Evangelical Christianity laments the direction of the culture, especially among the younger generations. They do so because this generation (and all generations) struggle with authority. The resistance exists in listening to the previous generations. They roll their eyes and want affirmation of how they already are and rebuff any suggestion for life adjustments and change. The only change many accept, they say, is that which benefits their self-interests.
Sadly, this is all hyperbole (obviously not everyone in those aforementioned generations is like this) but also reveals a blindspot.
Many churches have perfected this mindset long before this present culture took center stage.
I preached on Acts 16:11-15 yesterday. Before I go any further, let me put this passage before us:
So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day, we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:11-15 ESV).
Lydia was already a worshiper of God, meaning she was a Gentile worshiping in the Jewish manner and rite. Looking back, we can see that God prepared Lydia to receive the promises made in the Old Testament fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. She could have said, “I am already a worshiper of God, so do not ask me to change my affiliation.”
I talk to younger pastors frequently (some of them were in my youth group I led back in the mists of time) who go into churches who greet them with enthusiasm about the future. It is entirely understandable. Pastors come in with what is known on a resume and in interviews. They fill in the unknown gaps by the experiences and desires of the voting congregation.
So, when the proverbial honeymoon period is over, disappointments set in. The incoming pastors do not fulfill those personal (and unspoken) expectations. Unless a recognition on behalf of the incoming pastor and the congregation happens regarding these blindspots and unrealistic expectations, challenging times will arise. Trust erodes, frustrations mount, fractures expand, and relationships end. Pastors and churches move forward with hurt and experiences that fuel future encounters.
We all struggle with one perceived need: affirmation. We all want to be loved as we are without question. Everyone wants and needs friends who care for us unconditionally–something quite rare in this age. Yet, the level of this affirmation for the Christian does not stay on the level of, “You are great just the way you are. Be true to yourself and do not change for anyone or anything.” On the contrary, God affirms us as image-bearers of God and followers of Jesus who want to be more like Christ and are ready to deny self. In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus tells His disciples:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
We must lose our life for the sake of Christ and the gospel if we want to keep our life. The world may affirm us, but Christ will reject us.
So here are some questions to think on:
- Do pastors pastor for affirmation from their congregation?
- Do congregants expect complete and total affirmation from their Bible reading, prayer time, or worship services?
- Can we handle being told that we do not measure up but that we need to grow into the measure of Christ (Eph 4:13)?
- Is the reason we want to please people is because we want people pleased with us?
We must realize that the only point where we arrive is when we arrive in glory. Our affirmation comes based on our identity, relationship, and rescue grounded in the person and work of Christ. Everything He works in your life is to build up. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, notice what His Word does:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture teaches content, shows where we have strayed, shows how to repent (not just in emotional sorrow but in action), and what lessons we learned from these experiences so we may train others. A call for change in the believer’s hearts and minds is not a denial of God’s affirmation but an embracing of this. God loves you as you are, but He also loves you enough not to leave you the way you are.
Christ calls us to holiness, not merely good-enough-ed-ness. We no longer want self-affirmation or neighborly affirmation, but God’s affirmation.