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Challenging a Culture of Cynicism

The line for the Late Show with David Letterman wound completely around the block. Arriving early to stand in the cold with a horde of fans, I was accompanied by several Northwestern University students who wanted their pastor to join them in experiencing Letterman’s visit to Chicago. I was delighted at the invitation and a chance to spend time with some wonderful young men.

Decades later, I cannot tell you who was on the program that night, but I have a strong memory of something that happened as we stood in line. A group of enterprising evangelists started shouting into megaphones, calling on these Letterman fans to repent and avoid an eternity in hell.

My first response was to cringe, realizing my group of students had more in common with the embarrassing street preachers than with the captive audience standing in that line. Though we would have never taken such an approach, we couldn’t help feeling somewhat dismissed by this crowd of seasoned cynics — gathered to laugh at Letterman’s latest Top Ten mockery of any leader in the news — now laughing at the faith we held dear.

Cynicism may be contemporary society’s favorite tool to absolve itself of responsibility. Just as it is reassuring when your physician produces a label for what ails you (incomprehensible as it may be), the cynic gains a false sense of mastery over any issue simply by clothing it in absurdity and reducing it to manageable dimensions to be neatly filed away somewhere and perhaps never re-examined.

Return with me to that Letterman queue. Initially, I identified uncomfortably with those inept evangelists, but cynicism rushed to my rescue. I would never use such inept methodology. I effectively absolved myself of responsibility. A more Spirit-led response might have been to admire the evangelists’ courage in braving the abuse of Letterman fans. I could have challenged my young friends to come up with their own creative strategies to reach the particular subgroup of people standing in that line.

Our Western culture of cynicism makes church leadership in the U.S. increasingly difficult. I’m finding, to my great surprise, that most pastors in the majority world (outside North America) receive much more respect than pastors in the U.S. Consider how easily we mock the President (any president) of the United States, for example, saying things we would not dare utter if we ever had the opportunity to talk face to face.

In similar fashion, discussion about the pastor around the Sunday dinner table is often loaded with cynicism. Why? Pastors and church leaders challenge the people to change. Cynicism provides a way out of change — a response restating the issue, often humorously, and allowing for a sense of intellectual superiority before dismissing the issue out of hand. If we are honest, we must admit cynicism is quite often a cheap substitute for honest dialogue.

What should we do about our cynicism?

First, we can challenge ourselves and each other. When the laughter dies down, ask yourself or others in the group, “What issue am I (are we) trying to avoid with this cynicism?”

David Goodman
David Goodmanhttp://www.entrust4.org/about/staff/goodman
David was born on the mission field in Cameroon, Africa, spending his childhood in the Central African Republic, so he understands missionary life by personal experience. He and his wife, Nancy, have been married for 41 years and have three adult children. He has served in a variety of pastoral positions in local churches, and was for thirteen years the senior pastor of Winnetka Bible Church in Winnetka, Illinois. Not only has he worked in local churches, he has also been the International Vice President of T-Net International where he equipped and mobilized U.S. pastors to train pastor trainers in countries throughout the world. David also served as Senior Associate: Strategic Enterprise for TOPIC (Trainers of Pastors International Coalition) just before coming to Entrust. In September 2009, David assumed the role of President at Entrust, headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO. He is called to Entrust to serve a creative, collaborative ministry team that glorifies God in producing pastors and church leaders who lead others to fullness of life in Christ. David and Nancy enjoy the adventure of exploring new places, new ideas and other cultures. Entrust has been equipping servant-leaders for over 30 years by building training systems that are locally sustainable from the start. These systems are built with transferability in mind so that the training multiplies (2 Tim. 2:2)—taking seriously the fact that the church in parts of the world is growing faster than the leadership. Entrust reaches out to church leaders where the need is greatest. We currently serve in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and are pursuing opportunities in East Asia, India and Latin America.

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