From Becoming Culture to Allowing Culture to Define Us.
You cannot effectively communicate the message of Christ to a group without first becoming part of them. You’ll have no authority to ‘say’ until you sit where they sit.
In our team we call this ‘paying our way to be heard’.
“I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 1 Cor 9:22”
Although the Gospel Message has remained the same for the last 2.000 years, we must make sure our methods are relevant to each generation and group.
Dr. Luis Palau says “ In evangelism, our message is sacred, but the method is not(1).”
So, now that we know this, you’ll see all different types of ministries adapting how they present themselves to their target audience.
- Reaching the youth in an inner-city might require that you wear what they wear, use the type of music they use including movements and expressions.
- Reaching a tribe in a jungle village might require that you wear no shoes, seat on the floor and eat what they eat.
That is fine, and it’s not new. Missionaries have been adapting to cultures to reach them for many years and yet some have tried to impose americanism to some groups with very little result and very few coming to Christ.
So, we know we most adapt and become part of a culture to be able to reach it, but…
How do we know when things are ‘all the way around’ and instead of us influencing culture, we are the ones being influenced by culture?
The biggest challenge facing the church
Author Ken Myers(2) doesn’t believe “the culture” is the biggest challenge facing the Church today. “Rather, it’s the culture in the church – he says – that’s the problem as many believers live not fully transformed by the Gospel… we have reduced the Gospel to an abstract message of salvation that can be believed without having any necessary consequences for how we live. In contrast, the redemption announced in the Bible is clearly understood as restoring human thriving in creation.”
The truth is that redemption is not just a restoration of our status before God through the life and work of Jesus Christ, but a restoration of our relationship with God as well.
The church’s role and influence in “secular society”
Simon de Hundehutte writes on The Church’s Fading Influence on American Culture(3): “It seems people have misunderstood, as well as misrepresented, the church’s role and influence in “secular society.” The early Christians lived in the secular society of Rome, but by heralding the good news of salvation, what some might call “thumping,” their words along with their deeds changed all of society of their day. In present-day America, however, secularists have taken over and changed the rules of the debate on so many key cultural issues.”
Mr. Hundehutte also says: “The Christian way of life, is being shoved out of the American culture. We believers are being forced to accept things anathema to our way of thinking and living — accept them or be labeled ‘haters’ or, more recently, ‘thumpers.’” He continues: “But, I am afraid the days of free speech for Bible-believing Christians may be quickly winding down… America will fast become like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Germany. It may be that the day is near when any church unwilling to preach the State’s “gospel” will not be allowed to exist.”
How not to be influenced by the negatives of present culture and win this current generation for Christ.
1- Our success should not be measured by the acceptance or approval of the culture. Culture is not an accurate scorecard.
In fact, if the faithfulness of today’s church is to be judged by the measure of our cultural influence, then Jesus, the prophets, and the Apostles have a lot of explaining to do.
Jesus drew big crowds during his earthly ministry. But they included lots of losers and sinners (not former losers and sinners, current losers and sinners). I’m sure some of the critics of today’s church would have lambasted him for the low quality of his followers. And no doubt they would have noted his dismal long-term impact as the crowds dwindled down to 120 hiding in an upper room after his death and resurrection.
The prophets weren’t much different. Take Jeremiah. He was no spiritual slouch. But his impact upon his contemporaries was practically nil. And the same goes for most of the others.
Ditto for the Apostles. Didn’t all but one of them die a martyr’s death? That’s hardly winning the culture wars. I’m sure lots of books and conference talks could have ripped on their inability to win over the world around them.
Yet the harshest critics of the church today seem to ignore this. They assume that if we’d just play all our cards right – and live out our faith exactly as God wants – then large numbers of people around us would automatically respond to the gospel. It’s an assumption that neither scripture nor history supports.
2- The Church should set the parameters for the cultural debate.
If we allow secular culture to set the rules of the debate, of course we might enjoy greater audiences now. Great success right? Not so fast. If we have reduced the Gospel to an abstract message of salvation that can be believed without having any necessary consequences for how we live, our large audience of non-transformed people will soon fade away anyways, as a new fad comes in.
3- It’s more about what God is up to.
Cultural impact has far more to do with who’s in political power than whether or not the church is living up to its calling. And those times of unique visitation we call revivals are much more about what God is up to than what we are up to. Fact is, the church of high cultural influence is just as likely to be filled with hypocrites and sin as the church of low cultural influence.
4- If ‘Christ and him crucified’ is not the message, then there is no message.
You will not influence everybody. Popularism does not regulates the effectiveness of evangelism.
Larry Osborne(4) says: “Jesus continues to build his church. He promised he would despite our failures and shortcomings. That’s why I’m an optimist. I see a new generation of passionate and godly leaders being raised up by God. Many are unknown at this point, some already have mega ministries. But these men and women are fully committed and well equipped to reach their own generation. I’m confident they will fight the good fight. Will they win large crowds? I don’t know. Will they win the culture wars? Maybe yes, maybe not. But I do know that I won’t judge their faithfulness by the response of those they are trying to reach. Instead, I’ll let God judge it by the only thing that He’s ever held his people responsible for, their faithfulness, not their cultural impact.”
Engage the culture, preach Jesus and remember Church is (greater than) Culture.
1- By All Means by Luis Palau http://blogs.palau.org/archives/by-all-means
2- The Cristian Post Is ‘the Culture’ Really the Church’s Problem?
By Ginny Mooney, Christian Post Contributor http://www.christianpost.com/news/is-the-culture-really-the-problem-74261/
3- The Church’s Fading Influence on American Culture By Simon de Hundehutte: http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/04/the_churchs_fading_influence_on_american_culture.html#ixzz2ecawsZuU
4- Why culture is not an accurate scorecard. by Larry Osborne http://larryosbornelive.com/2009/05/16/why-culture-is-not-an-accurate-scorecard/