DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a political reaction to the election. No comment written in this article, in no way, is to support or complain about the election results. As tough as this election season has been, as church leaders, it gives us a unique opportunity to learn about the people we are called to serve. We are called to serve PEOPLE and this article provides a few thoughts about what we can learn about them through this unique experience, so that we can serve them better. Thanks
The extremes of the emotions of most Americans this week is as wide as I’ve probably ever seen them. There are those who are elated, feeling as if the US is moving in a direction that will help and protect them and their values. There are others devastated about what this means for their lives, and the values they hold dear. There are many others, maybe the majority, that feel confused and saddened by the political state of this nation and what this election even means. The question I’ve heard many, many times over the past few months is “How could this happen?” This question was asked by people on the right, left, and anywhere in between.
Over the next weeks and months, a bunch of different “experts” will try to dissect and explain what this entire election and the results actually mean. My guess is they will be partially right, probably a lot wrong, and ultimately guessing at why our nation ended up having to choose between two incredibly flawed, and disliked candidates.
Think about the absurdity of what has happened over the past 2 weeks. The Cubs won the World Series, and Donald Trump won the Presidential election! No matter who you voted for, you have to admit that if five years ago someone would’ve bet you $1,000 that in 2016 both the Cubs would win the World Series and Donald Trump would be voted President, you would’ve taken that bet in a heartbeat!
Although we will probably never know what all this means about our country, there are some lessons that, as church leaders, we can learn about the people we serve. As tough as every presidential election seems to be, it does give us a unique opportunity to “look under the hood” of the community of people that we serve. No matter where you stand politically, it would be sad for us to let this season pass by without learning how we can serve people better by learning more about them.
There are four things I learned the most during this election. No doubt smarter people than me will provide many more lessons, but this is what I learned:
- People want a voice.
- People have good values.
- People are scared.
- People are tired of of being labeled.
People Want a Voice
The anxiety around this election was intense. I heard from people who lost sleep, talked to a therapist, Unfriended or Unfollowed social media connections, and felt physically sick. One of the reasons it was so intense was because the noise of the “discussion” around this election was deafening. WHY? Because more than any other time in history, people had a voice. Not just by their vote, but through the internet. Whether via social media, blogs, or Facebook Live, and probably other methods this old guy knows nothing about, people were able to share (often shout) their views.
I think it is woven within the fabric of each person to want to have influence. It doesn’t mean everyone wants to be a leader, but they want influence. They want to be heard. They want people to understand them, and for others to respond to what they have to say. The problem is few of us really feel like our voice is heard on a day to day basis. We feel drowned out, pushed aside, and invalidated. We feel like people are more interested in changing us than understanding us, and ironically we act the same way.
The shouting that occurred over social media this past year is the culmination of people feeling unheard. If we feel unheard long enough, we start shouting and acting in ways that we hope might cause others to hear us and change. An example is when I try to protect my two-year old daughter. If she has a fork in her hand and starts walking over to an unprotected power outlet, I will tell her to stop. If she keeps walking I will get louder, and this will escalate until I am shouting at her to stop. WHY? Because I do not feel like she is hearing me, and I feel so strongly about wanting her to change her direction that I will keep getting louder and louder until she does.
The point is, people are passionate about what they believe and want to be heard in the conversation. As church leaders, we must recognize this basic element of human nature, and lead churches that value the voices of many people. Thankfully, most people are not just passionate about politics, and have great value to your church and the Kingdom, if they could just get a seat at the table.
Sadly, as churches grow, that table tends to get smaller. This is not a criticism of large churches, just a reminder that no matter where you are, or how big your church becomes, the people in your community desperately long to be heard and have influence. I don’t know what that looks like for your church, but I encourage you all to always be looking for ways to allow others voices to be heard.
People Have Good Values
This may not be true for everyone, but for me, I got the impression when I was younger that if you were a Christian then you had good values and if you weren’t you had either bad values, or no values at all. What I learned in this election is that a lot of people who are not Christ followers have really good values. Whether they are Republican or Democrats, what drives them to believe the way they do are a set of core values that are good.
Whether you agree with the value, or the manner in which they seek to promote the flourishing of that value, the truth is what is at the heart is often something good. Take the issue of gun control as an example. Most people who support stronger measures of gun control are not doing so to execute an evil scheme to rid the world of guns so they can then conquer it. They support gun control because they desperately value protecting the lives of the innocent from someone who seeks to do harm. They seek a nation where people don’t have to fear their kids being killed in their classrooms. No matter whether you agree with their method of providing a safer nation or not, the truth remains that the value that drives them is not only understandable, it is godly.
Whether someone is a Christ follower or not, we know every single person that has ever lived was created in the image of God. The imprint of God is within them whether they acknowledge it or not. Even when living without being changed by the Spirit of God, at a person’s core is that imprint. From that imprint, great values and passions can bloom, even without Jesus in their lives.
We have a tendency to disregard the good values a person has because of what we perceive as a conflicting sinful value. It may seem at odds that a person believes in ending capital punishment, yet also believes abortion should be legal. Sadly, we often invalidate the good from a person because of the sin that we see. Honestly, there are situations like this that, frankly, don’t make sense, and it’s easier to live in the absolute that says if you believe something wrong over here, then nothing good can come from anywhere else. Even if your value sounds good, it’s motivated by the wrong things.
The irony is so many non Christians think the same thing about us. They can’t reconcile how we are so passionate about ending abortion, but are often so passionate about maintaining capital punishment. I’m not saying they are right or wrong, I’m saying that we should seek to understand that so many people are driven by the image of God in their lives.
I will tell you a great way to have zero positive influence on people’s lives: project that your values are good and theirs are based out of evil. I used to think that non-Christians, especially the liberal ones, were motivated by the value of just trying to create a world where they could just sin, sin, sin all the time. Can that sometimes be the case? Yes, but when you look at what most people were passionate about this election, it was driven by a good and godly value, even when we disagree with their method.
As church leaders, let us first lead our congregations to truly appreciate those with different values than theirs. We should all love and validate the good that is there from their Creator. Second, we must seek to learn from them. My guess is there’s maybe a few Godly values out there that your church needs to take on also.
People Are Afraid
I wanted to say that people are nervous. Nervous sounds better than afraid, but from my observations, and those of many others, it is more accurate to say that people are afraid. The conversation surrounding this election was too often marked by anger, and anger is a secondary emotion often driven by fear. People all across the spectrum are afraid that the life they live will only get worse from here. That, unless their candidate wins, the aforementioned values they cling too will be halted or destroyed.
Depending on the experience of each individual, that fear might be legitimate. Based on the narrative surrounding one candidate, if you place a high value on protecting the lives of the unborn, fear could be a legitimate response. For one that values the elevation of minority races, due to the narrative surrounding another candidate, that fear may be real. Whether the reasons a person feels fear is legitimate or not, it is an emotion many people in your community are experiencing.
One narrative that I often heard during this, that I believe whole-heartedly, is that no matter what happened in this election, God is still firmly in command. Although 100% true, it is still easy to feel fear and church leaders should lead sensitive to this prevalent emotion that many in their community are experiencing. Make no mistake, this will never go away. Election results may calm fears for a season, but fear is one of the most potent weapons of our enemy and he will continue to find ways to fill people’s minds with fear.
I think it is a great opportunity that the election is only a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, and subsequently the Advent season. I encourage all church leaders to maximize this as much as possible to be so very thankful for all God has done, and will do through His creation and Kingdom. During the Advent season we get to boldly celebrate that our broken and messed up world was sent a Savior to redeem and restore. Sure, it’s still broken and messed up, but through Him, one-day justice will be done and all will be made right. That is the true hope of the world, not the election or the wisdom of any politician or political party. We are in that season now. Celebrate that!
By the way, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t whine about Christmas being under attack because Walmart puts up “Happy Holidays,” or Starbucks cups aren’t as “Christmasy” as you think they should be. The church is better and stronger than that. Those sentiments only evoke more fear, and make the church seem shallow. Instead, incite love, joy, hope, and peace by making this the most joyous Christmas ever.
People Are Tired of Being Labeled
The unpacking of this lesson will require a lot more focus in follow-up blogs over the next months, but this election really highlighted the fact that people are tired of being labeled. There are numerous ways this applies, but I’ll share one. More and more people are no longer comfortable being known as conservative and liberal, even if they consider themselves a Republican or Democrat. This is particularly true of Millennials, but also true of others in every generation.
These categories don’t always accurately describe the complexity of how a person views the breadth of issues. A single person can be incredibly conservative on immigration reform, and at the same time be equally liberal on gay rights. Another can be conservative on abortion rights, and liberal on health care. The labels just don’t really fit the same as they have in the past and people are more and more comfortable with being conservative in some things and liberal in others.
Unfortunately, in many Evangelical settings, somewhere along the line, the term “conservative” became associated with being Christian and “liberal” as non-Christian (or at least not a very good Christian). This has always been somewhat ironic to me since Jesus was never accused of being a conservative, but non the less this has become the norm. Church leaders need to eliminate this from the vernacular of their churches as quickly as possible, because it simply isn’t true. There are certainly liberal values and policies that do not align with Scripture and the Christian tradition, but there are also conservative values and policies that also are not fully aligned with Scripture.
Right now there are some, maybe many, in congregations around the country wondering if they can still be part of the church because they don’t see themselves as the prototypical conservative. As long as being less than conservative suggests to someone they are clearly not as close to Jesus as someone that is, then both congregants and outsiders will feel more and more like they don’t fit in and will eventually leave.
I mentioned this before, but should be noted again, the sentiment that people (both politically and theologically) that don’t always align with a conservative perspective are simply looking for ways to allow sin to be accepted is misguided. Again, there are exceptions, but by in large people are driven by what they believe to be right and good. I will dare say that sometimes, these “liberal” ideas are more Biblical than the conservative perspective. In many areas, I align myself with a conservative view, but what I’ve learned throughout the years are that there are some politically conservative views that are not Biblical whatsoever. It doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, but they are not issues of goodness and holiness, and the church should not make people feel they are less Christian if they don’t align with them.
Church leaders that want to have significant influence over the next 10 years must remove the labels associated with these parties and perspectives. Many people feel uncomfortable with those labels and will be more resistant to seeing the value of the Gospel in their lives if they believe they have to fit in a traditional mold. Allow me to challenge you with this thought: If you are resistant to distancing yourself and the way your church interacts with people from these labels then consider if you are have become more a minister of a political party instead of a minister of the Gospel.
In closing, let me apologize for the length of this blog. I typically limit a blog to 650 words, and here I’m pushing 2900 words. This election has been a tremendous experience. Not always a fun and healthy one, but a tremendous one that we will talk about for years. Despite how you feel about the outcome, hopefully all church leaders can agree we were given a gift by having the opportunity to learn more about those we serve and are committed to connecting to Jesus. These are just a few of the lessons and observations I’ve had, but would love to hear more from you. Whether you agree with my assertions or not, let us always seek to love, honor, and understand one another and think the best of one another’s actions. Blessings.