|First Congregational Church, Detroit|
Jesus didn't need to be "dope." On his own, and needing no assistance from us, Jesus is the greatest leader our world has ever known. If leadership is influence (which it is), and if a leader is someone who has followers (which it is), then Jesus is historically transcendent. If Jesus had tried instead to be a homeboy then all this would have been lost. Jesus would have receded into the vanishing Ordinary.
Transformational leaders are distinct from the surrounding culture precisely because they are here to influence culture, not to blend with it. Frank Honeycutt writes:
"We pastors and other Christian leaders should be challenged if we try to hoodwink people into thinking that the faith is something less than it is. We should be very careful about removing everything about Jesus that is weird or strange or off-putting because we want to be evangelically inclusive, hospitable, and welcoming." ("Keep Jesus Weird," in The Christian Century)
Honeycutt quotes transformational Christian leader Gordon Cosby:
"If a community is going to have a life which is an alternative life to the dominant culture and the dominant consciousness, then it must clearly define what its corporate life is and is not about. It must clearly prepare people who want to explore that life and who are making the transition from noncommunity to community life."
Today's pastors and leaders must:
1. Find out who Jesus really is.
2. Find out what the community ("church") Jesus came to form really is.
3. Present 1 and 2 to people.
Will non-Christians be interested? Yes. Because it will be different, an alternative to our culture's uninspiring, same-old secularism. We won't have to hype it. (Now THAT would be different!) No coercion will be needed. There are people who are looking for who and what we have.
Russell Moore asks: "What would the American culture wars look like if they were less about "values" and more about Jesus?" (Emma Green, "The Freakishness of Christianity") In his book Onward: engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Moore "rails against people who merely perform their Christianity, who assume that following Jesus is the same as being a “shiny, happy Republican.”
In the Bible Belt in particular, “Christianity became a totem to secure a happy marriage, a successful career, well-behaved children—all that, and eternal life, too,” he writes. “Such a Christianity doesn’t have a Galilean accent, but rather the studied clip of a telemarketer.”"
In other words, the telemarketed Jesus is the hyped Jesus made in the image of American culture.
Emma Green writes:
"It may be more effective to package Christianity in terms of God and country and tradition, rather than sin and Christ and blood, but in Moore’s eyes, it’s less authentic. As he wrote in his book, “We were never given a mission to promote ‘values’ in the first place, but to speak instead of sin and of righteousness and judgement, of Christ and his kingdom.”
Moore is making an argument for Christian strangeness. “Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture,” he writes. “Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.”"
Words like "weird" and "freakish" only have meaning in relation to cultural normality. Jesus was a-cultural. Jesus' Kingdom was not of this American culture. That's why people like me came to Jesus. This is where churches seeking to emulate our ever-shifting culture fail people who are, to put it simply, just looking for Jesus and his beautiful kingdom.