In this episode of TGC Q&A, Paul Tripp and J. D. Greear discuss the question, “What are the biggest issues the church will face in this decade?”
- Identity (:00)
- Preparing to address identity in our churches (2:00)
- Overcoming the “media view” of Christianity (3:40)
- A new vocabulary based on the gospel (5:28)
- Reaching and engaging the culture (6:31)
- Every Christian and the Great Commission (7:48)
- Fringe culture church (8:34)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of church.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Paul Tripp: I think that the number one issue is identity. I think the further we get away from a biblical worldview, the further we get away from these wonderful categories that God has given us that help us make sense of who we are and who we are in relation to one another, who we are gender, sex. And then what you have is you have this horrible loss of those categories and then people grabbing for categories. I think it’s one of the reasons why we have all the tribalism that we have now, because being part of a tribe gives me identity. This is who I am. This is what I’m about. This is the meaning of my life and I just think we have to do better at talking about that issue in the way that really speaks to the lossness of people.
I think we tend to talk about those issues in a way that’s kind of defensive and a bit judgmental rather than realizing the loss of that is a terrifying thing and we can deal with those issues with a combination of clarity and grace and I think it’s just very, very important. I think we’re going to see that in families, younger children. I think we just exploded things that are fundamental for understanding life and the church better be ready to deal with that.
J. D. Greear: Well, let me just ask you to follow up with that. How would you, Paul, how would you tell pastors to prepare for that? What do they do differently?
Paul Tripp: I think we got to quit assuming that people come into our churches with that in place. I think you go back 50 years, you could make that assumption. People sort of knew who they were. They knew where they fit in God’s economy. People just don’t anymore. And there’s a way in which, say you’re preaching through a passage of scripture, you have to have that in your background. That passage may assume things that you can’t assume of your congregation. You have to fill things in, in order to make this particular moment in preaching make sense because of what the people you’re preaching to have brought into the room.
J. D. Greear: Yeah, I think about it real practically, when it comes to the question of same sex attraction or homosexuality, I feel like I haven’t been in ministry that long, but even 20 years ago when I started, it almost kind of operated on a don’t ask, don’t tell. If I don’t bring it up, we can just sort of keep that as the thing in the background. Now, especially if it’s unchurched people or even de-churched people, that’s the first thing on their minds is because they have a narrative and that narrative says that there are some people who love people and affirm them and don’t judge them and those are not the Christians. And you’re a Christian therefore, this is probably how you feel about this. And I have to meet that head on because that kind of backstory of how Christians arrive at their convictions on morality. And I have to start telling a better story. I feel like it comes up a lot now because I’m trying to set it in the right context.
Paul Tripp: Well, I think that’s absolutely right. I think the way I crassly say it is people come in with sort of a media view of Christianity, which tends to be pretty negative and simplistic and judgmental and we have an opportunity to not just tell a different story, but to live a different story with people.
J. D. Greear: Yeah. And I think what you’re going to see, not to rail on big churches or seeker friendly ministries, but there is a tendency to want to kind of dumb down Christianity to practical life lessons. And I think when there’s a shared set of convictions and a shared worldview, those sermon series are compelling to people because they’re like, oh, this is helpful to me. But now I think it’s all the more behooves pastors to say, “We’ve got to start with preaching the whole counsel of God to be able to say, this is the world that God created and this is what it means to live at peace with him and with other people.” I think it actually calls for it. I think that dichotomy between deep preaching and relevant preaching is you’re going to see that go away, not just in the minds of theologians, but in the minds of the seekers themselves.
Paul Tripp: Yeah. There’s this fundamental superstructure of theology that people have to have. That whole grand redemptive story that’s so important. And you just can’t assume that people have any of those pieces in place. In fact, they probably have none of them and the pieces in place that they have make it almost, I don’t know how to say it. It’s like you’re speaking a different language to them. If you just jump to the practical application piece of things, they don’t have any of the foundations that would make this moment in your preaching makes sense.
J. D. Greear: Right. Yeah, actually it reminds me of something D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say that he said that, “Of course they don’t know words like justification, sanctification, reconciliation. We have to teach them what those words mean and show them how they’re essential. They answer life’s deepest questions.” And so I think just in the preaching, I desire to reach unchurched people. I desire to bring them in, but it means that I’ve got to give them a new vocabulary. And I’m confident, you know what? If they can learn drink names at Starbucks, I’m confident that they can learn some of these big words. And fit in.
Paul Tripp: Well, and the confidence we also have is that the gospel addresses all of those cries, all of those questions, we don’t have to be afraid. There’s not going to be a new question come up.
J. D. Greear: That’s good.
Paul Tripp: That the gospel doesn’t address. And we need to have a joyful courage as we speak into this generation that has abandoned these fundamental categories. Whatever that person is experiencing, it’s addressed by this incredible gospel story.
J. D. Greear: Right. To build off of that, Paul, I would maybe go one step farther to say, okay, in how we are trying to reach and engage the culture. I think what you just said means that there’s a change in how we have to think about reaching out. It used to be that Easter services, Christmas Eve services, a series on relationships, are really good band, Disney-esque guest services, those things would bring in people who had just had lapsed, lapsed out of their worldview. I think of a survey I saw recently said that 70% of British people don’t anticipate going into a church in their lifetime for any reason. It’s not that they’re mad at the church, it’s just that I don’t have a reason to. And so if we’re relying on the improvement of the product that is offered up in the church, you’re going to be having an awesome product for people who aren’t even there.
And I think it kind of returns us to some of these New Testament values of the best missionary in the kingdom of God is the ordinary church member. And I think that pastors realizing that these great sermon series are, they should be, we should preach them, but being able to equip and empower people to go out and become disciple making disciples, that’s the future of the great commission.
I just re-read a book by a guy named Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. And one things he said is, yeah, he said, “Back in the early first century,” he said, “they didn’t have anything that we had in terms of book deals and influencing government.” He said, “And by the end of the first century, you only had about 7,500 Christians.” He said, “But by the beginning of the fourth century, you’ve got so many Christians in the Roman Empire that Constantine has to take note.” And he said, “What they had that we didn’t is an understanding that every Christian was responsible for the great commission and that every church was itself responsible to multiply.” And he said, “That was a better strategy than the giant megaphone that’s coming out of a church. That the majority of people are going to have to be reached outside of the fellowship on the weekend.”
Paul Tripp: Yeah. And the way that I think about it is the way the church needs to sit and work when it’s a center culture church, where we’re long gone from that, versus a fringe culture church now. That’s where we are. And how do we need to change the way that we move out? Because we’re now on the fringes. And with massive misunderstanding of who we are, but we have glorious things to say to people that address all of the lossless and angst inside of them.
J. D. Greear: Brings up one final thing that came to mind when I saw that question is, all right, what are going to be the challenges? Is that I think churches are going to have to decide kind of who they really are in terms of identity themselves. I think because, you can see it in politics in the Western world, it’s identity communities. It’s, hey, we got to circle up. Christians are gospel people and that means that there’s a lot of important things that have to give way to the most essential thing. And I think, there’s you’re just going to find churches that are going to group together around certain political advocacy, certain political things that again are good, but they’re just not the most essential gospel thing. And I think, whether it’s how we preach or who we align with or just what they hear from our pulpits, it’s got to be what Paul said, “The gospel is of first importance,” which means there’s a bunch of other important stuff, but it’s not of first importance.
Paul Tripp: That’s right.