Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"Galatians"

The church was on a busy street, and out front was a sign reaching out to passers-by about its new weekend sermon series.

One large word was emblazoned on the sign:

“Galatians.”

Then the weekend service time of 10:30 a.m. was printed below.

That was it.

I want that church’s outreach efforts to work for them. I want people to learn about the book of Galatians, and every other book of the Bible. And I love the book of Galatians – every Holy Spirit-inspired word of it.  

But there were so many foundational outreach missteps, represented in this one simple sign, that I couldn’t help but heave a sigh of frustration.

Let’s just list three:

  1.  The word “Galatians” on a sign outside of a church, designed for people driving by in cars in a post-Christian world, means nothing. Actually, that’s wrong. It does mean something. Something weird. What is a “galatian”? Is it something the church does, something they want me to do, a self-help program, a rhyme for “salutations”? Is it like “martians” and you want me to be alarmed that they are coming? All to say, it isn’t going to be something that connects with, much less attracts, non-Christians.
     
  2. Since such a sign is clearly oriented toward transfer growth, they are exerting outreach effort for one very small segment of the Christian population. Those who: a) happen to drive by; b) are unhappy with their current church and/or looking for a church home; and c) have a keen interest in one of the less “sexy” and theologically dense New Testament books. This is a small target group for an outreach effort. Translation: not the most effective use of a sign for what is probably a cash-strapped church.
     
  3. If you are going to do a series on Galatians, and you want to use it as an outreach tool, then call it something that will either: a) describe the book’s most compelling theme to those who might be open to spiritual exploration; or b) package it as an opportunity to dig in and study the Bible. Again, anything but simply slapping “Galatians” up on a sign as if that is going to bring them in. It won’t.

Of course, the larger issue is who the church should be trying to reach when it makes an outreach effort. There is only one biblical target: those outside of the church and far from God. 

That is the Great Commission. 

You welcome everyone and pursue all of the purposes of the church as the body of Christ, but when you throw open your doors for outreach, the Bible only knows one word:

Evangelism. 

And “Galatians” on your sign isn’t going to be very effective.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Netherlands, a leader in legalized euthanasia, has seen a sharp increase in the number of people choosing to end their own lives due to mental health problems.

In 2010, just two people ended their lives due to an “insufferable” mental illness. In 2015? It leaped to 56.

In one case, universally labeled “controversial” even by Netherlands standards, a sexual abuse victim in her 20s was allowed to go ahead with the procedure on the grounds she was suffering from “incurable” PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Even so, a Dutch psychiatrist said that his colleagues are “too hesitant” about agreeing to euthanize such patients. He argues that even children as young as 12 who ask to end their lives should be taken seriously. 

To quote: “Euthanasia is a good death by the wish of the person who dies and no one else. It is an execution of the wish of a patient.” Even if the reason is that they are “tired of life.”

Translation: autonomous individual freedom is the final word, regardless of the situation and regardless of the age. 

Even if it means assisted suicide.

Most Christians are not sure what to think about this. Yes, there is a knee-jerk response to a 12 year old being assisted in taking their life because they are depressed. But do we know why there is that knee-jerk response?

And when culture increasingly normalizes it, will we even have that?

The Bible is very clear about the taking of a human life. In Exodus 20:13, in the sixth of the Ten Commandments, God says, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13, NIV).

The key word there is "murder."

Murder is the deliberate, willful, pre-meditated taking of a human life out of hatred, anger, greed or self-centered convenience. The sixth commandment is not talking about the killing that takes place in war, in self-defense or even in capital punishment. Those are important discussions, but they're not the focus of the sixth commandment.

And the sixth commandment doesn't speak to the killing of other creatures – such as animals –

… but of human beings.

The reason is simple: it's because life is sacred. Not just some lives, but every life. The fact that each and every one of us are created in the image of God gives each and every one of us infinite worth and value. Taking it upon ourselves to end a life is the ultimate act of defiance against God, for life is His and His alone to give and take.           

It doesn't matter what the quality of life is for that person. It doesn't matter what the cost of their life will be to society. It doesn't matter how productive they are, smart they are, beautiful they are. It doesn't matter whether we like them or not. 

All human beings have infinite worth because they are made in the image of God. And the taking of a life – any life – is showing contempt for God and His image. Life is sacred. It is not ours to do with as we please. 

Only God can end it or direct its ending. 

Euthanasia is the practice of assisting or enabling death, usually because the person is old, in pain or terminally ill. The word "euthanasia" is from two Greek words – "eu", which means good, and "thanatos," which means death. 

So the word literally means "good death."

And those who support euthanasia use terms carrying that sentiment, such as "mercy killing" and "death with dignity." The rationale is that individuals or family members have the right to end their own (or someone else's) life if they feel it seems unbearable.

There are two kinds of euthanasia – passive and active.

Passive euthanasia is when the individual or family members decide not to use extraordinary means to extend the process of dying when there is no hope for extending life.

Very few Christian ethicists would challenge that choice. They would add, however, that food and water are not extraordinary efforts. Those are basic needs for anyone living.

The real issue is active euthanasia, which is the direct killing of a patient because a disease may be terminal, or the choice to withhold basic assistance that would prolong life in a substantive way,

... simply to avoid pain or difficulty.

The more direct term is assisted suicide.

And it is every bit as much the taking of a human life as any other form, because it's not our life to take or our decision to make.

Compassion can be poured out on people who are suffering, and we can and should stand with them, pray for them, and encourage them to take advantage of everything that is available in terms of pain management and hospice care...

... but the taking of a life, for the sake of the quality of life, is against the sanctity of life.

So while ending our life on “our” terms sounds like a statement of personal rights that should be embraced, it’s not.

It’s playing God with our own lives.

And we’re not God.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Senay Boztas, “Netherlands sees sharp increase in people choosing euthanasia due to ‘mental health problems,’” May 11, 2016, The Telegraph, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Mention the name Peter Drucker in management circles, and a hushed silence will fall as your peers wait to see if you might have even a nugget of his wisdom that has not already been disseminated for consumption.

The famed Austrian died in 2005, but not before turning his vast experience and intellect toward the non-profit sector, benefiting churches around the world.

He once offered five questions for organizational strategic self-assessment. Not for “program” assessment or an individual performance review, mind you, but organizational assessment. To this day, most would argue that they really are the five most important questions you will ever ask about your organization.

And shockingly, few churches have ever asked them, much less wrestled with their answers.

Here they are:

1.      What Is Our Mission?

Years ago Drucker sat down with the administrators of a major hospital to think through the mission of the emergency room. They began by saying, “Our mission is health care.” 

Drucker told them that was the wrong definition.

The hospital does not take care of health; the hospital takes care of illness. Eventually they determined that their mission was: “To give assurance to the afflicted.”

The mission says why you do what you do, not the means by which you do it. It answers these questions: What is our purpose? Why do we do what we do? What, in the end, do we want to be remembered for?

So perhaps, for a church, your “why” (mission) might be: “To reach people far from God, turning them into fully-devoted followers of Jesus.” Regardless of how you word it, it will surely be some variant of the Great Commission given to us by Jesus.

2.      Who Is Our Customer?

No matter what you call them – customer, student, patient, participant, volunteer, donor or member – you have someone you are trying to reach; someone you are trying to serve.

Who is it?

As Drucker puts it: “Who must be satisfied for the organization to achieve results?” His answer for the social sector, including churches, is telling: “The primary customer is the person whose life is changed through your work… Supporting customers are volunteers, members, partners, funders, referral sources, employees, and others who must be satisfied.”

In other words, the primary customer for the church is the person far from God; the supporting customer is the person already reached.

3.      What Does the Customer Value?

When you ask what a customer values, you are asking what satisfies their needs, wants and aspirations. This is so complicated that it can, of course, only be answered by the customers themselves.   

This may be the most important question of the five. Yet, as Drucker notes, it is the one least often asked. 

A complicating factor is the reality of multiple constituencies. When I was president of a leading graduate school, I had to be mindful of a vast array of support customers: faculty, staff, trustees, donors, alumni, community residents; not to mention the primary customer – the student. 

But take your eye off the ball of your primary customer, and you will negate the very reason you exist. So for a church, perhaps the most telling question is what a person far from God values when it comes to exploring God. 

Very few churches know the answer.

4.      What Are Our Results?

Drucker wisely notes that the results of social sector organizations are always measured outside the organization in changed lives and changed conditions. 

So what does this mean for a church?

What should be appraised and judged so that resources can be concentrated for results?

In a penetrating assessment, Drucker notes that one of the most important questions for nonprofit leadership is: “Do we produce results that are sufficiently outstanding for us to justify putting our resources in this area?”

He would argue that need alone does not justify continuing. Nor does tradition. Like the New Testament parable of the talents, Drucker would challenge that the job of leadership is to invest resources where the returns are manifold, where you can have success. 

This shift in thinking – from “needs” to “results” – may be among the most challenging areas for leaders to grapple.

5.      What Is Our Plan?

Everything about self-assessment should lead to a plan – a plan that encompasses mission, vision, goals, objectives, action steps, a budget and appraisal. 

And be careful with goals. They are critical, to be sure. “Goals flow from mission, aim the organization where it must go, build on strength, address opportunity, and taken together, outline your desired future.”

But they should be few in number. Classic Drucker: “If you have more than five goals, you have none.”

He then adds the five elements of effective plans: 1) abandonment (meaning abandoning what does not work, or in truth, has never worked); 2) concentration (strengthening what does work); 3) innovation (looking for tomorrow’s success); 4) risk taking (planning where to take the risks); and 5) analysis (marking out what you do not know, but need to know). 

But through it all, one overarching question reigns supreme:

What do we want to be remembered for?

James Emery White

 

Sources

Peter Drucker, et al., The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

There is a growing sense that conservative Christians are not only losing the transgender debate, but that they will lose it completely in the end. There are reasons being given for this outcome, as outlined in a recent article for Religion News Service by journalist Jonathan Merritt, including: a focusing more on ideology than on people and their individual stories; quoting Scripture instead of looking to science; and relying on fear in terms of cultural impact.

I actually agree with all three assessments. Perhaps not with how they are always caricatured; but they are, in essence, valid. And yes, they may cost conservative Christians the transgender debate in the public square of culture.

And it will be for all the right reasons. 

There is a growing, worrisome sentiment within some Christian ranks that the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to lose minds in a court of public opinion. So, the thinking goes, we should drop that issue. Capitulate. Give in to culture. Don’t fight it – because if you do, you’ll lose. 

And losing is everything. 

No. It is not.

Abandoning orthodoxy is everything.

Let’s return to the three reasons being cited for losing the transgender debate:

1.  Focusing on Ideology Over People

When conservative Christians talk about transgender issues, they bring up worldview and doctrine, ideology and transcendent truth. Those opposed tell stories of transgender people – their hurts and fears, worries and anxieties. They make it about personal choice and personal happiness. As one writer put it, “Narrative framing usually wins in public debates because it touches listeners’ hearts.”

He’s right.

Now, to be fair, this narrative could be shattered by a single story of an eight-year-old girl assaulted by a man citing “bathroom rights” to have gained predatory access to her in a restroom stall, but let’s put that aside for a moment.

Stories do, after all, cut both ways.

But in light of our culture’s greatest value being that of individual freedom, there is no doubt anything that would seek to curtail that freedom from being expressed is going to be a minority report.

So does this mean we must abandon ideology and go with individual freedom because we’re losing the cultural debate? That because they have the personal narrative – the “face” to go along with it – we must throw up our hands and say, “You win!”? And not only “You win,” but “You must be right!”?

No. If anything, Christians of all stripes – conservative or not – should become increasingly prepared to be in the minority on this and many other issues in an increasingly post-Christian and openly Christian-hostile context.

We can have robust conversations about whether an ideology is biblical, but to abandon ideology because it “loses” when compared to personal story means that all of revealed truth stands subject to the whims, circumstances and desires of individuals.

That is not the meaning of transcendent truth, much less the heart of the Christian faith.

2.  Quoting Scripture Instead of Science

There are few thinking Christians – conservative or otherwise – who believe science and Scripture are in conflict with one another. What most would argue is that: 1) Science should not be limited to solely naturalistic theories and postulates and 2) Science is often in flux, so before a “seeming” conflict with Scripture is embraced, let’s give the Scriptures the benefit of the doubt and make sure we're interpreting it fairly in regard to authorial intent. And to date, what has science found that has contradicted scripture? Certainly not something as exaggerated as evolution. Genesis says that God did it and that it was good. It never says how God did it. All Christians would argue is that much of evolutionary theory sure does seem to need a guiding force and/or a helping hand behind it.

So is science on one side or the other of the transgender debate? And are Christians burying their heads (or minds) in the sand when it comes to that science? 

Hardly.

For example, some would point to intersex persons (those who used to be designated as “hermaphrodites”) as a scientific proof against the Bible’s statements that there are two sexes, and that God created humanity to be one or the other. This is such a statistically small percentage, even among the already statistically small percentage of transgenders, that it fails to speak to the wider cultural issues at hand. 

But even more to the point, when a person is born with both a penis and a vagina, does anyone view this as a biological normalcy? As a story on intersex children in Time magazine noted, in the medical establishment, the wide variety of conditions that might be referred to as “intersex” are typically referred to as “disorders of sex development.” 

So theologically, rather than see the existence of such people as proof of God’s will in creation, they are more the result of the fall, which has led to a wide range of physical disorders that are not God’s perfect will for His creation at all. 

In the recent past, such rare conditions were addressed surgically. Only of late have such “normalizing” interventions become contested as if somehow this is a condition to be embraced on grounds of individual freedom. A cynic might say that an obscure medical condition that has historically been considered something to be treated has been co-opted by a larger agenda to make a case for things far from related to its medical case.

The broader science on such issues is much clearer, as I detailed in an earlier blog here.

3.  Relying on Fear

There were many mistakes made by Christians in the early years of the ascendance of what was then known as the “homosexual agenda”: the hate-filled rhetoric, the fear-mongering about the demise of all marriages, and more. 

And I agree that much of this was reprehensible (the hate), and the rest irrelevant (the fear). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be afraid or cast the appalling vision of where certain decisions will inevitably lead. 

Slippery slopes are real. I’ve written about them most recently here. In truth, much that conservative Christians warned about, whether in a spirit of fear-mongering or not, has taken place. The acceptance of homoerotic behavior did lead to gay marriage; gay marriage has led to a flood of cases arguing for polygamy; and now, we see the “T” in LGBT is getting its desired place. Maddening as it may be for some to hear, right or wrong, this would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.

In this “debate,” I know of no Christians of prominence calling for the removal of basic rights from transgender people; no one is spending time on whether their lifestyle is a “choice” or not; money is not flooding in to send them to rehabilitation programs; no one is saying that if they get the Zika virus, it’s God’s judgment on them.

Believe it or not, this really is about maintaining personal convictions about sexual identity, and having those convictions not be violated in ways that are deeply personal and private.

And while bathroom rapes may not suddenly flood trending stories on Facebook, women will be exposed to people of an opposite sex in the most personal and private areas of life (bathrooms), and even nudity (public changing rooms/showers). That isn’t fear-mongering, that is simply a description of the “right” being argued for from the LGBT community and their supporters.

So yes, once again, we may lose another cultural debate. But again, for all the right reasons.

And better to lose this battle than the larger war of compromise,

…and our souls in the process.

James Emery White


Sources

Jonathan Merritt, “3 reasons conservative Christians will lose the transgender debate,” May 14, 2016, Religion News Service, read online.

Katy Steinmetz, “This is what intersex means,” November 21, 2014, Time, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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