When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, some of the least successful strategies are ones built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” is a disturbing trend.
Every month, I see an avalanche of direct-mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show and cartoon series, or mad at the homosexual community or some other special interest group.
But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical creates very little change. After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something.
Do you know Jesus? Do you really? Following the recent unveiling of a papyrus fragment in which Jesus reportedly says, "my wife," many historians are now questioning what people know about the life of Jesus.
Aside from the bearded, longhaired, Sunday-school image of Jesus, a new poll reveals that Americans are not at all familiar with the impactful life of this man.
According to the poll, most people do not grasp Jesus' influence on culture despite recognizing His image some 2,000 years after his death. Sixty-six percent believe Jesus is the most-recognized figure in history, but most were not able to correctly answer questions regarding His influence.
Quite frankly, I was bothered and self-righteously angered when I first saw it! A car sat in front of a local church with a banner underneath reading, "The Great New Year's Eve Giveaway." At their 1999 New Year's Eve service, the church would give away that new car.
"Hasn't the great giveaway already happened--the gift of God's Son Jesus?" I wondered.
Indignant, I spoke to fellow pastors about this sacrilege. We just knew that enticing people to come to church with such materialistic bait surely violated the ethics of God's kingdom. Or so it seemed to us.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that I had used "gospel dollars" to reward children in Sunday school for bringing their Bibles, memorizing verses and inviting a lost friend to church.
I began to ponder some of the more crass commercials for getting folks to come to church. Then I mused over the "Christian" product pitches and infomercials I encounter regularly on both secular and Christian television and radio.
Have you as a pastor ever had to draw the line in your congregation? Have you ever vetoed a fund-raiser or forbidden a rummage sale? What's an appropriate fund-raiser for ministry or "hook" for reaching the lost? Does Paul's "being all things to all men" extend to some of our contemporary schemes?
We rationalize that ultimately all we do to raise money is to reach the lost for Christ, but is it?
Where do we draw the line? Just a few simple questions might help us discern between evangelism or ministry-and-market manipulation of the gospel.
Is the outreach tool lifting up Jesus? (see John 12:32)
Does the fund-raiser serve God or money? (see Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13)
Will others glorify God or man when they see what we are doing, broadcasting or marketing? (see Matt. 5:16)
Could our church's or ministry's technique(s) be a stumbling block for others? (see 1 Cor. 8:9)
We must be careful not to judge others. However, we must also discern the line between righteousness and wrongfulness. If the church doesn't act with impeccable ethics in the world, then the world will be quick to see the hypocrisy in our ways. More important, Christ does judge our words and actions (see 2 Cor. 5:10). Hence, this must be our motivation in all our outreach and fund-raising: "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9, NKJV, emphasis added).