Church Shift #3: Embrace Peculiarity
by Kevin Freeman
This is the third in a six-part series that explores how God may be calling the church to shift her practices and focus as a result of the pandemic. What feels like a shift may be more of a realignment toward her calling. Previous topics have argued that God is using the pandemic to refine His church and that many believers practice a simulated faith over the real thing.
Howard County, MD, has a popular bumper sticker that says “Choose Civility.” It is a great bumper sticker for a county, a visual reminder that residents should be polite and get along, especially while on the road. Christians also should be civil and winsome, always treating others with the love and respect they deserve. It is hard to share the Gospel effectively if you are rude.
But the church that embraces civility faces a danger. The choice for civility can lead to sterility. Civility’s priority is avoiding offense, which is precisely what the Gospel claims to be, an offense to those who do not accept it. One who is civil is civilized, which essentially means fitting the mold of society. God does not call Christians to fit into a mold. He calls them to follow in the footsteps of their mold-shattering Savior. Following Jesus means embracing the peculiarity to which He has called us.
Consider the grocery store you use and why you get your groceries from that store and not others. Perhaps it is the convenient location or the low prices. Maybe the produce is better or it doubles coupons up to a dollar. Whatever the reason, you choose your store for something that sets it apart, something that makes it distinct. This same concept plays out for your favorite restaurants, gas station, plumber, and more. Yet Christians spend significant energy attempting to convince people just how reasonable we are, focusing on similarities rather than differences. To follow Christ involves leaning into what makes us distinct. Sameness is not all that attractive.
Peter Ormerod writes of the decline of Christian influence in Europe as a potential net benefit for the church, arguing that “becoming a default or norm effectively drained it of its energy.”
Ormerod continues, “In the past few decades, some parts of the church that tend to reject the trappings of religion have tried desperately to appear ‘normal’. But for a generation that prizes authenticity, maybe that’s just a turn-off. Rather than being just a slightly rubbish version of the rest of the world, with slightly rubbish coffee and slightly rubbish music, maybe it needs to embrace its difference, its strangeness, its weirdness, its mystery.”1
A church that attempts to show the rest of the world how much it is like the world has begun to take its cues from culture rather than Christ. The church and the believers who compose it are like a brightly shining city on a hill, Jesus declares. At night, the light shines from that city, drawing people in darkness. If we seek to look like the rest of the world, we are not letting our light shine but rather are putting it under a bushel.
1 Peter 2:9 reminds believers that we are “a peculiar people.” There is a peculiarity to Christ-followers. We have no need to come up with strangeness; we already have it. Keep reading in 1 Peter to discover how peculiar people will find us simply because we are zealous to do good works and no longer want the sinful lifestyle of the world around us. There is no need to act weird. Just follow Jesus wholeheartedly and you will be plenty weird enough.
Kevin Freeman is an associate pastor of Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.
Do you want more encouragement on living as a peculiar people? Visit the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s podcast, Peculiar People.