Anyone who writes for public consumption on a regular basis is forced to wonder whether readers’ views are shaped, or even changed, by the steady consumption of pieces like this one. I often fear that, rather than altering anyone’s perception, most writing merely reinforces previously held presuppositions and creates an unending echo-chamber among those who already think alike.
Take Halloween for example. There’s no shortage of opinions on the posture Christians should take toward this holiday. Some argue for total distance and disengagement, others for a more active attempt at neighbor-love by leveraging the opportunities Halloween presents. Every year, the last week of October is loaded with tweets, blogs, and think-pieces attempting to articulate the proper alternative.
What’s concerning isn’t these articles, but the comments or retweets that follow. There are those who clearly agree, reinforcing the author’s point of view with their own pithy remarks. And, there are those who disagree, verbally sparing over a seemingly endless array of errors in judgement, misstatements, or fallacious arguments—many who clearly haven’t taken the time to read the post or digest the position of their opponent. What you rarely see are those who say, “You know, that’s a helpful way of framing this discussion. I think I’m changing my mind on this matter.”
Granted, tweets or short-form writing aren’t the best means of challenging long-held views or presuppositions, but the absence of solid, logical discussion that results in shifting opinions on issues of public debate may demonstrate of a lack of teachability that plagues most Christians. Given time, most professing Christians form views on key issues and spend our time “amening” those who agree with us and avoid or mock those who don’t.
Such an absence of teachability often renders discussions regarding evangelism and mission impotent from the beginning. As we know, it’s not merely that we have opinions but that these opinions actually shape the concrete lives that we live. It’s not just that we believe something to be true about our engagement with Halloween, but that this perspective spills over into real decisions, conversations, and actions we take on that night.
When it comes to mission, then, an oft-assumed notion that it’s the work of the clergy to carry the lion’s share of the evangelistic activity in the life of the church necessarily shapes the fervor, or lack thereof, with which the average congregant engages in the work of evangelism. Simply put: if we believe that it’s the job of a select few to share the gospel, then we will leave it to them rather than speaking up ourselves. Our views (in this case an errant one) shape our actions.
Which brings us back to the topic of teachability. In order to offer the entirety of our being as life-sacrifices as Paul charges the church in Rome, we’re called to constantly, daily renew our minds with God’s truth (Rom 12:1–2). Such renewal necessitates teachability because “the mind of the flesh is hostile to God” (Rom 8:7). This hostility—demonstrated in part in errant perceptions and opinions—does not disappear overnight when we come to faith in Christ Jesus.
The sin that clings so closely and the enemy that fights so ferociously still wage war against God’s truth (Heb 12:1; Eph 6). This means that the life of Christian discipleship necessitates a constant interaction between our understanding of reality and God’s, and when these disagree, we must submit our ideas to the supreme Lordship of Jesus Christ. Discipleship means teachability and change. To refuse to do so is to live in prideful rebellion to the King.
Today’s church needs a resurgence in teachability if we’re going to see a movement of evangelism and mission in our day. We’ve already established that the metrics in our day substantiate the fact that something is amiss in the church’s practice. Trends are not moving in a positive direction, and the essence of folly is to assume that we can continue the practices that have brought about this mess and expect different results. We have to make some serious changes, and these changes will only come if the people of God change their minds about key premises related to their missionary engagement.
We must rethink the disastrous implications of the clergy-laity divide in our society. We have some changes to make in our understanding of the missionary nature of the local church. Changes are needed in our perspective on those who are unlike us—based on race, ethnicity, religion, or worldview. We must consider the enmeshment of evangelicals with political posturing, perhaps even rethink the very label of “evangelical” altogether. We should give careful thought to changes that need to happen to bend the weekly gathering of the church outward, such that evangelism and mission are front and center to what takes place each week.
The church needs a “renewal of mind” on these, and a myriad of other mission-shaping topics. This can’t, and won’t, happen if we simply write, read, and listen to those who think like us and say things we already affirm. Change of any sort requires humility—the kind that’s willing to discard aberrant or antiquated notions and move closer to God’s intention for his people.
Matt Rogers is a pastor at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, South Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Southeastern and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.