cultural relevance

Posted: January 31, 2011 in Church Planting, Outreach

During this, our first month of weekly services at Discovery Church, we’ve been going through a series of messages called In Rhythm.  We’re taking 5 weeks to look closely at the things that drive us, the things that will set the rhythm for our ministry.

Last week’s topic was one that I am particularly passionate about – relevant ministry environments.  During our time in Hungary, we learned to constantly evaluate our methods and traditions in light of their meaning and their effectiveness in the culture that we lived in.  This included everything from our conversation to the way that we dressed, from the way that we built relationships with people to the way that we preached, from our outreach methods to the way that we trained leaders.  The results weren’t always comfortable for us.  After nearly ten years there, this type of critical evaluation became second nature.

Unfortunately, there are many churches – not just in America, but around the world – that just don’t get this.  They seem incapable of critical, missional thinking, much less of making the changes that would be required to reach their culture.  Like it or not, our culture is changing.  Local churches must adapt or die.  This weekend I had the opportunity – within about a 15 minute time frame – to witness one church gets it, and one church that does not.

I’ll start with the good.  Like most Saturday mornings, we were on our way to a soccer field.  Our 15-year-old wanted some music in the car to “pump him up” and apparently the mix onhis old man’s ipod just wasn’t cutting it.  We flipped through the stations trying to find something appropriate and landed on 94.3.  The song he liked was followed by something you probably wouldn’t expect to hear on one of Knoxville’s most popular rock stations, a commercial featuring Pastor Matt Peeples talking about The Point, a new church that meets at the Regal Cinema in West Town Mall.  The commercial was very casual – Matt talking over some cool music.  He stressed that The Point was a different kind of church where its ok to have questions.  He said that people can even text their questions to him during the service and he’ll try to answer them afterward.  As it turns out, Matt’s relationship with 94.3 has led to him being called in to answer some spiritual questions on the air.  (Check it our here.)  Imagine, a pastor being invited to talk about his church and his faith on a rock station! The results are, according to Matt, new people coming to The Point every week.

Within just a few minutes, we dropped Ethan at the soccer field and headed for some coffee.  As we drove down Broadway we came across a crowd of people demonstrating on both sides of the busy road.  The first thing that struck me was how different they looked. The men all had on suits and ties and the women all had on long dresses.  The other thing I noticed was that they seemed angry.  They held signs, but because of the speed and volume of the traffic, I can’t tell you what they said.  They were yelling and waving Bibles at the families passing by.  Their message – whatever it was intended to be – was lost.

One of the passages that we looked at this week was from Luke 15.  The first 2 verses tell us that “tax collectors and other notorious sinners” often came to listen to Jesus teach.  He ate and drank with them and spent time with them in their homes.  This infuriated the religious leaders of the day.   There are several lessons we can learn from those verses and the ones that follow, but one obvious one is that Jesus, though he was honest and even confrontational, must have been a pretty likable guy.  People liked hanging out with him. This is a key to reaching people in any culture.

John Burke, in his book No Perfect People Allowed, says, “Unlike a previous generation, most adults we interact with are not asking the question, ‘What is true?’ As mentioned already, the assumption of the day is that everybody’s ‘truth’ is equally valid as long as it doesn’t hurt others. They don’t ask ‘What is true?’ so much as ‘Do I want to be like you and your friends?’ ‘Do these people reflect who I want to become?'”

So which group do you think is better communicating to our culture?  Who do you think people will want to be more like?  Someone like Matt, who is graciously and humbly engaging the culture or the group on the street angrily condemning the culture? Which one is closer to the personal style of Jesus? Which group would you rather hang out with?

In a constantly – and rapidly – changing culture, the church must continually evaluate how we are communicating a timeless and unchanging message.

  1. Great post! Culture IS changing, and the church has to move in rhythm with culture — to engage it, not accept it necessarily. It’s heartening to know about the great churches in our area endeavoring to engage culture to present Jesus.

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