NASHVILLE (NRB) — God calls believers to partner with Him to renew all things, Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas, said at Proclaim 18, the National Religious Broadcasters’ (NRB) International Christian Media Convention.
Lyons was one of the presenters during the February 28 Super Session, “Approaching the Cultural Storm,” which was organized by Christian Media & Arts Australia.
In addition to Lyons, seven other speakers led sessions, including Ed Stetzer, Lorna Dueck, Stephen O’Doherty, John Dickson, Karl Faase, and Stuart Harris. Phil Cooke, co-founder and president of Cooke Pictures and co-author of The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Win It Back, moderated the panel that focused on how the Church can more effectively engage the culture.
“We get the opportunity in this moment to give tangible expressions of what that making new might look like,” said Lyons. Q Ideas is a learning community of Christian leaders where they are equipped to engage their cultural moment. “The Gospel has an incredible opportunity to go forward with power.”
Lyons talked about how Christians can respond in a “post-truth” era in Western society. As institutions such as media, businesses, political entities, and even the Church struggle to define truth and adhere to normative principles, believers hold a unique position as the ones with hope through the Gospel. Believers can offer this hope to future generations who will question their purpose, why they exist, and what to do with their lives, he said.
He provided three elements for Christians to practice as they engage the culture with the truth of the Gospel.
First, Christians must know what they believe. As Christians interact with different and opposing ideas, it provides them an opportunity to live out their beliefs, “walking forward, boldly knowing God equips us” to speak truth amid opposition.
Second, Christians need to love others well and practice hospitality. Hospitality is often the opposite of how the culture responds during change or disagreement, and practicing hospitality allows the world to see the Church’s “open arms, open doors, and seats at the table, inviting them in,” he said.
And third, Christians must exemplify these characteristics on the front edges of the cultural conversations that occur every day about topics like homosexuality, identity, mental health, policy debates, and religious freedom.
“We get to be the people who show up in the middle of it and rebuild trust — grounding and rooting this on a foundation that is much more everlasting,” Lyons said.
Stephen O’Doherty, chair of Hope Media, an Australian Christian media network, discussed how Christian media’s role in culture is to provide good content and help shape people’s worldviews, to help them see the world and others as God sees them, and to activate them to bring hope into their communities.
“It isn’t just about sanitizing content,” he said. “But it’s about getting people engaged with the world God made. We want to say, ‘We are in this storm with you.’”
John Dickson, director of the Center for Public Christianity in Australia, acknowledged that the “only way to genuinely respond to the looming criticism of Christianity and the Church is, in part, to concede that the Church has not always sung the beautiful tune of Jesus.”
The reality of sin and brokenness in the world makes Jesus’ ethic to love your enemies even more radical, he said. This is why telling good stories through Christian media is important. If Christians can get their neighbors to listen to the beautiful stories, “they’re in a position to take one step closer to the Church and the Gospel,” he said.
Stuart Harris, general manager of Australian Christian Channel, said that more than ever, Christians need to lean in to work together, using collective strengths to face the cultural storm. People are looking for hope, and they find it in Jesus, he said.
“People will come to know Jesus’ love by watching how we work together. We are on mission together,” he said.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, also shared statistics about American Christianity from the late 1930s until today, explaining trends in research and how cultural shifts affected church attendance and religious affiliations.
Many Americans believe church attendance today compared to the 1930s is lower, but data show, according to Stetzer, the numbers remain the same.
“We are in the midst of a cultural storm, but we need to rightly identify the storm,” he said. “The storm is not a mass abandonment of people from their religious faith.”
Instead, Stetzer noted data compiled from four religious categories, including Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelicals, and historical African-American denominations to explain how cultural trends result from worldview shifts.
He shared that today, only one out of eight people self-identify as mainline Protestant, while evangelical affiliation rose again last year. Yet data also indicate that only 25 percent of people still call themselves Christian and have a meaningful, convictional religious life that shapes their day-to-day activities.
With a decline of one percent of people leaving Christianity almost annually, Stetzer said the reason is because the worldview is shifting from a committed Christian faith to nothing. This is the cultural storm, he said, and it is not finished.
Stetzer will release a new book this September, Christians in the Age of Outrage, about these and other statistics regarding religious trends in America.
In other presentations, Australian Christian communicator Karl Faase reviewed data about the changing religious tide in Australia and how Christians can reach their community through media and general awareness. Lorna Dueck, CEO of Crossroads Global Media Group in Canada, shared the story of how Crossroads began, and encouraged attendees to remember that “Changes in media should be about traveling to those who they haven’t reached yet — opening our doors, emptying our pockets, finding new evangelists who are going to reach people in new ways.”
By RuthAnne Irvin
Published: March 8, 2018