Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Public Voice

Written by: on April 4, 2013

How are we to engage with our witness in a secular world? How do we find our voice for Christ? It seems there are two overt present options, one is to retreat into a Christian enclave, the other is to aggressively attack both the secular culture and its voice in political venues. But for many Christian young adults, neither is an option that is attractive. They are in a world they did not create, but are looking for ways to live within it. They resist anything that seems judgmental and offensive. The social world has been “imagined” for them. Recently, I have been reading Modern Social Imaginaries by Charles Taylor. Not the easiest book to grasp. But he clarifies the ways we imagine we are to live together as social communities. Knowing our context helps to understand and guide us in the world with which we live. He gives us language to engage with secular society. Taylor unpacks three aspects of our social imaginary: the economy, the public sphere and self-governance. The social imaginary is the world in which human beings collectively live and create how they live together. It is both how we view ourselves personally in relation to the world and collectively in our perspectives on our lives together. The Western world has shifted from a religious transcendent and hierarchal social imaginary to a secular moral order based on the mutual benefit of all equal members.


The world may be daunting for young adults, but what has been unclear is the responsibility of Christian faith in it. What is to be their voice in the public arena? The present moral order has ended a certain way religion has been present in the public sphere. What is now inherent is an individualized perspective where which is formative for self-fulfillment. To have a broader understanding of our present context can bring greater clarity for Christians to engage the world. Taylor points out that we may desire to do what is right in society, but understanding the individualized context helps makes sense of what that right is to be. What is missing is the importance of mutual benefit. Taylor states that “members of society serve each others needs, help each other, in short, behave like the rational and sociable creatures they are.” (Kindle location 139). He goes on to say that the ideal modern order is to be one of mutual respect and mutual service. (loc.143) But what has happened is individualism has replaced a sense of community. The ability to shape our lives individualistically is neither beneficially personally nor for the benefit of others.


In our efforts to influence the world for Christ we have privatized faith. We too have missed the values of mutual concern and service. We may see Christian witness in a social imaginary that is disconnected from reality. The privatized faith that many young adults approach life with has been given to them by previous generations. What is increasingly troubling is the retreat from civic involvement as they make their way in the world. The manner in which Christians are to engage in society is to demonstrate why this way of life is true and can make sense in the modern secular world. We are to inhabit public spaces with the message of Jesus in our actions and conversation.


How can young adults have a compelling public voice in our culture? As Christians we permeate society with our lives: word and deed. Not just in so-called Christian activities under the guise of evangelism, but every activity in which human beings are active. The manner in which Christians are to engage is greater than political power strategies. We are to demonstrate why this way of life is true and can make sense in the modern secular world. This does not mean to diminish overt evangelism through proclamation of Christ’s redeeming work. We are to inhabit public spaces that welcome the message of Jesus. Perhaps we are to go forth as the early disciples did. Jesus told them not to take any provision for themselves as they went from town to town demonstrating and speaking about God’s kingdom. We too should take no thought for ourselves. Coercive and reactive witness is offensive by its nature. But when we proclaim the Gospel with a motive to preserve some vague morality of the past or an idealized American Christian culture where we are safe, we contravene the mission of God. We make it about ourselves. A message divided is counterproductive for the Gospel. But once we have presented the Gospel, risking all, taking no provision for ourselves and then are rejected, we move on. Why cry out to an unresponsive or unrepentant people? Look for people who are responsive. Jesus said the harvest is ripe. A gospel that works for mutual benefit in acts of service is one compelling way for young people to engage our communities. It moves past individualistic and even self focused ways to be a witness to the reconciling message of Christ.

About the Author


Leave a Reply