One of the keys for us as we were thinking through the Bible Studies for Life launch, was the issue of engaging culture. We wanted leaders and learners to discover how to relate to culture biblically. Rather than fearing culture, we should be aware of the potential of culture to affect us as well as the opportunities we have to affect it.
This is why it is imperative that we get biblical direction for life right now.
Engaging the Culture Requires Understanding the Culture
Generally speaking, culture is the behaviors and beliefs unique to a particular social, ethnic, or age group, especially reflected in the arts, fashion, and education. We can make very large references (“American culture” or “Kenyan culture”), or reference smaller cultures (“skater culture” or “business culture”). These smaller groups are often called “sub-cultures.”
Over time Christians seem to have lost touch with what cultures actually represent. We often hear about the danger of culture. Some are encouraged to avoid culture altogether like it is a poison or disease.
At its root, culture is a reflection of the people who compose it. Cultures are not evil of themselves otherwise Jesus would not have come as a first century Jewish man.
Christ and Culture
During His earthly life and ministry, Jesus lived and experienced life as any other resident of Palestine. He did not float above the ground so as not to get dirty. He did not require a royal processional everywhere He traveled. He was a carpenter and lived as such. He walked through the same dusty streets, ate while reclining at the table, and wore sandals and a robe just like all of His friends.
At the same time, the negative things involved in that culture did not affect Him: Jesus was not greedy like the tax collectors, He did not revolt against the government like the zealots, nor was He a hypocrite like the Pharisees. He was fully engaged in the culture of His day, but never succumbed to the sinful components within it.
Christians Thriving in Modern Culture
We face the very same opportunities and challenges Jesus faced. We need to be able to engage culture without engorging ourselves on it. To put it another way, we should be able to bring the fruit of the spirit into culture without swallowing the bitterness it sometimes offers.
Here is an example: a group of people from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., recognized that movies are an important part of American culture. They also realized that cursing the darkness of the cinema only works so far, as it does not provide any kind of lightened alternative. So they formed Sherwood Pictures and began making movies. The first movie went to DVD and was shown locally. Soon, though, they had a string of movies that have done exceptionally well at movie theaters across the country: “Fireproof”, “Courageous”, and “Facing the Giants” are well known. Sherwood Pictures recognizes that you cannot influence culture from a distance; you must be a part of it. The pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, Dr. Michael Catt, is a personal friend who has preached in my church. Dr. Catt and his fellowship deserve our support because they have engaged with the culture so effectively.
This is what it means to “let your light so shine before men.” Jesus’ words do not apply solely to a three-point Gospel presentation. It means in everything we do everyday, His life should be on display. And we should display His life while engaging in the culture around us.
Running Toward the Culture
How do we engage culture? With the love, compassion, and sacrifice of Jesus. If Christians leave the wider culture, who will be left as a witness to Christ? This is a void we cannot allow.
Rather than running from culture, we should be running toward it. Speaking in the public square has been practiced by Christ’s followers since early church history. We will not always be heeded, but we can try to be heard.
In reality, when we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we share the only message that can change a life and the entire world.
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie FloydSenior Pastor, Cross Church Northwest Arkansas General Editor, Bible Studies for Life
Have you ever considered as a church member, all that your Pastor is packing on his back? Besides carrying the load of the church as Senior Pastor or the load of a ministry as a Staff Pastor, every pastor has a personal life and family that impacts him dramatically.
Just Last Monday
Just last Monday, looking around the room in our monthly Ministry Team meeting, I surveyed the audience. There were around 40 people present, men and women who lead our specific ministries, along with some personal assistants. Among that group of not more than 40 people:
*Four of them had lost one of their parents in the past four weeks
*One of them had just lost twins through a miscarriage
*One of them had lost a 30-year-old son four months ago, which also meant another one of our staff members lost their son-in-law
Therefore, imagine this room of around 40 people — seven of them had suffered dramatic life-altering loss in recent days.
Pastors Pack Personal Pain And Challenge Daily
Church members often forget the personal life of a Pastor. He experiences real pain, suffering, and loss just like them.
Dr. Keith Thomas, one of my dear Pastor friends was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six years ago. Until last Saturday night, he confounded the wise, outliving this disease like few, if any, others. Can you imagine: He lived before the church and the world all of those years, having been handed a death sentence over six years ago. Yet, he literally crawled to the pulpit in his last days, sitting in a chair while he preached, stopping to catch his breath. Less than one month ago, he preached for the last time.
Dr. Rick Warren, another dear Pastor friend, lost his 27-year-old son this past Saturday. For all those years, Pastor Warren and his wife, Kay, carried the burden of having a son that dealt with mental illness. Before the entire world, Rick and Kay have carried this ongoing challenge on their backs. Yet, they remain faithful.
These two ministry families are representative of every Pastor and his family across the world. While these families may be extreme illustrations, please know that every pastor I know carries personal “stuff” on his back, PLUS church “stuff.” As a church member, are you being sensitive to the needs of your Pastor and his family?
Do Not Add To What Your Pastor Is Packing On His Back Already
I have thought about how the “critics” of Keith Thomas and/or Rick Warren feel today, knowing these men have suffered loss greatly, one of his own life, and another, the loss of his son. I talk to pastors regularly from all over the nation and the church critics are tough on them, causing immense despair periodically.
I understand — I have my own critics. I always have and always will, just like any other pastor. The amazing thing I have come to know personally, is that it does not usually matter if your wife is fighting cancer, or your dad dies suddenly, or your mom dies of cancer, or other painful matters arise . . . critics usually never retreat in the midst of pain. They just add to what the pastor is packing on his back already.
There have been Sundays where I felt like crawling to the pulpit to preach. Besides my own challenges or grief or losses, I had to deal with the critics, never seemingly able to live up to their unrealistic expectations. On top of this, I minister to them regardless of what they think or how they act, yet I’m ignored by them when I have carried my own pain and loss.
Pastors Need You To Help Carry Them
I love ministering to pastors and their families. I know what it is like. I am one of them. I have served all size churches, in all kinds of towns, and in all types of situations. Pastors need people to help carry them. If I can do that for a Pastor, I will do it.
As a church member, I want to challenge you gently but unashamedly, walk with your Pastor, carrying him not only in prayer but also encouraging him. It does not matter which conference I am asked to speak at, I am always told, “Just encourage our pastors. They are dealing with discouragement and never have anyone encourage them in their calling and pastoral journey.” How sad! I promise you, those word are the words I am told repeatedly.
The church should walk with their Pastor. The Church should lift their Pastor up in prayer continually. The Church should be the greatest defender of the Pastor, not his greatest critic. Don’t add to what he is packing on his back already . . . the burden of the church and various personal life struggles. Make it your goal to carry the load with him. Be like Aaron and Hur, who lifted up the arms of Moses, not weighing them downward. When they stood with Moses in prayer, the people of God won and when they did not, the people of God struggled. Make it your personal goal to stand with your Pastor, bringing honor to him because he teaches you the Word of God.
Pictured: Pastor Ronnie and Jeana encouraging friend and fellow pastor, Keith Thomas (June, 2012)
Yours For The Great Commission,