An “Us-and-Them” Approach

I started writing this about a year ago. God continues to teach me about this subject. I was hesitant to post these thoughts because the driving question is aggressive, and the application is broad. However, it is an important diagnostic for all believers as we transition into the next season of gospel ministry.

Can we effectively articulate the gospel to someone if we think we’re better than them?

As blunt as it is, the question brings to light an undermining attitude. It’s cringeworthy when you see it.

An “us-and-them” approach condescends in a way Jesus never would. It delineates churched people from targeted ministry groups including youth, the poor, and minorities. It condescends with top-down mentalities and programing. It brags on “doing ministry,” viewing people as props and projects. Often and unwittingly this presents in the language of how we talk to and about such groups with an overuse of delineating pronouns: “them,” “those people,” or “the kids.”

While strong leadership can be effective, condescending leadership does not reflect the gospel. When the value or purpose of another soul is undermined, the greater mission is mortgaged for short-term control. In this way, an us-and-them approach makes man the main character in the story of redemption. In this way, an us-and-them approach stifles true relational culture within a church and beyond a church context.

“Can we effectively articulate the gospel to someone if we think we’re better than them?” No, we can’t. An effective gospel message can’t be about anyone’s merit other than Jesus. Honestly, if we think we’re better than certain people, we might not even try to articulate the gospel to them. It’s not natural for us to seek out non-conforming peoples. It’s not likely for us to vocalize a message that hasn’t thoroughly transformed us.

Big idea: Jesus is better than us, but He chose to incarnate at the human level for our good and His glory. Without taking anything away from His divinity, God took a “we” approach rather than “us-and-them” (Hebrews 2:14). This truth must form how His followers approach other sinners. When we repented and embraced the grace of the gospel, we stopped thinking of ourselves as good sinners. We, like Paul, know our deep-running arrogance puts us among the worst sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

Are we contextualizing or condescending?

When met with differences of background, opinion, need, etc., Paul became “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He was not a liar or chameleon, but he ousted surface-level differences “becoming” a relational reflection of Jesus in the gospel. If the gospel is the power of God to justify sinners before a holy God (Romans 1:16), it has the power transcend class, culture, politics, personality, etc. More than a mere ideal, the gospel awakens the deep value and purpose of every life to uniquely reflect Jesus (i.e. worship).

As a gospel ministry continually conforms to reflect Jesus, it becomes less “us-or-them” and more “we”: we need bread, we need fellowship, we need the same gospel we’re bringing to others.