You may know Russell Moore as the mouthpiece of the Southern Baptist Convention, but these days he’s also increasingly seen as a representative of conservative evangelicalism to the outside world. Recently, he’s spoken regularly on television, the radio, and in flurries of pointed tweets about the state of the evangelical church, the spectre of a Trump presidency, and the implications of society’s increasing pluralism.
But Moore’s focus hasn’t always been so broad. He’s also spent time in local church ministry, where he dealt with a series of real-life challenges that prepared him for where he is today. Moore’s thought a lot about how churches can better influence the world by worrying less about proving our bona fides to one another:
It’s not so much that we are afraid of non-Christian people who may be hostile to what we believe. A lot of it is more fear of other Christians. A lot of the kind of engagement that we see has nothing to do with people on the outside at all; it has everything to do with this constant loop of reassuring other Christians, “I’m part of the team, and I’m part of the tribe, and the way that you know that is because I’m giving these talking points about how awful the people on the outside are.” That’s not just a challenge for people who are in public ministries—it’s a challenge for anybody with a Facebook page.
One of the major things has to be to genuinely love and identify with people who disagree with you to the point that you understand why they hold the views that they hold. And that takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of relationship building. If you get up and you do this sort of ministry that isn’t really about persuading people on the outside, but it’s just about encouraging Christians you’re not crazy and “here’s why the other view is stupid and evil,” there are people who are overhearing that who are then going to meet people and realize they don’t stand up to the caricature. And then you’re going to end up losing those people. When people actually encounter these people, they see a much more complex view.
Jesus is not threatened. The remarkable thing to me in the gospels is how un-caffeinated Jesus is when everyone else is freaking out. Jesus is becoming anguished, anxious, and provoked at the oddest times. When everybody else is asleep or just kind of walking through the temple, this is always there, but when everyone else is outraged and panicking, Jesus has this tranquility that I think ultimately is rooted in confidence. He really does know who he is and what he’s about. And if you have a church and a people of God who are confident in their gospel, then those are going to be people who are not going to be as panicked when they have people who say, “We think you’re crazy, we think you’re bigoted, we think you’re wrong.”
On this first episode of The Calling, CT’s managing editor Richard Clark talked with Moore about his call to bring the Kingdom of God to local churches, his traumatic first ministry experience, and how local churches ought to approach the outside world.
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The Calling is produced by Richard Clark and Cray Allred.
Theme music by Lee Rosevere, used under Creative Commons 4.0.