The Goldilocks Dilemma
Lachlan is a hip kinda guy. His name sounds cool. He has tattoos. And his wife digs the tattoos. Lachlan has his ear to the ground when it comes to what’s going on in the world and with his neighbors. He loves people and can relate with most anyone.
Lachlan also loves Jesus, and he has a big heart for international missions. His primary joy, whether at his place of employment, in his neighborhood, or on the mission field, is to see others come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. One of his main recommendations to churches is to relate to and serve their communities so that people will come to know Christ. Nobody related to people better than Christ; He is the model. The conundrum, however, is to engage the culture without compromising our call as Christians to be set apart. And that is the crux of it all – how do you get it just right? Like in the story of Goldilocks, where hot or cold porridge doesn’t pass muster, the church must be neither too hot nor too cold to culture. Too hot and you become the culture from which Christians are set apart. Too cold and you become an island reaching no one.
Lachlan’s church would not be considered a traditional or typical church. He serves at one of the “churches for cool people” (My friend Jim coined the phrase referring to the wave of churches that are engaging the culture in order to lead people to Christ). Since Lachlan had been telling me about the successes of his church, I wanted to see for myself how they were achieving in reaching a niche of people that many other churches in the area had not been able to reach. So last Sunday evening my wife and I joined Lachlan and his wife for worship and then dinner afterwards. My question for this church (or any church for that matter) is how do you relate to the culture without compromising the Truth? One survey states that only half of churches feel that they do a good job of engaging the community and making others feel welcome. Additionally, only 40% of these churches feel that they have any real impact on the community or the world. I’m sure that if you were to ask the people outside of these churches, the statistics would be much lower. So I was curious what this ‘church for cool people’ could actually be doing to buck the negative trend.
Lachlan’s church is located near downtown Louisville, KY. In order to have a place to worship, the congregation recently renovated an old three-story elementary school. Since the church is located on a one-way street, parking was a snap. When we walked into the main area, we were greeted and handed cups of coffee (from a local shop). The first thing to notice is the beautiful hardwood floors and art exhibits in the main congregating area. I was surprised by the number of people there early, as well as the diversity of everyone. I’m sure I was in the minority in that I haven’t yet obtained my first tattoo. No one seemed to care, though, and the atmosphere in the room was quite welcoming. The church has two main services on Sunday, one in the morning and one in the evening. Combined, they have about 500-600 attending in a given week. The service was more liturgical than what I was used to, but the message from the pastor (who wore an untucked shirt and jeans) was expository in nature. He was one year into a two-year sermon series through Matthew. And he certainly didn’t compromise the gospel in any way. I could see this church wasn’t concerned with being cool. They were just reaching others for Christ.
While I had certain dislikes about a few elements of the service, I was encouraged to see that this church had managed to balance reaching and serving their community while still proclaiming the timeless gospel message. Clearly, a church in urban Louisville will have a different community than a church in one of the rural surrounding counties. And each of these churches will have to engage their respective communities in differing fashions.
Our culture today could use a few more Goldilocks churches like Lachlan’s church. We are called to be ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ Salt adds flavor, and light illuminates the darkness. So we are to be the spice of culture, yet also shine to the truth of Jesus Christ. And how is all this done? There certainly is no one all-encompassing answer.
At dinner, Lachlan and I discussed these points over a hot bowl of gumbo in a local joint down the road from the church. The creole was just right, spicy enough for a kick but not enough to give you indigestion.