Fads. Fads have become the driving force behind many of the most visible and familiar movements within the church. Entire ministries have arisen on the premise of bridging the gap between Cross and culture, and that’s a legitimate, scripturally sanctioned tactic (see Acts 17:22-31, et al). There’s nothing new about that really – there’s always been a tendency to mimic the secular culture in an attempt to piggyback on the common ground. Our music is a great example. Even the outward expressions of our movement’s early picture of ‘holiness’ were formed by embracing a sort of Victorian era understanding of modesty common at the time. We are definitely ‘in’ the world, despite being no longer ‘of’ it, and sometimes we get a little bit of it ‘on’ us. The problem arises when the vernacular of the world becomes the vernacular of the church, and critical distinctions are lost in it’s embrace. The church is not just another social entity or cultural expression. This ain’t the Elks club, chil’ren! We are the earthly expression of the very presence of Christ himself – we are the light of the world! That being said, we often find ourselves so anxious to be understood that we end up modifying to the point of qualifying. When Paul contextualized his appeal on Mars Hill, he didn’t restrict his point to the validity of their familiar verse – he extracted the truth inherent in that insecurity. His intent was not to make ‘the unknown God’ a synonym for Christ, it was to make Christ the replacement for their uncertainty by introducing them to Him.
One of the titles that leadership in the American church has embraced over the past generation is that of ‘coach’. Before my torch-bearing friends come a’calling, let me explain. In our context (and I suspect in many others), one of the most familiar role models for young men and women is that of the coach – a mature adult ostensibly embued with the information and skills necessary to reach a particular goal, whether that be a team championship or some other recognition of personal achievement. In a culture whose worst fundamental problems have their roots in the breakdown of the family unit, a strong, accomplished voice willing to invest in the next generation is a willing adjunct, and can do immense good. I’m a fan. Unfortunately and somewhat understandably, the aspiration of many developing Christian leaders is to be primarily a good coach. There’s much more to it than that!
A coach is in the business of developing potential – a pastor is in the business of building disciples. Often those goals and methods overlap and are complementary, but many times discipleship involves NOT prevailing or even excelling. A biblical disciple must above all else answer the question posited by the recent Christian fad (go figure) – what would Jesus do? The plain truth of the matter is that He was not in the least concerned with ‘winning’ in the carnal sense. The victory Christ’s life and teachings speaks of is internalized – not surpassing the performance of others, but overcoming the inclinations of the sinful flesh. Therein is the distinction, and the danger. Too many in the kingdom are thinking with the mindset of team-speak –“how am I doing compared to others?”. The apostle Paul specifically warned against that tendency (2 Corinthians 10:12), yet the perpetual vortex of our own vanity pulls us in that direction. Ministries are evaluated by their performance, ministers are evaluated by their relative effectiveness, and laymen are judged by their conformity to accepted standards. While that sort of structured evaluation can provide a framework for personal and even corporate development, it does little to address the key need of the individual disciple – how do I live a life of personal victory over sin? A coach will speak to that question in terms of the deleterious effects of particular behaviors – how they effect the quality of life. The pastor or Christian mentor must address the more important question – how that sin effects the existence of that life. The message screaming from the bloody cross is so much more important than who wins…it’s who lives! Many have died in absolute victory alongside absolute penury, a concept totally foreign to those who measure their worth by their relative perceived value.
Of course the pursuit of genuine discipleship is invigorated by a spirit of excellence, but not for the sake of personal gain. The fundamental question, and truly the only one that should act as pretext to any decision in the believer’s life, is whether or not this choice or that is in the will of God. Sometimes that requires abandonment of ‘father and mother, houses and lands’ (Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29, Luke 18:29), something unheard of in the context of strategic coaching. It may be true that a good coach will sometimes break down in order to build back up, but a disciple may be tasked with breaking down without promise of building back up. Our brothers in missions countries answer the call by packing their belongings in the coffin they expect to be buried in with no expectation of return or earthly reward – only the knowledge that they are in the will of God – for them, that is enough. At the end of this life we will not be measured by our success, our relative value, or our prestige – only by one thing — our faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4). Christ’s faithfulness, even unto death (Philippians 2:8), was not for personal advancement – His blood was shed as ransom for our sins. While the metaphor of the ‘team’ is a wonderful moralistic teaching aid and God’s blessings are part of the promise of a life lived in submission to Him, the truth of our redemption boils down to one question that persists all the days of our lives – it must be the singular existential question of our faith. The only question that really bears an eternal answer is “..what did you do with the blood of Jesus?”.