I recently took an afternoon to hang out with a pastor friend of mine. Nice guy. But the impression he left me with as I got on the highway to head back home was that his ministry, though effective, was missing something I had come to expect from conversations with other Christians in 2021.
What was missing?
Ah, that was it. In our hours talking ministry, we hadn’t talked about the downward spiral of American morality. We hadn’t discussed the ineffectiveness of so much of American Christianity. We hadn’t mentioned the tsunami of skepticism, progressivism, Marxism, or any other ism steamrolling Western culture.
You know what we talked about instead?
Amid the craziness of 2020, the local school system had expressed an urgent need for substitute teachers, and he had taken the job on the side and was having a blast investing in the kids. We talked about how the need to livestream church for a few weeks had given them the idea and opportunity to train the dads in the congregation to take the lead in doing church from home. We talked about how his weekly Jiu Jitsu sparring sessions with other guys were fueling opportunities to connect.
So, was our conversation ignoring the sobering statistics of church decline in America or being dismissive of troubling trends in the culture? Actually, no. That wasn’t an accurate way of describing our conversation.
And it’s also not as though my pastor friend is unaware of the larger trends. Nor is he someone who has no impact outside his local community. He’s the founder of a highly successful podcast in which he has interviewed some of the top tier names in American Christianity. Yet, strangely, he never brought the podcast up in our conversation.
Instead, he kept talking about local individuals whom God had given him opportunity to influence.
My pastor friend is not unaware of what evangelical university president and cultural commentator Albert Mohler calls “The Gathering Storm.” So why wasn’t he talking to me about exasperating headlines and ominous news? Why weren’t we swapping can-you-believe-it stories and wringing our hands?
I think it’s because my friend knows something that I easily forget: We have a daily choice between bracing for the darkness and battling it. He’s been too busy engaging the darkness to bemoan its advance.
The irony is that, when we engage the darkness, we discover that it’s like my dad told me as a child when I was afraid of spiders: They’re more scared of me than I am of them. Darkness has every reason to fear, because, when they meet, darkness is no match for the light. As Jesus said regarding his church: “The gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18).
A full 365 times, the Bible says something along the lines of, “Don’t freak out.”
This is good advice for internal peace, but it’s no less helpful for outward engagement. Engaging the darkness means that we’ll see a lot of the fear switch places, like the shifting of weight on a teeter-totter. My hunch is that, insofar as society views us as crazy for being unafraid to follow Jesus at cost to ourselves, the demons will view us as dangerous. Demons aren’t above “shuddering,” after all (James 2:19).
We can obey this most frequent of all biblical commands to “fear not,” but we’re going to need to immerse ourselves in some basics: God is God. Jesus is risen. His kingdom comes. His will is done. Light outshines the darkness.
Asking myself what was missing in my conversation with my pastor friend showed me what can actually go missing in too many of my conversations with others, with myself, and even with God: faith.
We have a daily choice between bracing for the darkness and battling it.