Spoiler Alert! I'm a Christian and a Pastor and my honest answer to that question is, "Nope!" That statement and my answer to it may be hitting you differently depending on your thoughts about those different topics. If you're not a Christian and you clicked on this to see what it was all about, I hope I piqued your curiosity enough to read through the whole post. If you ARE a Christian and you clicked on this then you likely have some strong opinions about "those topics" and may be wondering if I'm some sort of ultra-left-leaning liberal pastor who's thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I assure you I am not.
Regardless of why you came to this post, please take a few minutes and give it a chance. I think there's a lot to learn about how we (Christians) connect and communicate about hot topics and our faith in general. So grab a coffee and lean into this one. I sincerely hope it blesses you as a Christian and genuinely benefits others who are not.
QUICK INTRO before we dive in:
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location, we travel throughout North America bringing the lessons from the Bible to life as we connect them with the amazing places and people we meet along the way. You can learn more about us on our website and check out our episodes on our YouTube.
OK LET'S GET TO IT
I think there is an overwhelming number of Christians who are making the wrong things the most important things. And I think that the problem starts with the way most people begin their lives as Christians. People often embark on their faith journey with a mix of emotions. They may feel relief from sin's burden through salvation but also encounter confusion amidst various Bible translations, denominations, and conflicting opinions from family and friends. Kids who grow up with Christ from a young age may not encounter these things in the beginning, but most assuredly they'll wrestle with them as they get older.
People generally navigate this journey in two ways: some become overwhelmed and pretty quickly drift away from faith, sometimes leaving it fully behind. Others dive into Bible study and church participation trying to grow as quickly as possible. However, these all-or-nothing extremes can be unhealthy.
At the heart of both extremes are the questions people have about how to handle the Bible itself. Do you need to learn it all? Is it all equally important? Where do I start? What does the Bible say about [insert current hot topic]? We wholeheartedly believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and all of it can be useful for teaching, correction, encouragement, and inspiration. However, we (Christians, Pastors, Teachers, Parents) do a huge disservice to new people beginning their Christian journey when we don't help them understand that not all parts of the Bible are equally important.
As a result of this and influences from the culture it's very common for Christians to have a wrong perspective that what the Bible instructs about many, many topics is vitally important.
This leads to Christians being overly concerned with informing and educating their friends, family, and sometimes anyone who will listen, with all the things they think matter according to the Bible. For these Christians, they can't imagine why everyone doesn't care deeply about what the Bible says about LGBTQ lifestyles, or finances, or wars, or politics, or... So we end up with lots and lots of Christians divided up into various factions or groups drawn together by their strong beliefs about the current popular topics of the times. Which, not surprisingly, makes Christians look, act, and talk, essentially like everyone else.
In order for us to start to unpack this and start thinking about a different approach I'd like to share an analogy (Bonus! There are pictures!) Imagine a target where the small bullseye in the center is where only the most important beliefs go. Out on the next ring would be the place where important beliefs go. And then further out still would be where the things would go that fall into more of our personal preferences.
This current dilemma I've described might look like this when Christians believe everything the Bible teaches about nearly everything is equally important.
I want to propose a better approach:
To be honest it's actually going back to a very old idea that has helped church leaders and Christians navigate the difficult topics of the Bible and cultural issues of their times.
Keeping in mind that not all of the Bible is equally important there has long been a healthy approach to call Christians to unity around the things that matter most, allow freedom around things that are up for debate, and in all things to offer grace and compassion for one another.
With that in mind let's break down how that might actually look for us in the real world.
Remember that we believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, correcting, and encouraging. This helps us see God's word the way the Jewish people understood it as instructions from God. This accurate and easy-to-understand language helps us have a right view of what "the Bible" really is. Instructions from God to help His people learn about Him, about themselves, about other people, and how to live the way a good Father would want His children to live.
With this idea in mind, it's easier to imagine that there are different lessons or instructions from God that are more important than others. Not to say that any lesson from God is not important, but acknowledging that some lessons matter more.
Following in the footsteps of many great Christians before us we find it helpful to break up the things that God teaches us in the Bible into three categories:
1. Essential for Salvation: Core teachings crucial for salvation. (What goes on the bullseye)
2. Important for Growth: Lessons necessary to keep growing and maturing as a Christian.
3. Personal Preferences: Matters of personal belief with room for diversity.
I find it really encouraging that the number of essential lessons is minimal, making them easily attainable for the new believer in the beginning leg of their journey.
Important growth lessons are obviously more extensive but it's important to remember that they are designed to be learned over your life as you faithfully follow Jesus.
Beyond these first two categories, there are many topics that come up in the Bible that allow for personal preferences and diverse perspectives without affecting salvation or hindering another person's growth as a Christian.
Here's a quick summary of the categories:
By the way, if you want to read through our full statement here it is:
Category 1: Essential for Salvation: includes teachings about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, humanity, eternity, the priesthood of believers, salvation, and baptism.
Category 2: Important for Growth: encompasses various teachings that aid spiritual development and maturity, such as serving others, managing emotions, and deepening prayer life.
Category 3: Personal Preferences: comprises non-essential beliefs, like views on end times, angels, or miraculous gifts.
THE WRONG THINGS ON THE BULLSEYE
Both Christians and those who are not Christians are naturally drawn to different topics and agendas. That's no big secret. But for those of us who are Christians, it is vitally important to God that we take the time to learn what matters most to God. These are the lessons from God that are essential for us to learn in order for us to be saved. And to know those lessons well enough that we can help others learn them as well. How disheartening it must be to God the Father to see so many of His kids utterly devoted to convincing people to think what they think about things that have nothing to do with a person's salvation. I'm reminded of the mistakes I made as a father making a huge deal with my kids out of an ear piercing or certain t-shirt and missing opportunities to highlight more important lessons. At times my kids probably thought I cared more about what they wore or how they looked than what they believed about God. Ugh. Speaking from experience, it's easy to put the wrong things on the bullseye.
Whether you fully agree with the handful of things we believe should go on the bullseye or not is probably not as important as you taking the time to personally unbury your own bullseye and dig in with God and others to discover the core lessons from God that truly matter most. Avoid the mistake of trudging through life making the wrong things more important than God ever intended them to be.
In a world full of division, there is great freedom for the Christian that comes when we don't have to keep managing our opinions and beliefs about EVERYTHING.
People ask me often what I believe about people who are gay or want to transition or want to vote for Biden or Trump, or do I think student loans should be forgiven or do I think everyone should get the covid shot and boosters.... And I find great freedom in knowing that it's not important what I think about any of that. I'm not saying that as a Christian none of those topics matter. I am not saying that God has nothing to say regarding any of those issues. I am saying that the things people want to talk about the most are usually the things that are not the most important, essential for salvation lessons from God. So when they come up I'm not baited into discussing them as if they are "mission critical" topics for me as a Christian. Instead, I can be free to focus on getting to know the person asking. Because there are some important things that do matter to God and they are relevant to a person being saved. But they're also not the sort of thing you typically open with to someone you barely know.
So instead of getting lost in the weeds debating gender or politics, I try to do two things.
First, check myself and ask if I'm actually interested in the other person. There are times when my honest answer in my head is, "Not really." That's my cue not to move on to the second thing. It's also a cue for me to check my head and heart with God and ask Him to help me see if I'm off track or not representing Him well. Sometimes I'm off. Sometimes I'm just busy or distracted. Often times I am interested and then I move on to the next step.
Next, I try to start or shift conversations toward topics that I know are essential topics.
We have a great FREE RESOURCE available that is full of tips and ideas to help you start conversations around topics that are essential to our faith. We would love to send it to you!
GRACE, COMPASSION & #TEAMJESUS
Like Jesus, it’s our desire to maintain a balance between grace and truth. Grace and truth work together to create a wholesome faith experience encouraging people to “major on the majors”, allow each other time to grow and mature around the Important lessons and recognize early on that there is great freedom in Christ for people to embrace a variety of personal preferences.
In matters of personal preference, we emphasize love, unity, and avoiding unnecessary division. Our goal is to foster a supportive community that prioritizes essential beliefs while respecting diversity in non-essential matters. We call this a Team Jesus approach to life as a Christian and ministry in general.
If these beliefs and #TeamJesus approach resonate with you then we invite you to dig in with us here at The Journey Church Online and explore your faith further. Reach out to us, and we'll connect you with resources and people to assist you on your journey of becoming a disciple of Jesus. After all discipleship is best in the context of relationships with others who also want to follow Jesus and grow to be more and more like Him as they do.
Ready to get connected?
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Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope and pray it is helpful to you. If you have thoughts you'd like to share or want to jump on a Zoom and visit please click the button above to get connected. We would love to meet you!