How Christians are Perceived
About the Guest
Say "Christian" in our culture and many people think hypocrite, or worse. Why? Pastor Bobby Conway says that, unfortunately, Christians have earned a lot of the negative feedback because of the way we live. Conway reminds us that Christians' lives are to reflect the heart of Christ, which means we need to live in unity, humility and love for and with each other.
Bobby ConwayBobby Conway is lead pastor of Life Fellowship Church near Charlotte, NC. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM) and Southern Evangelical Seminary (DMin) and the author of "Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die?" Bobby is also the founder and host of the One-Minute Apologist (www.oneminuteapologist.com). In addition, he and his wife, Heather, serve on the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage conference speaking team.
Bobby Conway says that, unfortunately, Christians have earned a lot of the negative feedback because of the way we live. Conway reminds us that Christians’ lives are to reflect the heart of Christ.
How Christians are Perceived
Bob: Have you shared the gospel with your children? Bobby Conway says that’s not something we just do once and, then, we’re done.
Bobby: I spend a lot of time around the dinner table or on drives—just teaching my kids about life, as we go. And then, when I mess up, as a father, before them with their mom—or when I mess up with them—I just try to let them know to keep their eyes on Jesus. I want them to utterly and completely remember that Jesus is their Savior.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 21st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. As parents, we need to make sure our children hear the gospel from us; but we also need to make sure that they see that the gospel is making a difference in our lives. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, there was a book—I think it came out in the ‘50s or the ‘60s—a book called The Ugly American that really painted a picture of Americans being viewed around the world as obnoxious or just ugly. I’ve thought, “In our world, today, there are a lot of people who think of Christians as the ugly Christians.” As hard as we try to represent Christ well, for whatever reason in our culture, that’s not the message the culture is getting from us.
Dennis: No; and we’ve earned a lot of it, Bob—we really have. Unfortunately, there are still those segments of Christianity that give us bad press. And what each of us needs to realize is—we are ambassadors for Christ. We are leaving a message of some kind by the way we live. And we have a friend with us, here again, on FamilyLife Today. Bobby Conway joins us—who believes the same thing—Bobby, welcome back.
Bobby: Thank you so much. It’s good to be on with you guys.
Dennis: Bobby is the author of a book called The Fifth Gospel. That’s not one in addition to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He’s talking about you being a representative of Jesus Christ and how you can do that well. He is the lead pastor at Life Fellowship Church near Charlotte. He and his wife Heather have two children. He serves on the Weekend to Remember® marriage conference speaker team.
I want to know your first conference experience, Bobby. I mean, you ended up being on the team that speaks to thousands of people over the past decade. Tell us about your first one. How long had you guys been married when you went to your first Weekend—
Bob: Yes, not when speaking. He’s talking about when you went to learn; right?
Bobby: Yes. Well, I remember very vividly our first conference. It was our first year of marriage. We were living in Conway, Arkansas. We were making our away up to northwest Arkansas to go to a conference there.
I didn’t know what to expect. And I was excited for an opportunity to learn some principles until Heather and I got in an argument.
Early on in our marriage, Heather and I—I don’t know what it was, but it was as if we—if we were going to argue, we just wanted to make sure we argued when we were in a car, when we felt like we were utterly quarantined. And it just—it was so hard. So, we were arguing—we were arguing—here we are. We are supposed to be going away for a Weekend to Remember. Well, it was turning into a weekend to remember alright.
And I remember saying to her: “I ought to just turn this car around right now. We ought to forget the conference altogether.” And I think she might have said something like: “Yes, that is fine. Go ahead,” or whatever. Thankfully, God, in His grace, allowed me to go to the Weekend to Remember. I sat there—and I remember Dan Jarrell was one of the speakers, who used to be on the team at the time, and another individual.
That weekend brought about something so powerful in our lives. It brought about hope, and I think so many couples need hope. It didn’t fix our marriage—it gave us some principles—but it just gave us hope. We were feeling the struggles of the nascent stages of our marital relationship—struggling in knowing how to communicate with one another. All of a sudden, we would come down and we had some principles to work with. Little would you ever have imagined that God would allow me to be on the speaking team, travelling around the country, coaching people on how to communicate with their spouse when half the time I don’t—I’m not even convinced I can communicate with my own. [Laughter]
Bob: I’ll tell you the best people speaking at the Weekend to Remember are the ones who have been right where you were—the ones who figured out how to get out of the ditch and, at least, it is functional right now. You and Heather aren’t fighting every day; right?
Bobby: No, we are not.
Bob: Yes, good. Okay. Glad to hear that.
Dennis: But that—but what you’ve just modeled is, frankly, what we try to do at the Weekend to Remember—which is present an authentic look at what a Christ-centered marriage is all about. It’s not a matter of perfection. It’s a matter of people in pursuit of Him. As they deal with their own selfishness, their own disagreements, their own inept abilities at knowing how to communicate, Christ meets us in those moments. He can pull us out of the ditch, put us back on the road, and give us hope that there is a destination out there that really can be fulfilling and enriching.
Bob: Well, and I’ll just mention—if folks would like more information about attending a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, they can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and the information is available there. We’ve encouraged folks, for years, this ought to be a regular part of your marriage maintenance. If you’ve never been—this kind of a weekend getaway is a great way to invest in your marriage. So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like more information about attending a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
I’m curious, Bobby—you are a pastor. You’re an apologist and an evangelist. You are passionate about reaching lost people and being able to give a solid defense for the faith when you engage with folks.
Our reputation, as Christians, in the culture is not very good. Most folks don’t—when they say, “What word most often comes to mind when you think of a Christian?”—it’s not a fruit of the Spirit word that jumps into people’s heads. It’s a word like: hypocrite, self-righteous, judgmental—and Dennis said, we’ve earned some of that. How are you seeing us perceived by the non-Christian culture around us?
Bobby: Well, there is no doubt that the church has done a lot of amazing things and lots of good.
At the same token, we have got to demonstrate more than philanthropy. We’ve got to demonstrate passion for Christ. In fact, we live in a time, unfortunately, where, if you truly are passionate about Christ, people kind of think you’re weird. It’s more normal to lack passion.
Sadly, even when I became a Christian, I then moved out to the Bible belt. It was very lukewarm compared to the culture that I was in. It was as if professional Christians were trying to tame my passion. Sadly, I would look and think, “That’s not all that appealing—this indifference toward God / this—as Francis Chan said—“lukewarm and loving it” kind of Christianity.
I really feel like the world sees the church as buzzkills. We go around throwing our moral grenades at people. We are joyless. We are fake—hypocritical. And you know, that’s really sad because even the whole idea behind this book is to say, “Let’s have our lives be an apologetic.”
The word apologetic comes from the Greek word, apologia. It means to give a defense—and where you see this is in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give a”—apologia—“defense for the hope that is within you.” Well, that’s in the context—not of being able to give a good rational argument for the existence of God—it’s in the context of—when the world sees you suffer; namely, be persecuted because of your love for God—be ready to share why.
We live in a culture where we’ve bought into the American dream. We don’t want to suffer. We don’t want to carry a cross. We’ve got the same idols that the culture does. We are worried about fitting in versus standing out. What has happened, I’m afraid, is people don’t see the church as salt and light. They can’t see us distinguished in this world.
So, this book is a—it’s a call for a fifth Gospel movement to say, “What would it look like to show the body of Christ truly in love with the Christ?”
Dennis: You tell a story I want our listeners to hear about a guy in a tire shop—
Dennis: —who gave you a description of what his perception was of Christians.
Bobby: Yes, I was sitting in a tire shop; and a guy was sitting next to me. So, I thought, “Well, I’ll look for an opportunity to share Jesus with him.” I started talking, and he told me that he was god and that he didn’t need God. I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” I’ve heard a lot of things in evangelism; but never have met someone that was so comfortable saying, “I’m god.”
Then, he told me why he, as god, would not embrace Christianity. He said: “You guys are so divisive. In fact,” he said, “there are over 30,000 denominations,”—he said. I said, “There is no way there is over 30,000 denominations.” Well, he actually underestimated the amount of denominations because I went and looked it up. There were over 40,000 denominations. That sends a mix message to our culture.
Bob: So, what you are saying is that one of the things that we need to be demonstrating is unity—that Fifth Gospel living / putting Christ on display in our lives—there is going to be unity within the body of Christ?
Bobby: I sure hope so. I sure hope so. In order to have unity—the whole idea of unity—it means deference / it’s working together. It’s giving up of your own rights at times.
You know, one of the things I’ve told Heather about our own marriage—I said, “You know, honey, through the years, we’ve had a lot of conflict; but I can tell you something beautiful about our relationship: “Here is a couple, who is still unified in God’s purposes, moving forward.” As I said: “We know we are really in this thing, and we know we are really committed because many people would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. Our love has been tested.”
And for those out there who feel like their home is not unified and they don’t feel hope, well, just change the perspective. You’ve had a lot of opportunities to forgive each other as you’ve strived for unity in your home.
I think that’s where unity begins—it begins in the home. Then, we go into the church and our small groups. Then, the world begins to see, “You guys actually know how to get along—not perfectly—but you forgive each other and you strive toward that principle.”
Bob: Yes, I think unity doesn’t mean that we’re going to think alike all the time.
Bobby: No, it doesn’t.
Bob: Unity does mean that we are going to give grace to one another—that we are going to not let minor things divide us. At the same time, we’re going to stand firm on “What are the core convictions of what does unite us?” because we stand together on those things; right?
Bobby: That’s exactly right.
Dennis: You’ve talked about how the world perceives us negatively. What should we be focusing on today? What elements of the four Gospels should we be looking at in order to represent Christ in an authentic way in a broken world? This is a needy world we are in right now. We dare not be silent. I mean, there are far too many that figure they are going to avoid the fray by just saying nothing, and that’s not a solution.
We have to live it out; but how do we best do that, Bobby?
Bobby: One of the things I shared with a good friend of mine the other night as we were spending time together—I said, “You know, the greatest thing that can happen in my life before I die is that I could have my life conformed to more books of the Bible.” What I meant by that is I want to be a student of God’s Word so that I can know all of His Scripture so that I can have a Scripturally-shaped life that is really a distinguished life.
I think that we have got to read our Bible. In churches, we need to preach the Word of God. We are trying to make the gospel palatable / more digestible; and the Bible is not a buffet where you pick and choose what you want. You get saved by grace, and you spend the rest of your life aligning yourself to the Word of God. When there is something in the Bible that is hard to digest, we don’t say, “This is what’s wrong with God.” We search our heart and go, “What’s wrong with me that I fail to understand God’s perspective?”
Dennis: One of the messages of the Scripture that you are talking about—that is kind of upside down / it’s not at all how I would have written the Christian life—but it’s what Jesus said, “If you want to be strong, you have to be weak because God’s power is perfected in weakness.” You talk about that in your book—that weak is the new strong?
Bobby: Weak is the new strong from the standpoint of God loves using weak people. He takes Gideon’s army, and He reduces it down to 300. God loves to meet us in weakness.
And there are many people out there who feel too weak to forgive their spouse. They feel too weak to raise their teenager that’s rebelling. They feel too weak to know how to lead their family with wisdom. Weakness has a way of bringing us to surrender, and recognizing our own nothingness, and creating dependency in us.
So, the way we need to look at weakness is weaknesses are our opportunities to depend on God.
Bob: Yes, exactly. I mean, I’m thinking a strong person says, “I can handle this.” A weak person says, “I can’t do this.” Well, which would God rather have—somebody who says, “I can handle this—don’t need You—I’ve got this,” or somebody who says: “I can’t do this. I need help”? That’s why weak is the new strong; right?
Dennis: Yes. I have said many, many times, “We think we are in control, but God spends most of our lifetimes trying to convince us that we aren’t and He is.” He is in control, and He wants us in that dependent state. There is something else you talk about, Bobby, that I want you to unpack a bit; and that’s the apologetic of love. We have a trump card that we are to play, as believers, that we uniquely should have; but a lot of us seem to have that card missing in our deck.
Bobby: Yes, we sure do.
The late apologist, who died back in the 1980’s, Francis Schaeffer, once said that love is the final apologetic. Jesus worded it like this, “The world will know you’re my disciples if you love one another.” I love 1 Corinthians 13, where it gives these wonderful descriptions of what love is. Love does not mean that we adopt everything in the culture. We don’t have to absorb all of their values to be—see, you can love people, even if you don’t agree with them.
Dennis: Yes. If there has ever been a time in our country when Christians—true followers of Christ—need to be leading with love, it’s today. It doesn’t mean that’s the only card we play.
Bob: Yes, and I think that’s important. I’m glad you brought that up. I know you agree with this, Bobby. There are a lot of people, today, who would say, “That’s all Christianity is—is love.” So, if you’re a Christian, all you really need to focus on is loving God / loving others.
There is no unpacking of the fact that loving God means that you acknowledge the truth of who He is.
Dennis: And you stand for that truth.
Bobby: Yes, check this out. What about this? The most unloving thing a Christian can do is to not tell a non-believer how to get reconciled to God—
Bobby: —is to not share the gospel. That’s an unloving thing. The reality is we have so much self-love. That’s one of the reasons we don’t do evangelism because we have so much love for ourself that we don’t want to be rejected.
Bobby: And I get it—I feel it.
Dennis: We don’t want to offend anyone—
Dennis: —and we don’t want them not to like us.
Dennis: And that’s love for the wrong thing, as you just said. If we love other people, we will be talking with them about their eternal destiny.
One other way we—I think we model a Christ-like life is when we suffer. And I know, when Barbara and I started out in our marriage in 1972, I had no idea what the journey was going to entail.
But over those years—now, more than four decades—we have been through a lot of valleys and a lot of road, where it was a long journey of just suffering—of just going through some very tough stuff. Talk about having joy in the midst of circumstances that don’t feel good.
Bobby: I think joy is something that is at our disposal, as Christians, that we can reach out to and grab hold of. It’s a missing picture that the world is failing to see demonstrated through much of the church. We should be the most joyful people in the world.
In fact, in the book of Hebrews—in Chapter 1, in verses 8 and 9—we see God, the Father, speaking of His Son, Jesus. It says, “God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your companions.” But it tells us why—because He hated lawlessness and loved keeping the law.
So, Jesus is somebody who knew the oil of gladness because He wasn’t bogged down with guilt. I believe Jesus was the most joyful person to ever live because He was guilt- free because He didn’t adopt the ways of living according to sin. That gave Him a joy in His life.
And so, when we suffer, we need to find our joy in remembering that we’ve been declared righteous—that we are forgiven by God / that we are still in relationship with Him—and that no matter what comes against us, nothing can take away the fact that we have been forgiven and that we’ve got God’s principles to guide us and help us to live for Him.
Bob: I love the verse in Psalm 4 that says, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?’” And you can see that. It’s the people in the culture who are saying: “Okay, so, tell us about God. Tell us why we should believe there is a God. Show us some good.” And it goes on to say, “You have put more joy in our heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
And I just think it’s a great picture of: “Look, if you know Christ, you’ve got more joy than people who live in prosperity—people who are eating, drinking, and being merry.” That’s kind of a substitute imitation joy; but we show good when the joy of the Lord is, indeed, our strength and people see that being lived out in our lives.
Dennis: I have to tell the story of something that just happened, here at FamilyLife. We had a guest preacher come in and share how his little church responded to the tornado that took the life of one of our staff members, here at FamilyLife, and his two teenage daughters. It is a little church at a crossroads called Ferndale. Ferndale probably has a total of, maybe, a hundred people in the entire—I don’t even know if it’s a community or not.
Bob: Yes, I don’t either.
Dennis: It’s on the map, though—but this little church called Pleasant Grove Baptist Church—this pastor took it over—
—had 40 people in it. How could he have known that, a couple years later, after he gave leadership to this church, a tornado would hit about six or seven miles from that church and that little church would be given the opportunity to become a checkpoint for all of the aid—water, food, clothing, clean-up, all the crews—hundreds of people / thousands of people that went and helped tornado victims in the midst of their suffering?
And I think sometimes, we tend to underestimate how God is going to use us. I got an email, Bob, from a friend that you know, who is now in politics. I wrote him an email. I said: “You know, you have no idea why God has put you where you are. He wants to use you for His purposes and use your life in great ways.
Do not underestimate how God could use you.” He wrote me back a note; and he said, “I just want to thank you for your words.”
And I think, Bobby—I think people forget who they are and whose they are—that there is a God. And even in our imperfection, He wants to use us in the midst of our journey—whether it is suffering / whether it’s talking to somebody at the water cooler at work—He wants us to represent Jesus Christ in those moments. And He wants us to leave the fragrance of Christ wherever we go.
Personally, I love your book. I love what you’ve done here. It’s a great exhortation to all of us to do a better job of realizing whose we are, and who we are in Christ, and represent Him wherever we’re going.
Thanks to you and Heather, too, for being on the speaker team.
I’m glad you didn’t turn around when you went to that first Weekend to Remember in your first year of marriage. I’d hate to think what was at stake, at that point. Thanks for being on the broadcast.
Bobby: Thank you very much.
Bob: We do have copies of Bobby Conway’s book, The Fifth Gospel, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order, online, from us. Just go to FamilyLifeToday.com. In the upper left-hand corner of the screen, there is a link that says, “GO DEEPER.” You click on that link, and you can order Bobby’s book. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order the book over the phone. Again—the website is: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, 1-800-358-6329—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
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And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to continue talking about the gospel. We’ll talk about the fact that it’s a risky gospel. Owen Strachan is going to join us, and I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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