A few years back, I led a weekend retreat regarding church culture. Looking over that material this week, I have decided to revisit the topic. There were four topics for the weekend. They looked like this:
- What is Culture?
- What is Church Culture?
- What is Your Church’s Culture?
- What is a Biblical Church Culture? How Do We Get There?
I will, of course, edit and update. Feel free to jump in and make suggestions or criticisms.
Our topic is not church and culture. We are not looking primarily at how we deal with the culture outside the church doors, although that will come into the discussion. Our overall goal will be to figure out what our own church cultures are; what they are supposed to be; and what we need to be and do to affect positively the culture of our congregations.
Part One: What is Culture?
I. Intro and Definitions.
The word culture has a lot of definitions. For some folks it is an appreciation of good literature, music, and art. Some of us call that “Cultchuh.” In biology and medicine, it may be a colony of bacteria or other micro-organisms growing in a Petri dish. For people who are referred to as Social Scientists, culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns.
Culture is an amazing thing. It’s slippery. You can’t always figure out what a culture is and where it’s going, because it really isn’t made up of tangible things. It isn’t buildings and machines. These are only products of our culture. Another thing about culture is that once you begin to figure it out it has probably changed.
Here’s the definition I’m going to be working with: Culture: The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation.
Some questions to ponder before I continue on this journey next week:
What do you think of when you think of culture?
How about the culture of France?
The culture of the South?
The culture of New England?
What are the differences?
There was a time when the leaders of the church were referred to as “spiritual doctors.” They had the medicine. Leaders in the true Christian church today still have the medicine. Before applying medicines, however, we first need to be diagnosticians. We need to answer questions about how Christians ought to respond to a world that has little care for itself, much less for the church. How do we care for a society that is allowing itself to go straight to hell — and insisting that we come along for the ride? The church needs to address these questions.
The church will survive. Here’s a look at several of the reasons we can hold this conviction firmly.
Christianity Contains the Seeds of the Church’s Survival
In addressing the ills of the church, leaders need to be able to make changes that allow the church to serve Christ better by serving His people better. We need to do this without making compromises regarding the message. While the message is unchangeable and eternal, the way we view the church may need some alteration along the way. We need to understand that the church, as we Westerners see it, may not be the only way to be the church. Os Guinness (in his book, The Gravedigger File) articulated this idea well when he wrote:
What is the secret of Christianity’s capacity to survive repeated periods of cultural captivity? On the one hand, it has in God’s Word an authority that stands higher than history, a judgment that is ultimately irreducible to any generation or culture. On the other hand, it has in its notion of sin and repentance a doctrine of its own failure which can be the wellspring of its ongoing criticism and renewal.1
God has promised that He will always keep a remnant. Elijah thought the church was a goner when he whined to God that he was the only follower left — and now the enemy was trying to kill him! God responded by telling Elijah, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18). Gently, God fed and sheltered Elijah — and sent him off into retirement. The church does not depend upon Elijah’s efforts — or mine. God is in control and He has promised that He will always have a remnant. The church may change what it looks like, but it is not going away.
The key thing for Christians to remember as they ponder the possible demise of the church — and how to go about saving it, is that it’s not their church. It’s Christ’s. Paul made this abundantly clear when he wrote:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.(Ephesians 1:17–23)
Next time: We will look at Efforts at Resuscitation and Christian Education.