How to Get Christians to Act Like Christians: Part 1

St. Augustine

St. Augustine

One of the biggest challenges I have as a pastor is figuring out how to get my congregation to act like Christians. It’s easy to come up with the programming, to develop the sermons or the worship service, to write the curriculum and strategize the discipleship process. Maybe not easy, but doable. But getting all of those things to creep into a community’s soul and actually change behavioral habits is a different beast. I’ll be honest, at times it feels impossible.

There have been a few different solutions posited. One of the more popular ones is the route of education, and the argument is simply this: If you can saturate the congregation with enough information about God, then the knowledge about God will ultimately change the way people act. This is an oversimplification of this strategy, but the gist of it is there. I would argue that the majority of Evangelical churches in America are driven by this underlying philosophy.

Another popular approach is to try and develop a Christian worldview. This is slightly different than the education model in that it is trying to connect the knowledge about God with the belief systems that grow out of that knowledge. An example of this can be seen in the worldview approach to voting. Churches that are driven by this solution will often times develop platforms on how to vote given the nature of what the Bible says.

Both of these approaches have their place. It is important for Christians to understand the truth of God’s word and that they connect it to the beliefs they have about the world. However, what a lot of pastors are finding and what history is showing is that these two things, education and worldview, are not really enough to get Christians to actually act like Christians. It may get them to think like Christians or even to believe like Christians, but not necessarily to act like them.

James K. A. Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, calls this problem “bobble head Christianity.” If the only thing we as pastors are trying to do is get our congregations to think like Christians and believe like Christians, than we will have congregations with giant heads and tiny bodies because it takes more to motivate a person than knowledge and belief.

People are driven by what they desire most deeply. This is a thought that was articulated by Augustine in calling humans primarily “lovers.” Actions can contradict a person’s knowledge and beliefs, but will rarely ever contradict a person’s affections and desires. If this is what primarily drives people, then the real work of a pastor, regardless of what kind of pastor, is to reform a congregations affections to desire the things of Christ.

Over the next few posts, I want to dive into this more deeply. This post serves more to introduce the topic and give an overarching perspective on the issue. The way you get Christians to act like Christians is get them to want to act like Christians. This is much easier said than done, so I’m excited to continue the conversation many others are already having about how to affect a person’s affections. What will follow is a look at four different ways pastors can go about doing this, which I will mention here and then go into detail in later posts:

  1. A Reorientation of the Church towards liturgy
  2. A Pervasive Gospel presence
  3. An Eschatological vision
  4. A Cultivation of Beauty.

I look forward to your input as I work through this very difficult task.

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  • Bill Cavness

    Looking forward to this series Cody! Great setup.

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