, and that’s not bad. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do. I find myself trying to meet people where they are, and that’s also not bad as it is what we call, “becoming all things to all men.” The problem is that I find myself wanting people to see me as just another guy…one of them…a pastor that is very “relevant” to the world around me. This is not totally a bad thing and sometimes people forget that I’m a pastor. That can be very helpful…but sometimes it goes too far and they forget something far more crucial…they forget that I’m a Christian…and when that has occurred…it is due to the fact that I’m not in contrast with the world around me…I’m not shining in the darkness…I’m not connecting with them in stark contrast…but in the same dark shades of the existence with which they are far too familiar.
Why is this a bad thing? Because if they don’t see me truly caring about being a part of something new and different and wonderful, won’t they get the impression that it’s not any different? And if they get the impression that I don’ t think we’re all that different, then why would they listen to me when I tell them that there is a different and better way for them? In short, if it doesn’t seem like I believe it, why should they?
There is a buzz-word in our Christian subculture right now: “relevant.” We use this word to describe an attitude/behavior/worldview that is not weird or segregated or naive. We have a desire for people to see that Christianity is not some backwoods, anti-intellectual, ignorant, sheltered throwback to the 1950’s. Once again, I’m all for that. I want people to realize that we believe in a very real God and a living Savior, and an active Spirit, but if I have to compromise my behavior or my biblical standards for this connection, then isn’t it in vain? Andy Stanley once summarized James 2 by saying, “behavior follows belief.” I’ve totally taken that and made it my own…and if I’m willing to compromise my behavior in a way that is dishonorable to my Savior and Lord, then what does that say about my belief? I think that being relevant is great, but I also have observed that many ride that cart right off the rails in their language, their jokes, their overall conversation…and I’m in the front of it…steering.
People like it when we can relate to them. We should be genuine human beings, humble and willing to admit that we mess up more than we get right. But I think they also like it when they see us being the genuine article. I think they prefer to see us actually being different…not in a “holier-than-thou-look-down-my-nose-at-you” way…but in a way that brings light to the fact that we have inner light…in a way that shines light into the innermost darkness that they face and don’t want to talk about…in a way that is real. That’s what I think people want…for Christians to be real, humble, and a definite contrast to the darkness around us…light.
To accomplish this, we have to be willing to not engage or begin things that dishonor God…we have to be willing to not always be included…to not partake of those things which take our minds and/or hearts in the wrong direction…music…movies….magazines…tv shows…etc. In short, we must stand apart…and there’s a word for this in the Bible…a word that refers to that apart-ness: holy. He said, “be holy, for I am holy.” Be different. Don’t compromise. When they see that we really do believe what we say we believe, they will be encouraged, and they will be affected for all of eternity…which is what truly matters most.