29 Jun, 2023 Toward a CULTURE of confidence in the RATIONALITY of our faith
Toward a culture of confidence in the rationality of our faith.
> Rational scepticism in our churches <
We live in one of the most secularised nations on our planet – in fact, we’re third most secular country according to one recent international study I saw. A dynamic that comes with this is a scepticism toward our Christian faith, and I suggest that this scepticism is now culture-wide and ‘ingrained’ within our culture. The frustrations of the 1960s youth who were rejecting our faith with annoyance at its conservative sexual morals, have now become the status quo – but as an assumed belief, not a mere annoyance.
Put differently, I suggest it is now a culture wide assumption that our faith has been proven false! Our faith is therefore widely considered an irrelevance, and this also explains why there are so few questions asked by non-Christians about our faith.
Why bother asking if you know it’s not true?!
This scepticism affects our church young people. This is a reality we must face.
- This is likely the primary reason for the attrition of young adults
- This is likely also one of the main reasons (though not the only) for the similar attrition of our younger youth, aged 11 to 13. It is said that world view is essentially set by age 14 these days. The sceptical reasonings of media, education and friends are leaving them with doubts – which the data might suggest we’re not entirely managing to address!
We’re losing more of our young people than we’re winning!
What I feel we need is a new ‘culture’, in which discussion about the reasons for believing this faith are valued and talked about. Examples of gospel communication in the New Testament consistently give reason for belief that are relevant to the audience. Consider Peter in Acts 2 referring to prophecy, or Acts 3 referring to a miracle. Or Paul in Acts 17 reasoning with a view to their interest in various gods (noting an inscription ‘to the unknown god’).
A distinction is that I would like to suggest our approach to communicating with others now needs to be ‘by the way’ – rather than direct. And I will soon illustrate.
So – how is culture built? Through habits?
To help our churches, here are FOUR leadership habits to consider.
Habit 1: Create a habit of storytelling re reasons for faith in a ‘by the way’ manner in via our regular platforms / talks and in our conversations
Culture is both preserved and created through story. And the manner of story being proposed here will, by itself, impart the skillset that I’d like to suggest we’d be wise to intentionally promote and adopt.
When we choose an illustrations for a point – this need not be random. To put that differently, when choosing an illustration, why achieve one thing when you could achieve two?!
For example, if teaching on kindness – then tell of Marsden’s kindness to Chief Ruatara that led to Ruatara’s invitation to Marsden to come to New Zealand.
- Beyond making a point on the power of kindness, you’ll have made a powerful side point, because this history demonstrates that Christianity wasn’t an imposition of colonisation like some suggest. It was instead invited to this nation by Māori – before being both embraced and spread by them!
- To note the appeal – the above history story would appeal on many public (secular) platforms as an illustration of kindness – whether Governmental, public education or other.
In the same way, illustrations can be chosen that serve to validate the rational basis of our Christian faith. This is about bringing intentionality to the stories we select!
To illustrate again – to affirm God’s existence in a secular environment, imagine you are addressing a social need in a secular environment within the community. Given opportunity to speak briefly, you could briefly describe the miraculous detail found within DNA, or in a ‘robots’ in our cells called Kinesins that courier parts around… …as an illustration pointing to how amazingly each person has been made. “We have to help people know they are special!”
- Everyone would applaud your point – while you would have indirectly explained a reason for believing there is a creator God – even while not speaking to that topic!
‘Wise as serpents; harmless as doves’
And this isn’t difficult once the DNA of this type of communication (storytelling) is caught.
- There is a revelation for people to catch
- This needs teaching – and modelling – and then could catch on as a mode of practice for many, supported by very occasional encouragement.
- It is possible to speak about almost any point of reason regarding our faith through story – as is modelled through so much of the video and booklet content in the new ‘Why Christians believe Christianity to be true’ series. (WhyChristiansBelieve.nz – all free online).
Habit 2: Conversational outreach equipping via pulpits, small groups and youth groups
- Jesus engaged the interested
- But only sought to intrigue the disinterested
- While he deflected the hostile.
There are perspectives that can be gained here that can change how people engage. What do we do when someone isn’t interested? There is no point explaining! There is no point saying much at all sometimes. The goal would be to intrigue them – which ‘by the way’ stories about things that are also evidences for faith can do!
Those struggling to see how they could ever introduce a spiritual thought in a conversation can be helped to see how it can be done quite naturally within their everyday conversations – without any obvious agenda other than the wise telling of stories that have a ‘by the way’ second message to them.
- Storytelling is an art form – which can be learned.
- And stories or illustrations can be wisely selected with awareness of their wider messages and implications.
- The value of this kind of storytelling needs teaching and imparting.
- (The ‘Why Christians believe’ series’ discussion guides include a weekly section that asks participants to practice these skills in fun conversations with each other also)
It is likely that many pulpits, small groups and youth groups already give a month per year to discussing the mission of the church / outreach / outreach equipping.
- (An annual month of focus for the pulpit, small groups and youth groups on the Great Commission is a great habit to consider if it’s not already one)
- Intentionality regarding the storytelling dynamic can then be added – giving reasons for faith concurrent with any and all other messages.
- If the approach is explained – your stories are then also modelling, encouraging the members to do the same in their own conversations.
For more resource
- The discussion guides in the ‘Why Christians believe’ series say a lot more on this.
- (See the ‘Learning Points’ within the discussion guides at WhyChristiansBelieve.nz_
- We’ve created many pulpit, small group, video and youth resources to help churches teach conversational skills for outreach. A good place to start is at AllTogether.co.nz/pastors, or for youth leaders at Godtalk.nz
Habit 3: Play a short Q&A videos for four weeks in a row annually in Sunday services – followed by a simple strategic statement
Whether played in the offering time on a Sunday, or in a small group or youth group – were a church leader to (a) play a short Q&A video on a question, and then (b) say something like the following – it would build a CULTURE of confidence in the intellectual credentials of our faith in that church!
“What a great video! Now – to remind us all, if we have questions about this faith – the answers really do exist – like in that amazing video. Our faith really is a rational one – so please seek out answers to the big questions you have – whether online or by talking to someone else here, because answers to the important questions do exist!”
Leadership habits don’t get easier than this – and you may be able to see the effect this could have. Members are reminded that our faith is rational – and of the value of investigating matters. This will feed into and build culture!
Why not make a note in your calendar to do this one month per year for the next few years? A 3min video and 1min statement doesn’t take long – while it can achieve something that is both meaningful and needed!
Habit 4: Leverage current tools and resources – to benefit from their momentum
#1 – The work of the ministry ‘Thinking Matters’ stands out
- They are our nation’s only national apologetics ministry – surely given to us by God to help us.
- They run half a dozen amazing conferences annually in NZ cities – bringing top-class communicators who impart understanding and articulation on a range of topics.
- …and more.
How about valuing these conferences more!
#2 – The ‘Why Christians believe Christianity to be true’ series is also current and new.
- We’d hope 1000 or more youth and young adult and other groups go through the series in NZ next year.
- We’d then hope that this pattern would be repeated 2 or 3 years later – as a HABIT.
- The content won’t get old
- But also, the habit is the most important thing. If that habit is embraced , which VALUES talk about reasons for faith, due to an APPRECIATION of the fact that it’s actually needed – even if that need isn’t always immediately apparent… the HABIT is what will actually make the difference!
This is a simple but needed conversation!
We hope the above habits will help – remembering that habits build culture, and culture will deliver far more resource than any number of programmes!
We also hope the ‘Why Christians believe’ series will also be treasured in its season!
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.