GCI Caribbean Nations Mission Developer Charles Fleming continues the series begun last month, now looking at the role the church has in facilitating a process that leads to worldview conversion.
How can we, under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd Jesus Christ, help our members understand the need many of them have for the conversion of their personal worldview into greater alignment with the mind of Christ? I’ve wrestled with that question since 2004, when I began seeing the need for the realignment of my own worldview.
The role of the church
As I wrestled, it became clear that the place to begin is with an understanding of the disciple-making mission given by Jesus to his church. Only then can we understand how discipling people includes helping them embrace a worldview that aligns with the mind of Christ rather than with the values, perspectives and assumptions of the dominant, secular culture.
Note what the apostle Peter wrote to Christians concerning this issue:
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Pet. 2: 9-12)
As Scott McKnight points out in his commentary on 1 Peter, this passage is one of the earliest examples of an answer to a vital question: How are Christians to interact with society and culture? As McKnight notes, Peter’s letter sheds light on “one of the first struggles in the church with society” (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Peter, p. 37).
The Christians Peter wrote to were being marginalized and even ridiculed by the society around them. More and more, they were being viewed as enemies of the culture’s vision of the good life. But what relevance does Peter’s advice to 1st-century Christians have for us in 21st-century Western culture? The answer is that it has a great deal of relevance. You see, there was a time when Western culture gave Christianity an honored, even favored position. But times have changed, and the leading Western culture-shaping institutions are now largely post-Christian, even anti-Christian. As a result, like the Christians Peter wrote to in the 1st century, Christians in the West today are both marginalized and ridiculed.
The need for renewal
It’s widely recognized that the church’s influence on the culture in the West today is small (and in many places, nearly non-existent). But that situation is not new. As many church historians note, when societal conditions favor Christianity, the church tends to become more conformed to the culture with the result being that its witness to the culture is weakened. But when the church is under duress, it tends to live closer to its calling from God, and its witness to the culture is strengthened. So, though many Christians decry the lack of Christian influence in Western culture today, there is hope for the church and its witness, just as there was in Peter’s day—if (and this is a big if) the church—perhaps even a small part of it—is renewed in its calling to be the redemptive presence of Jesus in the world.
The fruit of renewal
In the passage in 1 Peter quoted above, the apostle points out six ways Christians are renewed as individuals when the church as a whole is renewed in its calling:
- Their identity is renewed. They begin to see themselves for who they are—”A people belonging to God.” As that happens, they discover the freedom and personal dignity that comes with letting God, and not the surrounding culture, define their identity.
- Their sense of calling is renewed. They begin to understand that they are “a royal priesthood,” called to serve with Christ, the High Priest, as he sacrificially and redemptively serves humankind. As they are renewed in their sense of calling, their experience of joy grows.
- Their priorities in life are renewed. They begin to see that their number-one priority is to live within the culture in such a way that non-Christians take positive note and God is glorified.
- They are set free to live counter-culturally. Setting a positive example for non-Christians does not mean capitulating to the dominant, secular culture. Instead Christians, to quote Peter, are “aliens and strangers in the world”—not rejecting the people in the world but rejecting the culture’s secular worldview with its unchristian (Peter calls it “pagan”) beliefs, values and perspectives. Peter’s admonition emphasizes the need we all have as followers of Jesus to be aware of the impact that the secular culture has on the way we think about all manner of issues.
- They are set free to belong. Christians have a dual citizenship—usually citizens of the nation in which they reside and also citizens of what Peter calls “a holy nation.” This nation (God’s kingdom) is holy because it has been formed and set apart by God for his purposes. Though invisible to most people, God calls this nation forth as his servants in the world (Phil. 3:20). Though as citizens of God’s nation we may feel marginalized (even disenfranchised) within the nation in which we reside, we know who we belong to and that gives us great joy and hope.
- They are given lives that matter. Our lives within the communion of the saints (the church), in union and communion with Christ, have eternal value. That value may not be evident to all the people around us (and sometimes it’s even hidden from us), but we are confident knowing that what we do in Christ’s service will, in time, be seen by all, and they will “glorify God on the day he visits us.” As members of the body of Christ, the church, we are participants in a precious work that is not ours to control, but to which we gladly give our lives, knowing its eternal implications. Any perceived loss of influence in the larger culture is more than offset by this eternal perspective.
It begins with us
As GCI pastors and ministry leaders, we might be thinking that it’s a tall order to lead our congregations in the sort of renewal Peter envisions. Where would we begin? My answer is that it starts with each of us seeking deeply personal answers to the following questions:
- Is my goal in life to so grow in Christ that living to glorify God and point other to God becomes my number-one passion?
- Do I self-identify as a priest (minister) of Jesus, living in a Christian-unfriendly environment, yet seeking to love people who are often indifferent or even hostile to my Lord?
- Does the reality of living counter-culturally shape my aspirations and expectations as to what my life should be like? Or do I simply default to the aspirational dream of the dominant secular culture around me?
- When I am being counter-cultural, do my critiques of my culture emerge from Jesus’ rule over my mind and heart, or are my critiques merely the reflection of a social or political ideology in the country where I live?
- Do the eternal implications of my participation in Jesus’ ministry create a sense of urgency in me to more effectively participate with Jesus in living for the sake of others?
I encourage you to prayerfully discuss your answers to these questions with God. For me, doing so is a lifetime challenge—one that, from time-to-time, requires periods of focused reflection. It’s amazing how deep into our souls the influence of the dominant culture reaches!
Having experienced a certain degree of worldview conversion in our own lives, we can reach out to help our members examine the need they have for renewal. In some (many?) cases, that will mean modification (even radical transformation) to the worldview they now hold. To help you think about this challenge, here are some ideas to consider:
1. Help your members identify the cultural assumptions that are incompatible with a Christ-centered worldview. Gary Deddo lists several of these assumptions in his article in this issue. To follow through, we will need to educate ourselves concerning worldview issues. Hopefully, this series of articles in Equipper will help. You might also read some of the books and other resources being referenced in the series, and use them as guide to research the topic for yourself on the internet.
If we fail to educate our members on these issues, they will tend to take what we preach and teach and cherry-pick the points that align with their current worldview—one that might be seriously at odds with the mind of Christ. Helping members attend to the conversion of their worldview is necessary, foundational work for us as pastors called to help facilitate the life-transformation Jesus offers his people by the Holy Spirit.
2. Develop a clear mental model as to what a worldview is. I find the diagram below to be helpful in assessing the influence our worldviews have on us. It shows the correlation between our values/beliefs and our worldview, helping us see where our actions and decisions come from.
Note in the diagram that behavior, which is visible to others, is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Beneath it are what is less visible—the beliefs, values and perspectives that shape behavior. In some cases, we ourselves may act out of what might be called unconscious values, where things just “feel right” and we act accordingly. Undergirding all this—shaping and integrating our values and beliefs—is our worldview. Though it often goes unrecognized, it is a powerful force that determines how we view reality and thus how we think and act. As Gary Deddo points out in his article in this issue, a Christ-centered worldview is undergirded by a theological understanding, which is then undergirded by Scripture, with Jesus, the Living Word of God, being the cornerstone that undergirds it all (Eph. 2:20-21).
3. Use the diagram above to help you answer these questions:
- Why did I act or decide the way I did? What value, belief or assumption might be behind what I said or did?
- Why do I find it so easy to support or oppose… (name a given cause)?
4. Follow the steps below in helping your members assess which aspects of the prevailing secular worldview might be forming the worldview that currently prevails within your congregation:
- Through Scripture reading and Spirit-guided prayer, ask yourself this: How well do my members understand their identity and their calling in the light of Peter’s instructions? You can adapt the questions you asked yourself to congregants as you discuss this with the Holy Spirit.
- Preach interactive sermons on Jesus’ design for the church, showing how Christian witness in your nation may have come short of some aspects of this beautiful description of our calling. In your messages, reflect on how failure to live out elements of Peter’s description may have triggered reactions in the culture and paved the way for some of the erroneous worldview issues to gain influence in the larger culture. Learn from what is said during these interactive sessions. The way people respond may reveal where they are—aligned with our calling, or perhaps out of step. Use what you learn as the basis for additional conversation and teaching.
- Be patient. Worldview conversion is not a one-shot project—it’s a lifelong journey best done in community. Note in 1 Peter that the apostle’s leadership was marked by giving the people he served high support and high challenge, with grace always. Let’s invite our members to join us in a journey of attending to our worldviews—the “place” where we integrate (knowingly or unknowingly) the values, beliefs and assumptions that determine how we think and then live.