When the church is at her best, she embodies an alternative story contrasting to the cultural themes of the day, Tidsworth writes.
What are the cultural themes of the day?
Division, greed, injustice, discrimination, selfishness, hate, fear - enough, please!
So many in North America are fed up with the prevailing cultural winds blowing through our communities in 2018.
Many of us are shaking our heads, muttering, "There's got to be a better way to be human beings in community" or "Surely, we are better than this as a people."
As it turns out, we are better than this. When the church is at her best, she embodies an alternative story contrasting to the cultural themes of the day.
This is the good news of the gospel: Through Jesus Christ, we are a new people who live differently.
There is an alternative to the fractured, broken, self-focused narrative surrounding us. There is a better alternative.
Jesus, the founder of the church, was all about this alternative story. He embodied, lived, taught and invited others into a contrasting way of life.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) and Sermon on the Plain (Luke) are great narratives describing this way of being in the world.
These "sermons" present a radically different way of living than what's encouraged in the cultural narratives of our times.
This gospel of Jesus Christ is clearly countercultural, presenting a far more hopeful and life-giving way to be in this world.
So how are we (congregations of disciples) doing living out our faith as contrast communities?
No, by "contrast communities" I don't mean being that angry church who's known for being against others in its community.
I do mean that invigorated community of faith who's living into a better way, joyfully embodying the Way of Jesus the Christ in this current cultural context.
As we go about our ministry, we observe congregations at varying levels of awareness and embodiment regarding their identity as contrast communities.
Perhaps the following questions will help your congregation recognize its progress toward living our faith. I encourage congregations to rate themselves on a 0-to-10 scale and then discuss your answers.
- How aware are we that we are called to be a contrast community in relation to the prevailing cultural winds of our day?
- How do we see living in the way of Jesus as different than what our culture teaches us?
- What's winsome about living in the way of Jesus, especially compared to cultural themes around us?
- What alternatives does our contrast story based on the way of Jesus offer in contrast to cultural themes like greed, fear, hate, division, discrimination or selfishness?
- What does it look like to embody the alternative story of Jesus?
- How do we feel about living an alternative story? How will/does that influence our relationships with friends, neighbors, vocation and community?
- How much space is there between our church's story about life and the cultural themes of our day?
- How is our congregation already living and sharing a really good alternative story with our community?
- In addition to living it, how do we talk with others about this life-giving alternative story?
- How do we know when we are reflecting our culture's story more than the alternative story of Jesus Christ?
There are many more questions that could be added. I encourage you to innovate, creating the questions that will most help your congregation move forward toward embracing and embodying this Jesus-focused way of life.
May we live into our identities as contrast communities who embody a better way, witnessing to the grace, love and power of Jesus Christ our Lord more every day.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle's blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkTidsworth.