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6 Ways to Fail Spectacularly at Outreach

Ever since writing a book on holiness, the first question I typically get asked is how Christians should engage the increasingly unchristian culture around them. America, and many other first-world countries, were largely Christian nations in generations past. But today this is no longer the case.

Today, the center of culture is out in the marketplace instead of within the walls of churches. But God has placed us within this world, and we cannot live within the walls of the church at all times. Instead, we need to understand the times in order to engage them in a way that brings glory to God and does not tarnish our witness.

Peter’s first letter is a discussion of how Christians can engage the world around them that reflects so little of them. Peter wrote to Christians who were under the oppression of Roman emperor Nero. History teaches us about his reputation of hating Christians. Despite being mistreated, Peter says to them:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” — 1 Peter 2:13-15

Not exactly the kind of encouragement they were looking for, I would imagine.

Miroslav Volf takes the words of Peter here as a descriptor of “soft difference.” Christians are different than the world around them. Peter calls them aliens and strangers (1 Pet. 2:11). Christians are not meant to become like the world. Neither are Christians meant to be oppressive or hard toward the unbelieving world around them. Christian witness is often tarnished when it becomes hard and oppressive to the world around it. Volf says this about those who read Peter’s letter:

“The community was to live an alternative way of life in the present social setting, transforming it, as it could, from within … the community did not seek to exert social or political pressure, but to give public witness to a new way of life.”

Over 250 years ago, Jonathan Edwards penned six guiding principles for engagement of a culture that does not reflect the Christian faith. The six principles listed below are exactly what Edwards did not say.

If you want to fail as a Christian in a post-Christian world, follow these guidelines:

1. Christians should never engage the world beyond the walls of their churches. In Jonathan Edwards’ day, Christians could make an immense mark without ever leaving the church. In today’s world, this is near impossible. Even the most notable pastors make an effort to speak outside of the church. If you want to make any difference in the world, you must get beyond the walls of the church.

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Tyler Braun is a pastor at New Harvest Church in Salem, Oregon. He is the author of "Why Holiness Matters: We've Lost Our Way - But We Can Find it Again" (Moody).