Orginally published on Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 9:14 AM
by Todd Rhoades
John Burke writes: "As leaders in a post-Christian society, our job is not making people grow or change. God is responsible for the growth, for changed hearts, but the soil is the responsibility of the leaders. Our task is creating the right soil, a rich healthy environment, in which messy people can come as they are and God can cause the growth over time. But have we considered the cultural soil needed for a healthy Christian community in a hard-packed, post-Christian society?"
He continues on at the CatalystSpace web site.
First, what exactly is culture? Culture could be defined as the glue that holds any social unit or organization together. All life requires the right environment for healthy growth. Clearly this is true of plant life. Research confirms the family culture most influences a child’s healthy growth toward maturity.
In Christian community, culture encompasses the normal practices and behaviors of people as they determine what, why, or how they act or interact. Culture creation forms the texture of relational life in a local church. James Alexander notes how “the culture becomes highly ingrained to the point of becoming invisible to the members of the organization. That is why it is so difficult for group members to talk about their culture, because it operates at a level below our normal consciousness."i
Because culture is largely unseen, we are mostly unaware of the cultural soil we have created. Yet culture affects lobby conversations, attitudes of the “in group” toward newcomers, how patient believers will be with messy unchurched visitors, how people live and do life together. Culture answers the questions our generation first asks: “Do I want to be like these Christians?” “Do I fit here?” So what can leaders do to shape the culture?
Creating culture begins with the mindset of the leadership of a church. Often what leaders need is not a new strategy or methodology to implement, but a mindset shift. As the leaders interact with others, they model the culture much as parents model the creation of a family’s culture. What do you and the other leaders in your church currently model culturally?
Does your leadership think with the mind of Christ? The religious establishment hammered Jesus for letting people “come as they are.” Jesus said “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13 NIV) Are you friends with any of the messy, unchurched people you are trying to serve? If not, what does this say about the mindset of leadership? What do you consider as most important to the effectiveness of your community? How do you model this for those you lead? As your views and attitudes shift, the culture will morph.
The “vibe” of the public service or group meeting also serves to create culture. The look and feel, the quality factor, the style of music, the way people speak and dress and interact publicly are very important. These elements signal to others what you are like, what to expect, and how to act. This public aspect of culture must be contextualized more than any other aspect to the tastes and language of the unchurched around you if you want to reach them.
Nola came to Gateway exploring faith and emailed, “I have been to your church three times now. I have tried to describe the experience as ‘alive’ and ‘authentic’ but even these words do not quite define it.” She’s picking up messages of what Christ-followers are like from the vibe.
What messages do people pick up from the public vibe in your community? How well are you communicating the timeless truths of scripture in the language and style and musical preferences of the surrounding culture? If your unchurched neighbor said he wanted to check out your church, would you feel embarrassed or nervous or excited? Your answers signal to you as a leader something about the culture you’ve created.
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