How do we ministry in a culture driven by ‘coolness’? Some say we should seek to be cool; we should imitate the culture in order to reach the culture. They argue that in order to gain a hearing from the world, you have to be acceptable to the world. But is this the best way forward for the Church? Is this how Christians should seek to bring the message of Christ to the world, by imitating the world’s conception of coolness?
Paul has some wise words for in 2 Corinthians 4, where he describes his own approach to ministry, despite being rejected by the Corinthians themselves.
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (4:1-2).
Paul is writing this letter as a man under fire. False apostles had entered the church, knowing they could not make headway in the congregation if the real apostle, Paul, still held sway. Thus, they began a campaign of undermining his reputation and his ministry.
These men—whom Paul sarcastically calls ‘super-apostles’—came in with every appearance of strength and confidence. They presented themselves as professionals, well-trained in the skills of rhetoric. They knew the power of words, utilizing verbs and adjectives to deliver eloquent and powerful speech. They even bore credentials to this fact; recommendations of their abilities. And all of this came with the high price they deserved—exactly what the prideful culture of Corinth expected.
The contrast between these men and Paul could not have been greater. Unlike these men, Paul did not come with impressive credentials. In fact, he told the Corinthians that they were his credentials—‘Look at the change in your own life for evidence of my message,’ he said (3:1-2). Furthermore, Paul was not trained in the classical skills of rhetoric. I once heard a preaching instructor say that Paul would have been a great preacher. And to some degree, I would agree, but those hearing Paul for the first time might have disagreed. He wasn’t polished, he wasn’t eloquent. He was even charged with being unimpressive in person (10:10)! Finally, Paul wasn’t prideful in the same way they were. Specifically, he didn’t charge his preaching. He worked as a tent-maker or took support from other churches, lest his motives be mistaken. Ironically, then, it was his humility that was mistaken for weakness by the Corinthians.
Yet, Paul’s ministry had something the others did not. In all of this perceived superiority, these super-apostles were less than true apostles because—as we are told in chapter 11—they preached a different Jesus and the different gospel (11:4). Therefore, Paul explains that he is a true minister of the new covenant because he preaches truth about Jesus. Thus, even in the midst of this ridicule, he can say, “by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (4:1). Why? Because, he says, “we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (4:2).
There is so much pressure today for the church to be cool. Do you remember the commercial that came out when McDonald’s first got their McCafe specialty coffees? It was two guys sitting in a coffeeshop, looking all cool and pretentious reading books. And the one guy casually says, ‘Hey you know McDonalds has cappuccinos now.’ At first you think the guy is going to roll his eyes, then he’s like that’s awesome! And the other guys starts taking off his trendy sweater and scarf, and the other guy is glad he can shave off his soul-patch, and they’re like ‘We can stop going to foreign films and talk about football!’
Unfortunately, the church seems a lot like that these days. We’re striving for the appearance of something we’re not. in order to be accepted. We want to be seen as cool, so we try to blend in with the world and mimic what they do. We don’t want people ridiculing us, saying we’re narrow-minded or culturally backward.
But notice, Paul says the way to endure ridicule, the way to not lose heart, is not to focus on making everyone happy. It’s not to focus on being polished in how you talk or being eloquent before the world. Should we be clear? Yes! Should we present our best and try to continually improve? Yes! But our goal shouldn’t speaking abilities that simply impress.
Instead, even in the face of the ridicule, the way to not lose heart is to focus on Jesus and the truth of the gospel. In other words, we strive for an honorable ministry. We don’t try to change the Bible, or edit out the parts the world doesn’t like. We don’t use bait and switch tactics to try to dupe or pressure people into coming to church or believing the gospel. Our goal shouldn’t be acceptance from the culture, or meeting it’s standard of coolness. Our goal should be to focus on faithfully preaching Christ to those dying without him.