Hello everyone and I am glad you chose to click on today’s blog post. If you have had any sort of contact with me over the past several months, you would know that the Gospel Message is all I truly care about. God has been stirring my heart in so many directions but one area is redefining church and American Christianity. Obviously, we ought to look at the book of Acts to have a good idea of what Gospel Culture is about – but, how does that translate to today with so many advances in technology? In a sort of way – this is much like me jotting down my thoughts on the matter. Read this as if it is ramblings for a crazy man who needs to refine his ideas later (hence the part 1). Do not read this as a refined and well-articulated belief, but rather, as an idea that I would like continued support and collaboration in building. The Lord has purposed the idea in my heart: Gospel Culture in Church Today.
At my last job they had their “Five Core Values” that was meant to represent the company. I cannot remember them all, but they were principles along the lines of serve others, community and growth. As the Manager, I enjoyed having these values because discipline became easy. I was never a ‘beat around the bush’ or passive aggressive type of manager. As soon as I saw something that either was out of line, or had the potential to be out of line, I discussed it with that person. Nobody is perfect, but I aimed to be a fully transparent Manager who continually reinforced the culture. In line with every disciplinary action was encouragement. I always reminded the team that without their amazing work, I would not be in the position I was in. Continuing with the idea in church today, God still asks me constantly, “What culture are you building at your local church?”
Allow me to first get into the definition and overall opinion I hold when I use the word culture. Culture can be defined as an evolving set of collective beliefs, values and attitudes. Culture comes from the Latin word “colere” which means to tend to the earth, cultivate and nurture. I view culture as (essentially) what a group of people desire the most – so it thus impacts their very way of life. What is the overall environment, atmosphere, beliefs and growth of a group of people?
"Culture will eat vision for lunch." - Sam Chan
Culture is usually used in businesses, sports and even schools. Rarely is it talked about in churches. Something I came across in my study of church culture was by Sam Chan. He said, “Culture will eat vision for lunch.” Culture is who we are 24/7 – However, vision is where we desire to be. It is necessary for church leaders to cast a vision for the congregation to know and understand. But Dr. Chan argues that unless you have strong culture, it does not matter the vision. I agreed and hope you can think about this as well. Another questions that was posed in my study was, “What does your church get excited about? What do your Pastors get excited about?” I look toward what I see in American Christianity – we get excited about so many varying things. Each church and leader in that church likely has different passions. I always viewed this as a positive thing – but, what do we see in the early church? I believe this to be the idea behind “Gospel Culture,” we are excited for and pushing the Gospel with everything we do.
Gospel Culture only cares about Gospel Advancement
In my study of this topic you mostly find “Characteristics of a Healthy Church” or “7 Signs You are in a Toxic Church.” The health of a church is determined by the culture. Something I still am wrestling with is, “Do the Elders of the Church determine the culture, or do the people? And if it is the Elders, how do we ensure it is mature and healthy. If it the people, how do we ensure they create a healthy environment?” Personally, I believe it is first found in the leaders and trickles down. However, how do you hold someone accountable to a healthy culture? I concede, elders are culture creators. This is why I believe elders need to share their values and hold the congregation accountable to those values. Together, let us brainstorm values of the first church.
Characteristics and Values of Culture in the First Church
1. Honest Sacrifice – The first church gave everything they owned to the church in order that none would be without. I am not sure that this is how it still has to be today, the first church was held to such a high standard for the sake of growing the Gospel. We look toward Ananias and Sapphira who were killed for withholding. It was not for withholding but for lying to the Holy Spirit. If the Lord had allowed them to stay within His first church, they would have created a toxic culture of self-serving Christians. Christians were about sacrifice and transparency in that sacrifice for the sake of item #2.
2. Community – This encompasses the ‘breaking of bread’ and the ‘fellowship’ they had. These people built up a community where they were always together, always eating and enjoying each other’s company. Today, we eat with family and friends, perhaps co-workers, but rarely do we eat with our church family. Also, worth a word study at some point is the word fellowship. This originally means ‘koinonea’ in Greek and meant to be jointly working in ministry. Often times this word was used alongside financially giving and supporting ministries.
3. Heart for Worship – Worship was all occurring any time they gathered together. Reverence of the one true King. I told my church this past Sunday that when you truly understand how depraved we are, by nature – and then understand the sacrifice He gave to ensure we didn’t have to perish – you cant help but praise Him. Worship in and of itself is a culture and an environment. You establish an atmosphere of praise where you are knocking on Heaven’s gates saying, “All I want is Your Presence.”
4. Heart for Teaching – Desiring not only the Bible and line-by-line study, but theology and doctrine. The first church desired the meat of the Apostle’s teaching and the meat of the deeper things.
5. Heart for Prayer – My opinion on prayer has shifted over the last couple months and it has always been something I knew but had a hard time practicing. Prayer is communicating with God in order to establish your relationship so that your will may mirror His will. Now is there anything wrong with praying for protection over you and your family – no absolutely not! But, according to Scripture, He will protect those in His possession. I truly believe most “attacks” are actually trials that God is putting us through to teach us something. He is moving us closer to maturity or His will for our lives. Prayer is a relational conversation so that you may be teachable and live according to God’s purpose for your life. It is not a one-way conversation asking for certain items off of our “Christian wish list.” Pray for what God wants (i.e. the lost, the hurting, the outcasted, the church, etc.)
6. Heart for the Lost – The first church gave everything so they could advance the Gospel rapidly. Do I believe that same demand is upon us now? Not necessarily. Do I believe the more you give to ministries reflect the more you believe that ministry is making an impact in the Kingdom? Absolutely. The church had a heart for the lost and that is why they gave everything. To them – possessions and things were irrelevant. Today, we have jobs, friends, family members that are on a path for Hell and we’re too caught up in our passivity to tell them about the Good News. I beg to argue that we need a heart for the lost like the first church, a completely sacrificial desire for the Gospel message.
Culture requires strong accountability
When we first were building our team at my workplace, the question I kept on the forefront of my mind during an interview was, “Does this person match our culture?” Our culture (particularly in our department) was marked by attributes like: driven, independent, sacrificial, team-first mentality, effective communicator. Independent and team-first mentality may seem controversial but we were looking for someone who could do their work without constant oversight while able to people team oriented and helpful to others. One co-worker (who likely will read this, Hey Jared!) was my best example of this. He could do his work without being told what to do and when to do it by – but also would lay aside his time to complete his personal tasks for helping the team. He was constantly putting aside his time for his jobs to help others complete theirs. We wanted to eventually have a team that was able to do their job on their own while helping the newcomers- with a kind and team-first attitude.
To be honest, I sometimes struggled with church during this 6-9 month season at my workplace. I often wondered if church could ever put an emphasis on others rather than self. I struggled with wondering, “Why do so many Christians view church as a burden rather than an opportunity to serve and love?” Admittedly, I think every Christian feels the ‘burden’ of church from time to time. You work full-time and then have to take time away from your family or personal life, for what – church? It is because we are enticed to our own excitement rather than excited for the things of the Lord. Sometimes we just need rest, church doesn’t feel like rest – but it should! How do we build a culture that makes church feel like an opportunity rather than an obligation?
When someone at work would break a ‘rule’ or did something that didn’t reflect our values as leadership – or the culture we were trying to build, we called it out nearly immediately. Typically within the same day. I remember having to lay aside entire work-days to resolve “drama” or “conflict.” I would come into work expecting to knock out some specific things set aside for the day and then something would come up. We would always deal with it immediately. My mentor would always say, “They’ll either catch our vision and our culture or they’ll quit.” We believed this because any time someone broke our values and disrupted our culture, they’d be called out. When there is high accountability, it shows to everyone else what is important. Our team constantly took breaks, constantly had fun, constantly would get caught ‘talking’ during ‘work-hours.’ Those things didn’t undermine our culture. If work is done, you can enjoy yourself – that was an unwritten rule. But if you came empty-handed to a meeting with excuses – you broke our culture. If you gossiped about other co-workers or departments – you broke our culture. If you couldn’t communicate with others and fell behind – you broke our culture. We were fast-paced, team-oriented, successful and the pudding on top, fun.
Other thoughts from research:
Wretched YouTube had a video about what characteristics you would find in a healthy church, and I loved what he said.
Five Habits of Healthy Churches:
1. Growing Esteem for Jesus
2. Discernible Spirit of Repentance
3. Dogged Devotion to the Word of God
4. Interest in Theology and Doctrine
5. Love for God and for Neighbor
The beauty in writing down values and putting them in the open for all to see is that anyone can be held accountable to the culture. It is easy to say to a friend, “Honestly, what you said did not sit well with me. What did you mean when you said _____?” Even alternatively, elders can come to congregants and say, “I heard about this. Tell me your side of the story, because it sounds like it doesn’t match our culture and our values as a church.” Below, I want to solicit some “core values” that I would like churches to cling to – and able to be refined at a later point after more research and collaboration with other strong believers.
These are principles that I believe should be implemented, protected, and held accountable for in a Gospel Culture:
Love Jesus – This is simple, but to love Jesus is to obey his commands and teachings.
Love Others – By this the world will know we are His disciples, right?
Love the Gospel – We have to take the Gospel in its entirety, not only the parts we like.
Love the Fruit – Christians are known by their fruit. Do we reflect the fruit of the Spirit?
Love Growth – By this I mean in knowledge, maturity, wisdom, discernment, doctrine and theology.
This is only going to be part one and as I said earlier, I do desire this to be a more collaborative effort in how to create a Gospel Culture in church today. WE need to refocus our sight on the Gospel Message and the power that it holds. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” We need to stop being passive about the God we serve. Is He not good? Is He not worth sharing to everyone we know? We need to be far more intentional with our time and our relationships. Who do you invest into? The Gospel needs to first penetrate our own families, then our extended family, then our friends, then our co-workers, then even further.
I truly believe that the harvest is right. God is setting specific people aside for Himself and all we need to do is deliver them the complete Gospel message (not the “Jesus Loves You” message). The reality is we live in a fallen world, we are all evil at our very core and in spite of us, God sent His son to die for us that we may live- so now, we live for Him.
Send me a comment on your thoughts –
Think on it.