by: Clayton King, Ministry Founder + Evangelist + Author
When I played sports in high school, nothing was more frustrating to me than to have my coach pull me out of the game and place me on the sidelines for a few plays. Whether it was fatigue, poor execution, or the need to correct my technique, I wanted to be in the game, on the field, making a difference. I didn't want to be sidelined. The bench was on the margins, and in my mind nothing good or exciting took place from the margins.
It's a football analogy that I think we can all learn something from, even if you're not a huge football fan.
There seems to be a consensus among evangelical leaders, thinkers, as well as among the body of Christ that we as believers who follow Jesus are becoming more and more marginalized in American culture. There's no doubt that this society, which is a pluralistic melting pot that has evolved largely from immigrants (Irish, African, Italian, Mexican, German, etc.) was never conceived as a nation only for Christians. Our founding father's envisioned a country where the most basic freedom was esteemed above all others; the freedom of religion. For centuries Christians have enjoyed this freedom, exercising our liberty to preach the gospel, to worship, to proclaim our convictions and beliefs with little fear of push back or offense.
It seems like the winds are shifting, however, and Christians are feeling more marginalized that we are used to. One pastor recently told me, with a sense of helpless desperation, that the church in America had seen it's best days and was now on "it's last legs." Honestly, this defeatist mentality does very little to help us and actually reveals an attitude that actually hurts and harms our mission. When we feel like we are losing our influence, we can tend to panic. We create worst case scenarios for the church. We imagine that the gospel won't work anymore because of a Supreme Court decision or because comedians make jokes about us on TV or because atheists on the internet attack our beliefs.
What do we do when we feel pushed to the margins? When we feel like we're losing our coveted place of cultural influence in America? When our beliefs seem more and more weird to a culture that is critical of any religious belief system that seems "narrow" or "traditional?"
The answer is simple. We do what we always do; we stay on mission.
Our mission is the preach the gospel and make disciples. That mission was given to us by our savior and Lord. And the church has been on that mission for 2,000 years, not just when it was easy and not just when the prevailing government granted constitutional freedom to be on that mission. No, the church has stayed on this mission in the face of great suffering, plagues, disease, natural disasters, systematic persecution and government restrictions. The gospel has outlasted every enemy and will never be stopped. Roman imperialism, Communism, Hitler, Stalin, the black plague, Al Queda and ISIS are all temporary attempts to stop what Jesus promised would last forever. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church, so let's stop talking like the sky is falling and let's get to work. Let's preach the gospel more boldly, love our neighbors more consistently, pray more faithfully, and work more diligently knowing that it's the power of God that propels our mission forward.
In a football game, the sideline is just as important as the playing field. It's where coaching takes place. It's where strategy is rehearsed. It's where plans are made and correction is given. It may feel like the margins but it's just as much a part of the overall mission as the field itself. Don't panic when you feel like the church is being sidelined. The gospel always works best from the margins, when it's counter-cultural and subversive and distinct.
One final thought; that same pastor said that he thought one day soon, Christians could lose their religious freedom and go to jail for following Jesus. That's a sobering thought. I had to ask myself, what would I do if it came to that? What would you do? Millions of Christians around the world live in that reality daily. For them it's not theoretical. So what if one day we go to prison for being a Christian? The mission extends beyond all walls, bars and boundaries. Just ask the apostle Paul. He had a pretty amazing prison ministry.