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Creating a Culture of Life in the Local Church

Truth in Love 11

How can a church address sanctity of life?

Heath Lambert: For the entire month of August, we are focusing on the sanctity of human life as the Planned Parenthood crisis continues to erupt in our nation. And on this edition, we want to talk about how Christians can work together to create a culture of life and the local church. It’s not enough that Christians be in favor of life. We have to be focused on creating a culture of life in the local church. And to help us think that through today, I’ve invited as our guest on the program today to be Greg Gilbert. He is the pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s the author of What is the Gospel?, Who is Jesus?, and Why I Trust the Bible? all from Crossway, and he is one of the most effective pastors I know. And I’m so glad he’s with us to help us think about how to be a faithful Church leader. I’ve also asked Amy Evensen on to the podcast today, Amy is the producer of Truth and Love, and she is going to help us think through this issue by directing some questions to Greg and me. 

Question: So, the topic of this podcast is creating a culture of life in the local church. With that, I think it would be helpful for our listeners to understand what you mean by that. And maybe aren’t Christians already doing this?

Heath Lambert: Yeah, I think that’s a great question, and you know, I realized that we need to be creating a culture of life and our churches in a surprising way. About 15 years ago, I was a college student, and I was really concerned about protecting the unborn I visited a crisis pregnancy center in the Boston area. And wanted to ask the man who was running it, “what can we do, as Christians in the area, to really help support your work of advancing the cause of life?” And he said, well, you know, one of the most important things you could do is work to encourage life with the Christian women and men that you know. Because so many women that we see seeking out abortions in the Boston area come from churches, and they believe that they cannot carry this pregnancy to term because of the stigma that’s attached to their illegitimate pregnancy in the context of the local church. And that was a shocker to me, and I realized that we just have to be painfully honest as Christians and admit that the need to be issuing a strong call of life is not just something that we do to the culture, but it’s something that we say in our churches as well. 

Question: So, what are some of the things pastors and local leaders can do to help foster this culture of life in their church? 

Greg Gilbert: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think there are a lot of things that leaders can do. I mean, a lot of its structural so it’s not something that you can just flip a switch on and make happen. But for one thing, I think we ought to be very deliberate for this and a lot of other reasons about creating a culture in our churches where Christians and members of our churches can’t be anonymous. There is a value system, even among evangelical Christians right now, that says that their churches ought to allow them to get in and get out very quickly without the necessity of actually knowing anybody. And you’ll run into people who will say that that is the kind of church that they’re looking for. I wish every church in America would just blow that entire expectation up and say, “no, if you’re going to be a member of our church, you need to be somebody who’s known.” And when that happens, when other Christians began to get involved in life, it becomes much harder to live in that shadow land of hypocrisy where you’re able to take such a massive action against Christian conviction without anybody knowing it. So I think that’s huge. I think pressing on the importance of the issue is important to do very publicly. So in your prayers as a pastor, in front of the entire church, in sermon application, in other teaching opportunities, in Sunday school, or whatever else, talk about it. It’s not a pastor’s job to avoid those uncomfortable dinner conversations as we talked about, you know, politics and religion. That’s not what we do. We talk about, as pastors, the uncomfortable stuff, and even if it makes our congregations squirm a little bit in their pews, we have to talk about it as pastors, issues like abortion and make it clear what the Bible says about them. 

Heath Lambert: I agree with everything that Greg just said, and I would even just add that we need to learn as Christians that we don’t speak about morality without speaking of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our call as Christians is not merely choosing life. It’s not merely don’t have an abortion; it is repent and believe. We don’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. We call all people to trust in the gospel, which is God’s power. 

Question: What are some of the problems that foster a context of hypocrisy in the church? Like you said earlier, even Christians are having abortions and hiding it because of the stigma that’s attached with it.

Greg Gilbert: I think one of the most important things is a sense that if you’re a church person, you need to have it all together. And so, therefore, to admit that something has happened to you due to a choice that you’ve made, you know, that you sinned sexually, and you’ve become pregnant, whether you’re a teenager or young adult or whatever. Even to admit that is to crack the facade of perfection and put togetherness that Christians like to show to each other. So insofar as Christians and church leaders are contributing to that kind of misconception, that Christians have it all together and that we never have any sin to deal with, we never have any consequences from sin; we are contributing to people when they find themselves in those situations simply lying about it and going and doing things in secret, in order to maintain the facade. So, I think that’s huge. 

Question: We talked about what pastors can do, but what can church people do? 

Greg Gilbert: Yeah, well, above all, pray and cry out to God for justice for these unborn babies that are being systematically killed and dismembered for money. Just pray. There’s an amazing picture in the book of Revelation of the Saints holding bowls of incense and their prayers going up before the throne of God. And it’s fascinating because, in the very next paragraph of that image, the thing that moves God to pour out judgment on the world is that he sees the incense of the prayers of the Saints going up. It’s just an incredible picture that what moves the heart of God toward justice and to act in a certain moment is the prayers of the Saints. So prayer, I think is the number one thing. You know, beyond that, one of the things that I was doing that I’ve been most amazed by over the past couple of years is actually seeing the power of social media. It’s incredible, and I think pretty astonishing, just how powerful social media is to force change in even these huge national issues. So get a social media account, get a Twitter account. And start retweeting the things that are said that are useful and pointed and poignant, put pressure on local and state leaders, tweet at them. You know I’ve sent out a couple of tweets that are tagged at Louisville Mayor and just ask him questions about what’s going on. Every time you retweet one of those, somebody on the staff of that state leader or local leader is seeing that and getting a little more scared of the groundswell of discontent among the people. So it’s incredible the power of social media to get inside people’s heads and move politicians and other leaders toward change. So I’d say do that. Don’t think that’s a kind of useless and powerless action that you can take; it’s not. It’s very powerful. 

Heath Lambert: I think that’s a great thing that Greg said we need as Christians to be speaking to the culture. I would also just say that as pastors and leaders, we need to be people who cultivate in our churches a level of comfort with talking about sin. All of us show up as sinners. And that means sooner or later, leaders are going to have to be people who are honest about their own struggles with sin. That doesn’t mean that the pulpit turns into a confessional or something like that. But it does mean we need to be honest that we are people who struggle with sin, and when we are honest that we struggle with sin, people who listen to us will find the freedom to be able to talk about their own struggles as well. I’d also say that as we speak about issues of abortion and the sanctity of human life, we better be doing it a lot in our churches. But as we do that, we need to be aware that we are speaking about abortion, not just about the culture and what they’re doing. We’re speaking about abortion to people in our churches that have had abortions. We are talking to people in our churches who are quietly considering an abortion. And so, we need to have our speech be gracious and seasoned with salt so that as we speak about life, people sense that we are the kind of person they could come up to and ask for help and not merely the kind of person that’s going to condemn them.