From homosexuality to abortion, from legalized marijuana to racism, the culture we live in is filled with “hot potato” issues. Issues that are hard to handle and seem like you can’t touch without getting into a mess of opinions, charged emotions, heated debate and relational tension. Everybody knows what it’s like when a political or moral subject is brought up around the family Thanksgiving table, and all the sudden you can cut the tension in the air with a knife. Unfortunately, it’s not just a family gathering phenomenon, “hot potato” issues come to the surface in just about every venue of life. And to be sure, it’s easy to get burned without ever even knowing what happened.
Unfortunately, Christians (and churches) have often unnecessarily stirred the pot and poured gasoline on these charged issues instead of being a source of healing, understanding, and mutual respect. Are there perfect ways to handle these issues and respond to these hot topics within our culture? No, not usually. But, there are better ways!
Here are a few suggestions for Christians and churches…
1) Cut the one-sided message game. – “Wow, that message on the church sign (or billboard) has totally changed my mind” said no one ever.
These issues are too big and too personal for one sided statements blurted out into the public. From sidewalk agenda-preaching of things that people are against to messages of the like held on signs, these one-sided methods, though probably well intentioned, have greater propensity to do more harm than good. Clever statements on signs, billboards, mailings etc. rarely influence people onto your thinking, but polarize the issues and the people involved. Those who think like you smile inside and join your cause, those that don’t, don’t and won’t. Besides, most people read into what is read or said through their own experiences and beliefs and interpret them differently. The chances of being misunderstood and communicating an unintended message greatly increase through these methods. These highly charged issues are too important, complex, personal and volatile to simply blurt out a one sided, over simplified message about, even as crafty, well intentioned, and clever as they might seem to be.
2) Don’t hide behind Facebook (or any other social media). – “Man, if they hadn’t made that status statement of their views against _________, I would still be so ignorant and misguided.” said no one ever.
Facebook, Twitter etc. can be a place to begin a meaningful conversation about tough issues, but rarely do people use it in that way. Rather, they vomit out their thoughts and beliefs about certain hot topics in a 50 character status update and then hide behind the distance and safe-zone that social media platforms afford. If you want to ride your soapbox regarding heated issues without having real, meaningful conversations that actually go somewhere, keep blasting your trumpet through your status update and taking it down once someone comments with an opposing view. If you are out to feel better about yourself and get a rush from the praise of your like-minded choir, than Facebook etc. is your “hot potato” place. If changed lives, mutual respect, and real dialogue are what you seek, social media may be a place to begin, but it’s never the place to stay or end. Make sure you are open to conversation, dialogue, opposing views, and kindly giving mutual respect before you use social media in addressing tough social issues.
3) Get face to face- “The fact that no one has ever taken the time to talk with me (not just to me) has truly been the difference that has changed my whole way of thinking.” said no one ever.
To0 many churches hide in their buildings and programs, and too many Christians hide behind their social media. It’s amazing how a conversation can change when two (or more) people meet physically, face to face. Or at least, voice to voice. 70% of communication is non-verbal, so imagine all that’s missing when we don’t take the time to be with people, in the flesh. These issues are far too important than to settle for anything less than face to face, voice to voice conversations. Are face to face conversations always possible? No. But chances are you can find a better way than texting, tweets, Facebook, and Pinterest to dive into these sensitive, toxic issues.
4) Start with listening, begin and end with Grace-
“When I realized they weren’t listening to me and couldn’t wait to tell me what I should think, feel, and do, it made their Bible bashing statements of fear, guilt, and shame all the more powerful to turn my stupid thinking and sin-living life around. Deep down I knew all I needed was a healthy dose of condemnation and a few “to do” programs and messages to get me on the right path” said no one ever.
Influence is gained through listening, a change of mind is gained through Grace. Grace is not a reduction of nor a retreat from truth. Rather it is the truth seen through and dealt with through Grace. Everyone has a story that if you don’t learn about and understand, you forfeit your ability to minister the Gospel into their lives. Every person is different, and the Gospel is personal to every person’s life. You can’t communicate the Gospel personally without knowing the person. Most people have never had a person truly hear their pain. Most Christians and Churches don’t begin with listening, but begin with admonishing, correcting, and quoting. And then we wonder why our message rarely gains any traction within our broken, hurting culture. Furthermore, when we speak, we tend to lead with the Law. “You need to do this, change that, stop this, start that, join this, sign up for that” As well intentioned as our programs and prescriptions might be, they actually end up further imprisoning rather than setting free. Why? Because they lean towards the Law, and not on the pure Gospel of God’s Grace. The Law never changed anyone, the Gospel can change everyone. No one has ever become Holy through punishment, nor proclamations of condemnation, rules, and areas where one does not measure up or is getting it wrong. Christians and Churches have become impotent and irrelevant in our culture today because no matter our worship styles, logos, and campaigns, the Law in any shape or form is irrelevant and impotent to change lives. And don’t be fooled, great numbers of baptisms, church memberships and the like may be nothing more than a sign that we have successfully inspired people to perform a religious ritual to begin their journey into becoming a performance driven Christian in our life enhancement club. The only thing that is relevant and potent to change minds and hearts is the Gospel of God’s Grace. Start with listening, begin and end with Grace. People who get true Grace, don’t sin more, they sin less. You can never have too much nor give too much Gospel Grace. More Grace, more thankfulness. More Grace, more repentance. More Grace, more faithfulness. More Grace, more obedience. It is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. It is the Grace of God that enables people to reign in life, not rules, spiritual gymnastics, church traditions, guilt trips, fear tactics, punishment, Bible bashing, clever programs, stage lighting, skinny jeans, and hip sermon series.
Let’s open our ears and trust the Gospel of Grace. Let’s be less clever and more caring. Less shock and awe, more respect and carefulness. Let’s be more accessible and less one-sided in our communication as we all seek to be Jesus in a “hot potato” world.
What would you add to this list? Looking forward to your thoughts!