Problem Is Not Lack of Political Involvement
by Bill Barnwell
previous column "Our
Hope is in the Gospel, Not Politics and Government," evoked
a large response from readers. A few dissenters wanted to know exactly
what my solution was for Christians who are failing to have a substantial
impact on their culture. The issue on a whole is complex and to
adequately address it requires much more space than can be given
here. Two destructive pillars, however, are seriously hampering
Christian influence on a whole. Those pillars are laziness and mediocrity.
If our ultimate hope is in the gospel, then the gospel carriers
need a strong jolt to refresh their lazy and lukewarm faith.
be frank, Christians are becoming increasingly irrelevant in society.
Congregations continue to shrink. Negative perceptions of Christians
are on the rise. Society continues its drift away from Christian
values. Yet where do many Christians turn to find their solution
to this mess? They turn to the government and its coercive bondage
instead of to Christ and His liberating freedom.
many Christians believe that if only we can replace the "wrong"
politicians with the "right" ones, we will be able to
legislate our way into becoming a holy and pure nation. As I pointed
out in my previous column, this method has produced little if any
fruit. How then can the Christian have a meaningful impact on society?
Christians have devoted much work to political activism, whether
they know it or not they are attempting easy solutions for complex
problems. While some truly believe government coercion is the sure
way to bring about desired change, others simply just donít want
to deal with the tougher issues. Those tougher issues require reaching
peopleís hearts and minds and doing the things Scripture actually
tells Christians that they should do (following the Great Commission,
meeting human needs, being a vibrant church, etc.). I will argue
that the reasons many Christians donít make these efforts is (partly)
because they are too lazy to do so and have settled for mediocrity
instead of greatness.
Lazy Church of Today
are jumping the gun. They think they can change peopleís votes before
changing their hearts. Perhaps it is because the latter requires
too much work. Iíve worked political campaigns. Iíve sat on Right
to Life boards. I even was a campaign manager for a successful city
council campaign in Michiganís third largest city back in 1999.
I know how much time and work political activism requires.
a pastor, however, I also see how much more difficult and
important it is to reach and transform peoples hearts and
minds. This means more than changing their votes from Democratic
to Republican. In short, it means taking the Great Commission seriously.
Sadly, not many Christians do take it seriously these days.
wonder how many politically charged Christians put the same amount
of zeal into their efforts to "witness" to nonbelievers
that they do into their efforts to campaign for a particular politician.
I also wonder how many Christians period take evangelism seriously
today. From my several years in ministry and being involved in different
churches, the answer is "not many." Itís much easier to
prattle off about politicians than it is to engage in real Christian
service which is the job of all believers.
also much easier just to do nothing, which is a great bulk of what
Christians do. The most productive thing many Christians do is keep
a pew warm for an hour and a half every Sunday (or once or twice
a month). A common saying in church circles is that "Fifteen
percent of the people do eighty-five percent of the work."
Iíve never attempted to empirically measure the truth of that statement,
but my experience tells me itís not all that far off.
do Christians think they are going to make a difference in society
when they canít even perform the basic tasks that keep their churches
healthy and productive? Ask anyone in ministerial leadership, itís
usually the same people who volunteer and get involved in every
major and minor initiative facing the church. The churches that
donít reflect this laziness and have a strong percentage of lay
member involvement are the churches that are growing and reaching
people. But involvement takes effort, and thatís something most
Christians arenít willing to give.
many Christians for help, time, or tithes is like pulling teeth
in a church. I often wonder what the Church would look like if the
85% of uninvolved Christians decided to become as devoted and caring
as the 15% of involved Christians. The result would probably be
a Church that took evangelism seriously, a Church that could meet
social needs (and did not toss that responsibility to the government),
and a Church that reflected the love and attitude of Christ instead
of the ho-hum and indifferent attitude it has today. I think a Church
like that could accomplish far more than the modern day politicized
Christian Right could ever imagine.
most peculiar reason for Christian laziness and inactivity is the
current fascination with the "end-times." When one pastor
was talking to a Christian woman about the need to have a greater
impact on society, she replied to him and Iím not joking "Well
if we do that then Jesus is not going to come back for us!"
Since this individual believed that Jesus would only return when
the world had gone to Hades in a handbasket, it made little sense
to try and actually improve society and make a difference in life.
this line of reasoning, itís actually more desirable for
Christians to be lazy and do nothing since Jesus will only come
when the world is sufficiently screwed up enough. Thus horrible
things like war, poverty, destruction, etc., are actually not so
bad since these problems will usher in Jesusí return. Even if it
turns out that this interpretation of the "end-times"
is correct, doesnít it make sense for the Church to have as much
influence as it can before all these calamities strike? It does,
but again, itís easier just to sit back and do nothing.
Mediocre Church of Today
troubling aspect of Christianity today is its satisfaction with
mediocrity. Letís face it; Christians often have a deserved reputation
for doing things less successfully than their secular counterparts.
How many prominent Christian entrepreneurs, academics, artists,
think-tanks, colleges, etc., are making a significant impact on
society today? Chances are you can count them all on both of your
convenient way to avoid this reality is to wrap our failures and
mediocrities up in spiritual language. When Iíve pointed this out
to others in the past Iíve been charged with being "worldly."
Itís very true that success in Godís eyes is different from success
in the worldís eyes. But when it comes to the various affairs, pursuits,
and endeavors of life, why shouldnít Christians be succeeding in
these various realms at a greater or at least same pace as their
secular counterparts? If Christians are to do all things for "Godís
glory," why is so much of their work mediocre?
talk about how they can do "all things through Christ who strengthens
me" (Philippians 4:13) but most actually strive for very little.
Churches today are dwindling in size and influence. The average
Protestant congregation in America is 100 people or less. Itís true
that itís not "all about numbers" and that "bigger
is not always better," but thereís a problem when a group of
Christians are utterly incapable of reaching anyone in their community
(many of these small churches are composed of "family clans"
who make up a large percentage of the membership).
in particular are so caught up in mediocrity that they are fond
of criticizing those who strive for greater things. There is a trend
Iíve noticed where Christians are almost embittered at churches
that are larger and more successful than their own. They figure
if a church is large and has a receptive audience then it must be
"liberal" or that there must be something else wrong with
it. Hence, they congratulate and piously puff themselves up for
their mediocrity and criticize those who are actually making a difference
and impacting people. How convenient.
pious Christian, perhaps some of these churches are successful for
the wrong reasons. Or perhaps you are just jealous of any Christian
who does not follow your same lazy and mediocre model of Christianity.
Maybe instead of criticizing these churches and Christians you should
learn a little from them.
of accomplishing and being all we can be, all too often we Christians
settle for second best and underestimate both ourselves and the
potential impact of the Church. Instead of facing our problems head
on we excuse our lack of relevance with spiritual excuses. The Church
is capable of so much more than it gives itself credit for. Christians
ought to get off their lazy behinds and claim this power of God
they so often talk about but so seldom display.
Potential Church of Tomorrow
Christian Right needs to clean up its own backyard before it thinks
it can impose a political Messianic Superstate. Greater problems
face the Church than not enough Christians voting. The fact that
so many Christians are Biblically illiterate (including life-long
attenders!) and care little for evangelism and discipleship are
bigger concerns. The fact that so many Christians prefer laziness,
inactivity, and mediocrity to excellence, success, and reaching
their full potentials should be more alarming. The fact that the
real outreach and ministry of Christianity is being largely neglected
should make even the most politically zealous Christian pause.
want results Christians? Then motivate your people to get off their
lazy butts. Take a break from the potlucks, Vegas nights, church
softball games, and just plain doing nothing and get involved in
what Scripture actually requires of you. That means you must learn
the Scriptures. Learn what it means to be a disciple. Learn what
it takes to make disciples. Learn to love and care for people (yep,
even those people who donít watch Fox News!). Learn to reflect the
character of Christ to other people. Take seriously the Great Commission.
Cast off your laziness and mediocrity and exchange it for diligence
could add things like learning the value of being peacemakers instead
of warmongers (Matt. 5:9) and teaching the importance of being industrious
and hard-working (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but the above is a good
starting point for Christians of any stripe and theological heritage
who are concerned about being a positive influence in society. To
those who have written to me and complained that I have seemingly
discounted the merits of political activism, I say that your activism
is meaningless and will continue to bear no fruit until the Church
on a whole awakens from its spiritual slumber.
have failed so frequently. The Church has disappointed so often.
The good news, however, is that there is so much potential. This
potential is not only for the universal Church, but for average
and ordinary Christians everywhere. Who says we canít become the
kind of Christians the Bible calls us to be? Who says we canít compete
with the secular world in everything from academics, to business,
to the arts, to whatever? The only reason the Church is as lackluster
as it is now is because it has allowed itself to be. Yet this is
not what we have to settle for. We are capable of much more.
now, Christians needs to get their focus off of coercive government,
and onto being the kind of people that the Bible says we are to
be. Weíre so worried about everyone else that weíve forgotten about
ourselves. As a result weíve gotten lazy and inefficient. Letís
straighten up our own house before we attempt to straighten up everyone
elseís. Sure, it might take a little more effort than political
activism, but I think it will be worth it. The question is do you?
Barnwell [send him mail]
is a pastor in Swartz Creek, Michigan, and a Masterís of ministry
student at Bethel College.
© 2004 LewRockwell.com