Pastors, Elders, Teachers, Leaders: Are You Bold Enough to Take a Good Hard Look at the Challenges We’re Up Against?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you all for letting us know that the link to Tom’s amazing list of 100 plus challenging questions Christians face today didn’t work. We have fixed it. Let’s try this again…
I’ll bet you never thought it was going to get this crazy. Sorry. It has anyway. I mean that very seriously. The world has turned very strange on us.
And I wish I could come alongside every pastor, teacher, elder, and church leader who’s feeling the weight of it. I don’t know how long you’ve been at it or what you expected when you got started, but I’ll bet you weren’t counting on anything like this. Not unless you started in the last ten years or so, maybe, but even then I’d guess you might be surprised at some of it.
The world has turned alien around us. Maybe we really shouldn’t be so surprised, based on what we know from the Bible and church history, but I wouldn’t blame you if you were anyway. It hit me especially hard a few weeks ago, when I decided to compile a list of questions and challenges we face. I don’t know what’s worse: The long list of them, their complexity, or how newly they’ve cropped up as challenges.
Evidence for Unprecedented Challenges
God will win, but He wants us in the battle. So I’m wondering, are you bold enough to look at the list? It’s too long to include on this page. Way too long. You don’t have to study it thoroughly, if time is short. Just skim through, and pick out items that stand out to you. I do urge you, though, please, take whatever time it takes to feel the gravity of it. I’m not kidding when I say we’re facing unprecedented new challenges.
Yet I am not discouraged. Granted, there are more than a hundred challenges on that list. Yes, more than half of them are skeptics’ derisive putdowns. But God is not so easily mocked, and His truth stands tall. A full 100 percent of those putdowns have good, solid, rational, faith-full answers. Most of them are simple if you have time to study them.
There’s a second group of questions with a large pastoral component, for example, how to help someone who’s at risk of being fired for their Christian convictions. I’m not saying those are so easy to handle. Some of them become easier, though, if you can explain why the other set of questions, the skeptics’ challenges, is a rather empty set.
Who Has Time To Keep Up With it All?
But there’s another problem in the mix, isn’t there: Who has time to study all this? I’ve heard from more than one pastor how tough that can be, and how gladly they’d accept some help with it. You’ll be glad to know the point of this challenge list isn’t to find out how many you can answer. I’m hoping instead they’ll demonstrate for you what an enormous upside-down flip in our ministry situation we’re living through these days.
I’d love to hear from you, actually: Where are you at on this? Does it feel as weighty to you as it does to me? I’d appreciate it if you’d take at least a quick look through that challenge list before you send your feedback. You could help and The Stream by letting us know how it hits you to see all these issues listed in one place (and knowing how many more I could have included besides).
Not that you haven’t looked at a lot of them already. I know you have. Face to face, probably, in the person of someone you care about in your church, who has dealt very personally with one or more of these new challenges.
I’ve already mentioned how it hit me. I could see, plainer than ever before, this isn’t the kind of thing we can solve by counseling one person at a time. This is bigger than that. It happened faster than that, and some (not all) of it is way more complex than that. Crazier, too: There has to be some unseen spiritual dimension to it, much more than we can see with physical eyes.
A Strange Question to Illustrate Our Strange Days
Let me illustrate how strange things are these days. One of the questions I included on that list is, Why would the Bible have a law against wearing clothes of mixed fabrics?
It’s such an obscure question. Who would even know that’s in the Bible, much less try to challenge all of Christianity with it? I remember wondering about it the first time I read through the Old Testament, sometime during the 1970s. I was a believer already. I thought, “Hmmm. What’s that about?” Then I kept right on reading, and hardly gave it another thought.
I went decades without hearing anyone ask what that was in there. No surprise: How many skeptics read Leviticus? All of a sudden, though, probably sometime in the mid 2000s, it exploded. In 2013, I wrote an answer for it on the Thinking Christian blog I used to run before moving to The Stream. That page, titled “Why Wearing Clothes of Mixed Fabrics (Lev. 19:19) Was Wrong,”became that blog’s most visited page ever — by far. And that’s on a blog that ranked for many years at or near the top of all Christian blogging.
The Barrage of Blanks
That explosion didn’t happen because thousands of skeptics suddenly started reading Leviticus. It was probably a small handful putting the question out on social media with a mocking twist, saying “Isn’t that ridiculous?” And before long, every atheist and his dog was copying it, pasting it, sneering at Christians with it.
The question isn’t the least bit difficult, if someone’s shown you an answer. Read my own answer, and you’ll see how I learned it from another writer. A lot of these sorts of questions are easy — if someone has show you the way.
The skeptics have a formula, though. They keep pushing out the barrage, blasting Christians in hundred different noisy ways. It’s only noise, I can assure you. It’s a barrage of blanks. But if the people they’re aiming at don’t know that they’re blanks, they’ll duck and cower just the same. Or they’ll switch sides and escape the barrage altogether. And miss out on life with Christ.
Questions That Really Matter
Here’s one more example from the more substantive side of the challenge list. The teenager in your church comes and asks you, “What is a woman?” You give the perfectly sensible (and accurate) answer, “A woman is an adult female human. God designed us to be male and female, and that hasn’t changed.” It’s all fine and easy — until she scowls and scoffs, “Yeah, I expected as much from you. You really don’t have a clue, do you?”
That’s when you discover she wasn’t asking you a Bible or biology question, not in her mind, anyway. What she really wants to know is whether you can explain why the Bible and biology even matter. Everyone around her says the real question is how you identify. And I do mean everyone — everyone except at church.
And maybe she wants to follow Christ. Maybe she really wants to feel a sense of belonging at church, but she’s having trouble getting past church people’s way of dismissing or contradicting everyone else she thinks she can trust on this. She might want a genuine, respectful explanation of what’s wrong with, “I identify as.” I wouldn’t blame her one bit if she did.
The question used to be as easy as they come. Not anymore. And that’s only the most common of these new challenges. Don’t think the sillier-looking ones don’t matter. If a skeptic can mock a young churchgoer with it, that’s all it takes. The churchgoer who doesn’t have a defense is going to have a problem with it.
It Wasn’t Like This Before. It Is Now.
You won’t hear everything on that list in the average month, I’m sure — though I wouldn’t say that so confidently if I were writing this to a social-media active 20-something who spoke up openly as a believer. If a pastor or teacher isn’t hearing these kinds of questions, it isn’t that nobody at their church is wondering about them. They’re not asking us, that’s all.
The challenges are out there. By the hundreds. It wasn’t like this as little as 10 as 20 years ago, but it sure is now. So, what are we going to do about it? That’s the question I hope we can all think through together.
I must repeat before I close: I am not discouraged. God is not threatened. The Spirit of God will guide. He uses His people — that is consistently His way — and He calls on us to equip ourselves for these battles. In Christ we can meet the challenge, if we’ll just resolve to do it.
More to come.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.