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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

In just a few weeks, the fifth annual Church & Culture Conference will take place at Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck) in Charlotte, NC.

If you have not attended before, you may be wondering what the vision is for this event.

Heaven knows the Christian world doesn’t need another conference that is just like every other conference. You know the drill: the same eight or 10 speakers currently hot on the circuit, the same talks that are not-so-thinly veiled book promotions, the same “pep rally” atmosphere. Yes, they serve a purpose, but we have them in ready supply.

In its earlier years, Meck offered what we called the “New Work Conference.” It was for church planters and we served countless numbers. We stopped after a while because we had grown distant from our own church planting days and the church planting world was changing rapidly. There were simply churches better positioned for that role.

But it was rich while it lasted. Why? Because it really did fill a niche. So we waited until another very clear niche presented itself.

It did.

There are conferences that bring the latest insights into leadership, but where is the conference that brings the latest insights into culture?

And not just cultural insight, but practical applications for the local church in light of those insights? If our mission is the evangelization and transformation of culture through the centrality of the local church, then two things must follow: we must understand the times and then we must know what to do.

We must understand our culture and how best to respond to it,

… penetrate it,

… reach it,

… and transform it.

And we must understand how to do that through the local church. It is not that other means do not exist for the mission, but Jesus created and charged the Church to be in the vanguard.

So the vision for the annual Church & Culture Conference is simple: to bring the latest, best insights about culture to the surface and then, to explore how to practically respond as a church in light of those insights.

This year is no different. We’ll be bringing entirely fresh content and new challenges anchored by the living laboratory of Meck that experiences more than 70% of its growth from the previously unchurched. And not only is the content entirely new, but we’re also excited to offer the option to live stream the event if you can’t be here in person.

So what’s on the docket for #CandCConference?

In the first session, “The New Digital Reality,” we’ll uncover the lost art of missional thinking with an in-depth look at why Meck ended its multi-site approach to growth, what it means to go digital, and the importance of continually evaluating strategies to reach the unchurched.

That will be followed by an entire session on “Parenting and Protecting Generation Z in our Post-Christian Reality.” In light of our ever-deepening post-Christian culture, it’s more important than ever to equip parents, youth pastors and student ministry leaders to navigate cultural waters. What does it mean to be “informed, involved and in charge”? With the cultural emphasis on not being overprotective, what does it mean to avoid being “underprotective”? Parents need to be equipped to raise and guide this next generation of children, Generation Z. If you are in any way, shape or form someone who has the opportunity to be a person of influence to today’s youth, this is a critical session for you.

And finally we’ll discover the art of “Being a Church for the Unchurched.” Churches often think they are a church for the unchurched, but when you scratch the surface, you see that many are not. The reality is that many churches have outreach in their rhetoric but not in their reality. There are countless decisions that must be made week in and week out to be strategic in reaching the unchurched in our ever-changing culture. Discover the latest insights for reaching those who are far from Christ, including a look at speaking out on the most pressing topics of our day.

I truly hope you will join us.

James Emery White

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

There are few things more fascinating – and more pressing – to social scientists than to discover what our new digital world is doing to us, particularly the new online world. From an assortment of new surveys and studies, I’ve drawn together five key findings. Some you may have suspected, some may come as a surprise, but all are based on the most recent findings.

1. It’s Hurting Our Kids

According to a new major study of nearly 10,000 teenagers by University College London and Imperial College London, social media damages children’s mental health by “ruining sleep, reducing their exercise levels and exposing them to cyberbullies in their homes.” In fact, “using sites multiple times a day increases the risk of psychological distress by around 40%, compared to logging on weekly or less.”

2. It’s Changing How We View and Have Sex

A survey from the U.K.’s The Times finds that pornography is leading to sex where women getting hurt is the new normal, specifically the causing of pain and humiliation. BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) “is now ordinary.” Slapping, choking, anal intercourse… internet pornography has made those who view it expect it. For Generation Z, “rough sex” (hair-pulling, biting, slapping, choking and other aggressive behavior) is now the second-most popular porn category searched, and nearly half say online porn is the source of their sex education. It’s also changing our experience with sex, creating distance with our sexual partners—both emotionally and physically. Those who watch porn often find themselves unable to be sexually aroused by their actual (flesh and blood) partner.

3. It’s Costing Us Community

Singles today complain about the pitfalls and disappointments of online dating, as if it is the only kind of dating there is. In truth, it represents a radical cultural departure from what had been the norm. Online dating is radically individualistic, as opposed to the more communally based dating of the recent past. Instead of friends and family making suggestions and introductions, it is now an “algorithm and two rightward swipes.” As an article in the Atlantic put it: “Robots are not yet replacing our jobs. But they’re supplanting the role of matchmaker once held by friends and family…. [For] centuries, most couples met the same way: They relied on their families and friends to set them up. In sociology-speak, our relationships were ‘mediated.’ In human-speak, your wingman was your dad.” Translation: Tinder, OKCupid and Bumble have taken the place of community. No longer are those most intimate with us serving and guiding and counseling; “now… we’re getting by with a little help from our robots.” And even those most involved lament “the spiritual bankruptcy of modern love.” Or as one person put it in the article, the rise of online dating reflects “heightened isolation and a diminished sense of belonging within communities.”

4. It’s Making Us Angrier

Polling reveals two things we all seem to agree on: people are more likely to express anger on social media than in person (nearly nine in 10), and we are angrier today compared to a generation ago (84%). According to a new NPR-IBM Watson Health poll, the more we go online to check the news or use social media, the angrier we become. The reasons are not hard to diagnose: news outlets are often openly biased toward a particular view (thus inciting emotions), and there is a cottage industry of trolling on social media. In other words, we’ve created a context for anger to be incited and expressed. And it’s working.

5. It’s Fueling the Rapid Change of Culture

There are few changes that have swept the cultural landscape more swiftly than the West flipping its views on all things related to homosexuality. As recently as 2004, polls conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that the majority of Americans (60%) opposed same-sex marriage. Today, 61% support it. But how did minds change so quickly? In a telling study, Harvard University psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji investigated long-term changes in attitudes. He found that between 2007 and 2016, bias toward gays decreased dramatically. There are many dynamics that could be associated with this, such as the growing visibility of gay people in popular culture (Ellen DeGeneres, the show Will and Grace), but why did the landslide toward cultural acceptance begin in 2007?

Because as Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has noted, this was the year the iPhone was released. And not just the iPhone, but when Facebook left the campus and entered the wider world, Twitter was spun off, Google bought YouTube and launched Android, Amazon released the Kindle, and the internet crossed one billion users worldwide, which was the tipping point to it becoming the fabric of our world—all in 2007. And as a result, it began to facilitate cultural change in ways previously unimagined.

Alarmed? You should be.

It’s the new normal.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Sarah Knapton, “Social Media Damages Teen Mental Health through Cyberbullying, Sleep Loss and Too Little Exercise,” The Telegraph, August 13, 2019, read online.

“Porn Survey 2019: How Internet Pornography Is Changing the Way We Have Sex,” The Times, August 11, 2019, read online.

Derek Thompson, “Why Online Dating Can Feel Like Such an Existential Nightmare,” The Atlantic, July 21, 2019, read online.

Scott Hensley, “Poll: Americans Say We’re Angrier Than a Generation Ago,” NPR, June 26, 2019, read online.

Samantha Schmidt, “Americans’ Views Flipped on Gay Rights. How Did Minds Change So Quickly?” The Washington Post, June 7, 2019, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

back view of diverse group of adults linking arms around waists, walking forward together

Shalom is commonly understood to mean “peace” or “health” or “prosperity.” It carries within it the idea of completeness. Cornelius Plantinga writes that the word shalom is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment and delight.” Shalom is the vision of community; it is what community strives to be.

It reminds me of something I once read about Mother Teresa. When asked how she could give so much of herself to the poor, she would always say that when she looked at them, she saw Jesus in a distressing disguise. That is the heart of authentic community—being Jesus to others and seeing Jesus in others. If you’re married, you are to be interacting with our spouse as if unto Him. If you’re a child, you’re obeying as if unto Him. If an employee, you’re working as if working for Him. And the reverse is true: you’re parenting as if you’re parenting for Him; you’re leading others as if you’re leading for Him.

It’s a radical idea.

Even more radical is what such shalom is built on. Namely, grace. Grace, at its heart, is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do. Grace is the essence of any successful relationship—grace toward other people’s differences, weaknesses and sins.

And that is quite the challenge. Not that we don’t like grace—we do. Not that we don’t want to experience grace—we do. It’s just that we are better at receiving it than giving it. But it is precisely the giving of grace that allows us to work through the relational stages that afford community. 

You know the stages. You’ve lived with them your whole life.

The first stage is usually some kind of general attraction.

Not many people instantly hit you wrong. Usually there is something there that’s likable, or at least you’re openly neutral. So stage one is extending a general welcome to the relationship.

But you know what that stage is almost always followed by? 

A second stage: disappointment.

You start by viewing someone from a relational distance. All you have are short, quick interactions that haven’t been subjected to the test of time. But once you get to know someone beyond that level, you start to see their dark side. And they will have a dark side. They will have weaknesses. Differences. Sins. Now our tendency is to let the second stage of disappointment be the defining stage in our relationship with someone. Sometimes it’s called for, like when you find out that someone’s dark side is too strong to deal with, or you realize you’ve got an unsafe person on your hands, or that what you thought was chemistry turns out to be an allergy. Then it’s okay to let this stage be a wake-up call.

But a lot of the time, the differences that we often let end a relationship are trivial and we just don’t extend the grace or maturity to let the relationship go through the necessary – yes, inevitable – disappointment stage. But if you don’t work through it, you will never move on to the third stage, which is where real community begins to take place. 

And that third stage is acceptance. 

This is when you work through the disappointments, you do the labor of extending grace and understanding, and from that allow yourself to come to a healthy understanding of someone’s strengths and weaknesses. Then you accept them on those terms. The Bible specifically challenges us on this. In the book of Romans, it says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7, NIV). If you’re not able to do this, you will never have meaningful relationships in your life. 

Ever.

If you are unable or unwilling to move into the stage of acceptance, then you will be a very lonely and isolated person. No human on earth is free of things that might disappoint you. If you don’t believe this, you’ll just go from person to person, relationship to relationship, and never have any of them move into real community. But if you’ll journey through the second stage and into the third, then you can move into the fourth stage.

The fourth stage is appreciation.

This is getting back to what you found attractive about the person to begin with, and enjoying all that is good and wonderful about them. It’s almost like a return to the first stage, but with wisdom and insight. If the first stage is like a first date, the fourth stage is like seeing a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and you see the look in their eyes toward each other—the deep, mature sense of love they share. 

And it’s a beautiful thing.

Is there anything more? Yes.

Intimacy: a fifth stage where you can love and be loved, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated, know and be known.

So do you see how the work of commitment is key?

Too many of us have a brightly illuminated “EXIT” sign over every relationship in our life—where we work, where we live, where we go to church, even in our marriages. As long as we hang that sign over the door of our community life, we won’t do the work of commitment that is needed to experience the community we long for. The secret of the best friendships, the best marriages, the best job situations and churches and neighborhoods, is that they’ve taken down the exit signs. And when there is no exit sign, you can only do one thing: whatever it takes for the relationship to flourish.

I recently read of a family who brought home a 12-year-old boy named Roger whose parents had died of a drug overdose. There was no one to care for him, so the parents of this family decided they would raise him as if he were one of their own sons. At first, it was difficult for Roger. This was the first environment he had ever lived in that was free from heroin-addicted adults.

As a result of the culture-shock, every day – and several times during the day – Roger’s new mom or dad would say, “No, Roger, that’s not how we behave in this family.” Or “No, Roger, you don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want.” Or “Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family.”

In time, Roger began to change.

For so many of us, community – particularly the new community that the Bible calls us to – demands new behavior. The death of old practices and the birth of new ones. We’re like the boy, adopted into a new family, needing to relearn how to interact with people. 

But here’s the good news: when we hear the Holy Spirit say to us, “No, that’s not how we act in this family,” we can say, “You’re right. It’s not.” 

And change. And begin to have the relationships with others we want as part of the new community God desires for us to experience.

Sources

James Emery White, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom. Get the eBook on Church & Culture HERE.

Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

“How God’s Children Change,” Preaching Today, cited from Craig Barnes from sermon, “The Blessed Trinity,” May 30, 1999.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Rawpixel


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

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