Leaving the Fence Line for the Front Line

Leaving the Fence Line for the Front Line

by Craig Smith

I recently read the following in response to a Christian children’s magazine:

“I guess I feel sad that Western churches (generally) are so unappealing / powerless that we have to imitate the world to attract people – especially young people. On the other hand, I accept we have to be relevant to our world if we are to earn the right to speak to their needs.”

But when churches do this, and far too many do, it shows they have clearly lost the plot. Imitating the world does not make you relevant, it only makes you an imitation. An imitation is a copy, a non-original. More than likely it is a scaled down and cheaper version of the original. That is, when churches imitate the world to attract people, they lower the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ to the level of just another cheap imitation entering the marketplace, hoping to attract a few customers away from the Real McCoy, the higher-quality genuine article.

Which raises a rather scary question: what, then, is this genuine article some churches are so keen to imitate? The excitement of life in the fast lane: a carefree realm of worldliness, transient emotional liaisons, recreational sex, the pursuit of eternal youth and flight from responsibility.

So here the church youth are encouraged to move right up to the fence line of total sinfulness, to live all their days along that fence line (except on Sunday mornings) in order to be relevant and to witness. But they are told they mustn’t go over the fence line into that next paddock, no matter how much greener that grass looks, because that paddock belongs to the devil.

The result?  Very predictable. The church has all these young people (the ones who haven’t left yet) who are totally dissatisfied with everything. Life in the fast lane has turned out to be a very restricted strip along the fence line, forbidden to reach into that next paddock which contains all the genuine-article pleasures and experiences they’re only allowed to imitate on the one hand; and on the other hand seeing way off in the distance of the opposite direction the unexplored, virgin territory of sanctifying godliness (you know, Galatians 5:22-23 characteristics). That is obviously a boring, unpleasant place, for none of their friends are out there, and hardly any of the other church members for that matter…..just one or two of those Holy Joe eccentrics, and who wants to be like them?! So their choices are to stay where they are and be miserable; go the Holy Joe route and possibly be even more miserable but with a promise of good things later on; or jump the fence line to join the fun, gambling that they’ll be able to jump back before it’s “too late”.

Such churches are asking their youth to aim at bare minimums: to live a life with a minimum of true worldliness and a minimum of true godliness is to have a minimum of challenge and purpose. This is luke-warm, spew-you-out-of-My-mouth kind of stuff. And to live that while exposed to maximum temptation along the fence line is madness. No wonder the church youth suffer so many casualties and attract so few stayers.

The Lord created us all for tougher assignments than this. Playing footsie with sin at the fence line while countless “youth leaders” and “youth pastors” endlessly advise how far is too far and how much is too much – and each advising different amounts – is pathetic. Gird on your spiritual armour, young men and maidens, for the Lord is calling us to His Front Lines!

Romans 12:1-2, II Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, Philippians 3:12-14 and plenty of other passages all talk about being totally, utterly different from the world and moving in a totally opposing direction to it. Galatians 5:22-23 especially invites us to aim at maximums, go the whole hog, to have it all, to blaze full-steam ahead, to carry it to the extremes, to max-out where there are no laws against being as loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled as you like! Such lives, dedicated first to loving our Lord1 and second to loving one another2, present the excitement and challenge youth crave: they will battle their sinful selves, the sinful world and the lazy “Christians” all around who don’t want to be shown up. Such lives are also totally relevant: relevant to God, to all of creation, to all our fellow humans.

Believe it or not, evangelising the lost may not be number one on God’s priority list. There are many passages, nay, chapters and books3, in the Bible given over to God tenderly describing the relationship He wants with us and among us, a people He chose for His own possession. We are purchased with the blood of Christ, not so we can do His will our way (“evangelising” the worldly by becoming worldly), but so we can submit ourselves to Him as instruments of righteousness in the hands of the Master.4

The sin-cursed and fallen society around us may, from their corrupted and fallen viewpoint, consider us irrelevant. But that is because it is they who are detached and separated from reality – the knowledge of God – and it is they who are irrelevant to God, to all of creation and to their fellow humans as they commit murder, abortion, euthanasia, genocide, infanticide, embryonic research and manipulation, spread disease and death through immorality and homosexuality and who serve the creature (animals, trees, mother earth) rather than the Creator. They need saving from this state of futility and insanity, they need facing up to the fact that they are headed for hell; they do not need us trying to identify with their fallenness or affirming them in their worldliness or trying to be relevant to their misguided view of things. They need us to point them to higher standards in all areas, to be modelling this ourselves, to see us moving in this direction while urging them to join us. They need to see us struggle with and resolve peacefully, gainfully and victoriously the same kinds of problems they have: problems with parents, with children, spouses, employers, employees, workmates, the IRD, neighbours, relatives, in-laws, budgets, drink, porn, anger, gambling, drugs, etc., etc. They need us to love and serve them, to practice hospitality so they experience the heavenly environment (or so it should be) of Christian fellowship, making some hungry and thirsty for such righteousness. They are dying to see what real, heart-level, loving, self-less relations between friends and spouses and siblings look like, for that’s what they want. They need us to be the light set on a hill. They need to see reality in us: open, honest, transparent reality. And when they do, brothers and sisters, they will beat a path to your door, ring you all hours of the night, share the most intimate details of their lives at the drop of a hat if they even suspect you might be able to help them and refer all their messed up mates to you as well. At this point you will never lack any opportunities to evangelise but will be more involved in making disciples than simply “witnessing”.

If the local congregation doesn’t catch the vision, we as Christian home educating parents must certainly stop and reassess: can we continue to offer our youth a cheap imitation of the world and worldliness in the form of “Christian rock”, “Christian teen youth camps”, “Christian teen magazines”, “Christian tattoos and body piercing”, that is, life in the fast lane, or rather, life along the fence line, when the Lord is waiting for us to join Him at the front lines? How can we expect our youth to play with fire and not be burned?

“Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do…Above all, hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:3, 8-11 (RSV).


1. The Scriptures define love toward Him as obedience to Him. See I John 5:2-3.

2. Our neighbour as ourselves…the two greatest commandments on which rest all the Law and the Prophets, Matthew 22:37-40.

3. For example, Deuteronomy 6-7, most of each of the Epistles

4. Romans 6:13

From Keystone Magazine

July 2003 , Vol. IX No. 4
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
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email: craig@hef.org.nz

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