Culture is the shared set of attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes a group of people. Every group of people has a unique culture. In the corporate world, companies spend millions of dollars and work tirelessly at establishing a culture that helps them meet their goals, organizing teams around a common mission and shared set of values.
In the religious community, we think changing up our dress codes and removing some of the old hymns makes us progressive or relevant in some superficial way. We focus on revising the most trivial aspects of our church cultures and hope that somehow this will trick the world into embracing us. However, simply modifying our dress or updating our music will never establish the kind of culture that produces fruit and changes lives.
Most churches I’m families with have great faith for a harvest of souls but little understanding of the the culture they are seeking to impact. We have been so fearful of becoming “worldly” that we have no idea of how to reach anyone beyond our little niches. Despite this trend among contemporary Christians, the most culturally relevant person in human history was without a doubt Jesus Christ.
He understood His target audience. His message was incredibly effective and accessible to large crowds and small groups alike. He could speak to the hearts of anyone He came across—from prostitutes to tax collectors or the sick in body, there was no one He couldn’t minister to. Though Christ in no way condoned their behavior, He never made them feel uncomfortable in His presence.
In fact, the only people who didn’t receive Him was His own. The religious community gave him trouble on every level. He was the Messiah, the change agent the earth was waiting on, but they never accepted Him because He didn’t look anything like what they expected.
So often people rally around the idea of change. The concept of change is applauded but implementation is often met with entirely different emotions. The Jews wouldn’t have had a problem with Jesus if He could have conformed to their ideology and tradition—this is an example of a rigid culture standing in the way of purpose and plans of God.
Culture shock is something we understand from the stand point of the differences between geographic regions—the culture in African countries differs radically from the culture in America and adjusting to a markedly different culture often provokes unpleasant emotions and anxiety. The real question becomes is this the reason people in the church community are so afraid to deviate from their tradition and liturgy? Maybe it’s about preserving our comfort and predictability.
I don’t understand all of the apprehensions Christians have to change but one thing is certain, fundamental changes to church culture must come if Christianity is to remain the religion of this nation. Although the great reformers of history came from England, now England, and the rest of Europe, is post-Christian. The city of London is experiencing an explosion of Muslim followers, building thousands of mosques to accommodate this growth. You might believe such a shift could never happen in this nation, but I’m certain Spurgeon and Wesley thought the same of England not long ago.
We must being willing to allow God the opportunity to speak to us all concerning how He wants His church to function in contemporary culture. What is clear is that church has to be more than singing, preaching and offerings—the maintenance of the saints can no longer be our primary objective. While this is part of the local assembly’s role, we cannot allow pursuing the comfort of the saints trump our work on the Great Commission.
Why shouldn’t we change, with purpose, to better reach the lost? We know who it is we are to reach, so why can’t we reach them? If we truly understood our target audience as Jesus understood His, we would get the same results. After all, it is His church and He set the ultimate example we should follow.
Taking the gospel to the lost in an effective, relevant way should be our greatest goal. To do it, we have to build a strong culture in our churches that places connecting the lost with Christ as a greater priority than entertaining the saints. Part of my commitment this year is to build a culture in our church that is conducive to carrying out the great commission, energizing the saints and organizing our efforts to reach the lost.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce the core values that will anchor our culture to this mission. The first of these values is we don’t save seats. To create a culture that emphasizes the lost, we must be more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.
– Ps. Ken