Can we reach a culture that considers our faith irrelevant?
‘People perceive Christians as irrelevant and extreme.” This is the…
In part two of our discussion, the authors give more details from their research, including the difficult task of ministering in an “I” world and offer suggestions for parents as they help their children navigate the complex landscape of social media. They also address how online political discussions threaten to divide believers.
CLICK HERE TO SEE PART ONE OF THE INTERVIEW Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based market research firm specializing in the religious beliefs and behavior of Americans. Lyons is founder of Q Ideas — a learning community that urges Christians to advance the common good in society.
You’ve mentioned a “discipleship crisis” in churches. How do we address that?
Kinnaman: There is no simple answer. If you sign up to be a preacher today, you are signing up to address this zeitgeist. The god of the age is about self — about finding yourself in the pages of Scripture rather than God finding you in his story.
So many messages in our culture, television and movies — and some of the most heroic stories that we all love today — seem to follow this pattern used to discover who you are by looking really deeply inside. It has become counter-cultural to show people that trying to find yourself in this way leads to a dead end.
To do ministry, you have to constantly combat this sort of spirit of the age.
Do you think that social media amplifies that problem?
Whom are we going to let speak into our lives? Whom are we going to trust to help us think about a certain topic?”
There obviously are benefits to everybody having a voice — not just those in powerful positions — but the downside is that the information is now flattened, and it’s very difficult for people to decipher and discern what’s true, what’s not true.
We focus so much on the internal, saying, “You can know truth by what you feel and by your experiences. You don’t need to really line it up with a bunch of other experiences.” Our whole culture is dealing with this. Our neighbors are dealing with these same problems and questions, and there’s an opportunity for the church to show up in these moments.
Parents should find the humility to say, “Maybe you did hear me say that, and maybe I shouldn’t have said it that way,” or “I didn’t take the time to walk you through how I came to that conclusion.”
The days of just taking your kids to a Christian school — or to church or to a Christian college — and thinking that’s going to help them be disciples, ready for the world, are not the days we’re in.
As parents, we tend to give our kids the conclusion that we’ve come to — from thinking about it, or from our parents or our church or however we’ve learned it — without really giving them the process. I find that children today are a lot more sophisticated than we were. When we take the time to walk them through the process, we actually are honoring them, we’re honoring the image of God in them, we’re honoring their intellect. We’re telling them, “You can be a Christian and think. Don’t just accept this answer. Let’s walk through the conclusion if we take the other path.”
And that takes time. The days of just taking your kids to a Christian school — or to church or to a Christian college — and thinking that’s going to help them be disciples, ready for the world, are not the days we’re in.
Kinnaman: With my teen girls and 12-year-old son, the relationship is the most important thing to keep going. That doesn’t mean I ever sacrifice being a truth-teller to them, but I have had to learn to live with more empathy.
I am a professional wisdom dispenser. I constantly have these little observations about the research we do or these little ideas about ministry. I’ve had to really dial that back and not just say, “Hey guys, here’s exactly how you should think about this.”
My kids may make different decisions than I want them to make, but I want that relationship to remain strong. As we process really tough issues — like pornography, eating issues, all sorts of different things — we have to talk about this stuff as a family. I can’t just tell them how to live it. It’s something I have to go through with them. Being honest about my own struggles — our own struggles — is critical in that.
Many Christians have become divided over issues that emerge online, such as politics. How can we recover from that? Lyons: It’s real immaturity, and it’s sad. I think we’ve reached a point culturally where we think it’s acceptable to just kind of tribalize, divide off into our corners with people that fully agree with us.
One of the things that we do in the book “Good Faith” — in a chapter called “Five Ways to be Faithful” — is to try to help Christians understand that the most important filter to put around all of this is theology. We must understand that God’s design is for human beings to flourish. The Gospel is what we believe and what we confess as Christians.
But when you start to move out from that core, there are five different kinds of frames, and one of them is politics. Great people are going to disagree on what policies are best, but we can’t expect that imperfect policies will lead to human flourishing.
We must understand that God’s design is for human beings to flourish.
When we move politics up into the theology category — and say that we, as Christians, have to agree on this specific policy, this proposal, this candidate — we really minimize the strength of the church and the breadth of diversity that brings life to our communities.
I think we have to step back from the emotional edge and understand what really matters. We need the church to be more unified than ever for the years ahead. We need to not fall for this distraction in this moment.
Related• Part one: Beyond numbers, a real crisis of faith
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