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Preparing Believers to Endure Hostility
by Tom Goodman
October 31, 2014

Part of your job as a church leader is to prepare believers to endure misunderstanding, marginalization, and even hostility for their Christian convictions.  Ignoring this part of your job description leaves the members of our church unprepared for the real world.

Many can recall a time when what was taught inside the church was largely reinforced in the outside world.  This is true especially if you were raised in the American South.  That cultural consensus is vanishing rapidly, and believers are finding occasions when embracing the faith comes with certain liabilities.  There will be those moments when following Christ will result in the loss of a friendship, or the loss of a potential romantic relationship, or the loss of opportunities for tenure or career advancement.

In our staff meeting this week, we worked through Mark Howard’s post on this topic.  He limits his comments to the work of youth ministry, but since his points apply to every age range, I want to edit them a bit.  Here are five actions you need to take no matter what age range you lead at Hillcrest.

1.  Be intentional.

Our people need guidance if they are going to address contemporary hot topics biblically, intelligently, and respectfully.  Simon Peter told us to "honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15).  We need to intentionally train people so they can gently and respectfully articulate their convictions.

2.  Go beyond sound bites.

I know that certain long-time churchgoers in my denomination prefer church to be "Baptist Theater."  That’s what I call it, anyway.  It’s entertainment for the already-convinced.  A preacher is expected to pound the pulpit and shout out soundbites designed to draw out a rowdy "Amen" from the base.  But after the show is over, the already-convinced are no better prepared to have patient, thoughtful conversations with their unconvinced neighbors, coworkers, and relatives.  Too often, in fact, Baptist Theater leaves believers even more settled into a smug aloofness from the surrounding world.

As leaders, we need to help people critique exactly what makes an unbiblical worldview so unworkable, and why the biblical worldview is so much more satisfying in the long run.  As an example, I demonstrate how to do this with the subject of cohabitation here.

3.  Aim to win people, not just arguments.

Our goal is not to sound smart -- or smart-alecky!  We are to be ministers of reconciliation.  Paul tells the Corinthians, "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (2 Corinthians 5:20).  As Howard wrote in his post, "What sort of ambassadors would we be if we only ever started wars and mocked those who disagreed with us, and never actually took the time to know and care for those among whom we serve?"

4.  Prepare believers for rejection and humiliation.

We will have our moments when certain nonbelievers misunderstand and marginalize us.  This is more than just missing an invitation to join coworkers for Happy Hour after work.  As I said earlier, some will find that their Christian convictions will negatively impact their chances of keeping a job or advancing in that job.  Some will find that their Christian worldview significantly narrows the number of people willing to enter into friendships or romantic relationships with them.

I think younger believers had a season where they thought if evangelicals just weren’t so dorky the culture would like us better.  If only we adopted a trendier look, championed a cool social cause, and updated our terminology, we could be socially respected again.  Many are surprised to find that our world’s rejection of our message lies much deeper than these surface issues.

We need to root our people deeply in those scripture stories of prophets and apostles and martyrs who were so maligned by those they sought to love.  After all, we serve in the shadow of a cross, don’t we?

5.  Foster humility.

As we train up people to lovingly articulate their convictions, Howard says we need to remember to teach them intellectual humility along the way:  "Sometimes we will face rejection and humiliation because we are wrong.  Scripture is our authority, but history shows us that sometimes Christians misinterpret and misuse Scripture."

I hope you’ll look at all five of these actions as a "package deal."  In other words, merely taking up one or two of the above actions won’t be enough.  We’re in a culture that has shifted rapidly.  We once lived in a culture that reinforced much of the Christian worldview (at least in the American South).  The current culture doesn’t see a biblically-consistent worldview as a harmless irrelevance, but toxic.  Our people need preparation for life in this new order.


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