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Christianity is a subculture among every greater culture in which it finds itself. Jesus taught that “narrow is the way that leads to eternal life and few find it”. The implication is that there are more people that haven’t found Jesus than those who have. In any given city, there will be more unbelievers than there will be Christians. Therefore, the Church is a subculture of the greater community in which it is found.
Then within the Church Universal in any given city, there are different churches, with different philosophies of ministry, different doctrinal emphases, and a different flavor in music, dress, etc. Each individual church is a subculture of a larger subculture.
I am not suggesting that any Church should conform itself to worldly standards to be more relevant or relateable. Jesus taught us otherwise…that following Him would actually separate family members. Every Christian knows that or ought to know that. Following Jesus puts you in a subculture of the great community you live in.
For me, that’s all OK so far.
Here is my concern…
The Church in its purest form is already a smaller piece of the pie in any given culture, but I find that we often “Gospelize” non-Gospel issues, making ourselves even more unrelatable and marginal than we naturally are or are intended to be.
We have strong opinions on lesser issues, and we go soft on major doctrinal issues and commands. In my opinion, church leaders or congregants sometimes over-emphasize such issues as home schooling, vaccinations, politics, or support for Israel. We fight over issues like drinking alcohol or church membership. We hang Israeli flags in our foyers, and then wonder why people of Arab ethnicity are uncomfortable in our churches. We are blind to the fact that our churches aren’t multi-generational, and if we do see that, we hate making changes to welcome people of others age groups. We forget about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
The phrase is true: “like attracts like” and we usually choose to gather together with people that share more preferences than one might imagine.
The negative result with this can sometimes be a silent or spoken disapproval of others that are not like us, even from Christian to Christian. It’s not wrong to have strong opinions; it is wrong to over-emphasize secondary preferences.
If we insist on living with the idea of “like attracts like”, we inadvertently reduce our approachability and relatability to others that might simply want to worship God and hear a good Bible study. We chase them away with our silent or spoken disapproval.
We become a subculture of a subculture of a subculture, and then we wonder why “no one wants to come to our church”.
I believe that the solution to the “overculturizing” of our churches is to have increasingly less absolutes both corporately and individually. I like to use the phrase “vanilla church”. When you eat vanilla ice cream, it is suited for any kind of topping you might want add. I want our church to be as vanilla as possible regarding all secondary issues, but I want us to be deep and strong in the main truths of the Bible.
Being more vanilla on secondary issues means that we need to be more flexible with negotiable things. It means we forsake personal preferences that matter only to us and our friends. It means allowing people to all scoop from the same bucket of ice cream, but having a wide variety of toppings for individual taste. (Forgive the food analogies. It’s how I think)
Instead of overculturizing our churches with secondary and tertiary issues, let’s major on the majors, and let people be free to “work out THEIR OWN salvation with fear and trembling”, without the fear of the disapproval of others in the next pew.
There are those who lead songs at church, and those who lead worship. There is a huge difference. Leading worship songs is something that somebody does. Being a worship leader is something that someone is.
Familiarity With Worship Music
Worship leaders listen to worship music. They listen to a lot of it. They learn songs, and can sing or play many songs from memory. At the very least, there is a familiarity with many songs. They understand different styles of worship music, and though they may not be able to play all those styles, they know how a style of music ought to sound.
Knowing a lot of music allows the worship leader to be spontaneous during a worship gathering. He/she might include a song that wasn’t planned for, but is perfect for the moment. Sometimes a worship leader will think of a song that would be perfect for the moment, but cannot play it for lack of familiarity with that song. That is a lost opportunity. Worship leaders need to listen to a lot of worship music. They need to have a big repertoire. They need to be able to play dozens of songs by memory.
Music charts should be there as a reference, not as a lifeline. The worship leader ought to be able to play most of his/her songs by memory, which allows for freedom of expression as opposed to a desperate dependence on the written music. When the worship leader is struggling with a song because of lack of familiarity, the congregation feels it. Know the music, and practice it frequently.
A preacher needs to be able to spontaneously quote any number of scripture passages as the Spirit leads. The same is true for a worship leader. He/she needs to be able to bring up a song as the Spirit leads. The band needs to be able to follow.
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Soldiers fight. That is what soldiers do.
Yes, they do other things. Soldiers feel the same things that non soldiers feel, think things that non-soldiers think, and want some of the same things that non-soldiers want, but in a major part of life, they are very different. Soldiers fight.
The soldier fights when others are at rest. He has a different schedule than the non-soldier. When he does rest, he doesn’t forget that there is a battle, and always feels that he himself is ready to respond at any moment. He is always ready. He may not be fighting, but he is never out of the fight. He must not resent the non-soldier’s abundance of free time. The soldier is a soldier by choice. His life is different by design and purpose.
The soldier fights because he understands what is at stake. Others may not understand the enemy, the battle, or risk, but the soldier understands that there is much at risk. Others may mock the idea of there being a battle or an enemy. Non-soldiers may imagine that soldiers exaggerate the facts, and embellish the reports. The non-soldier may imagine that the soldier is in the fight only for the glory. The non-soldier cannot relate to the intensity of the soldier’s mind and heart, for he doesn’t understand the battle. The soldier does, however, understand the non-soldier, for the soldier used to be passive, indifferent, and distracted, just like the non-soldier, until the reality of the fight was revealed to him. Then he raised his hand, committed his heart, and changed his lifestyle.
The soldier understands that he belongs to something much bigger than himself. He is not his own. He doesn’t make his own decisions. He doesn’t plan his own life. He listens for the voice of his Superior, and he responds accordingly.
The soldier cannot allow himself to be discouraged by those that analyze and make comments about the battle, but do not fight. The soldier knows that he is not fully understood except by those that fight with him, and share the same struggles. It is among fellow soldiers that he finds most of his best comradery. The analysts and pundits pontificate, while the soldier does the work. He sometimes resents the so-called experts that criticize from the safety of their well-furnished vantage points. He has justifiable anger at those who second guess his best efforts, but have never faced the enemy. Yet in all of this, the soldier fights for the pundit and for the analyst. He shakes his head from time to time at their naivety and arrogance, but then gets back into the battle.
The soldier sometimes wants to quit. He remembers past failures, and how those failures allowed others to be hurt, or prevented victories. He has heard the call to charge, but hesitated. He knows true fear, and at times reverts back into his instinct of self-preservation. He also fears making a mistake that will allow others to be hurt, yet he cannot allow himself to be paralyzed by fear, for the enemy keeps coming. The soldier must fight forward, regardless of his fear for himself or for others.
The soldier must be careful about his evaluation of his comrades. He understands their frailties, for he shares them, and has felt them. He may feel critical of his comrades at times. They may seem to lack intensity, focus, and dedication, but except for rare occasions, the soldier realizes that he has walked in those boots, and his criticism fades.
The soldier lives for the cause though others minimize the cause. The soldier fights for others who cannot or will not fight for themselves. The soldier hopes for the best for others, while often times, others only hope for themselves.
The soldier continues on though few thank him, shake his hand, or consider his sacrifices.
In all of this, the soldier realizes that he cannot be anything other than a soldier. It is who and what he is. He cannot do anything else, though at times he may want to. He is what he is.
He is a soldier. God has made him one.
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:3, 4)
Pastors and church leaders make many valid efforts to promote church unity. In any city, there is the church universal. Each of our particular churches is a sub culture of the City Church, and then within each church, there are sub-sub cultures, such as youth groups, 50’s plus groups, college groups, etc.
We are conscious to understand each sub-sub culture, to speak on their terms, and be sensitive to their world. We seek to promote activities that appeal to those sub-sub cultures, and to bring age appropriate blessings to them.
These efforts are good efforts, in that they reach into people’s worlds. We meet them where they are at. We become “all things to all men that we might save (and bless) some”.
Human nature is such that we love our peer groups. Birds of a feather flock together. We all have that tendency. Like attracts like. Little or no effort is needed to mingle with people like ourselves. It is an unconscious human response to seek out peers that understand us, accept us, and approve of us. And so, sub-sub cultures exist within our church.
While recognizing and ministering to sub-sub cultures in our church has its benefits, it can also create problems regarding church unity. The blessing of attending church can revolve around easily fitting into our sub-sub culture peer group. There is almost if not actual immediate gratification in peer groups. Social and cultural mores are understood, and have been previously navigated. People enter into sub-sub cultures, and though the balance of things changes at times, lesser adjustments can be quickly made.
Most people that I know have little time to expand their circle of friends, much less try to break into a different sub-sub culture. The thought of learning another social language, another culture, etc., is not only not natural, but troublesome and too challenging for most people.
Yet this is what must happen if our churches are going to continue past one generation, and if they are going to be trans-generational. Younger people need to learn from older people, and older people need to realize their responsibility to raise up the next generation.
The Apostle Paul teaches that in Christ, we are created as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). There is a new culture called “Christian”. There is a new man called “Christian”. There is a new peer group called “Christian”.
If a man or woman or teen can see that the greatest oneness they have is not the cultural “sameness” of this present fleeting moment, but the eternal oneness of being one in Jesus, then suddenly that person’s “peer group” is no longer a sub-sub culture, but has grown to include the entire Body of Christ.
If a person can capture the idea that they have settled for the ease of living in a sub-sub culture peer group, but have missed the greater blessing of knowing the entire church, they just might be motivated enough to push past present cultural trends, and actually try to understand another Christian from a different sub-sub culture.
We all understand that the best evangelist for a teen is another teen. Kids come to church because their friends convince them to. Like attracts like.
I submit that if a pastor can convince a few teens that their peer group is the entire church, and not just the youth group, that those kids will begin to reach out to older people in the church. They will convince their friends to go with them as they do it. The same is true for every sub-sub culture peer group. All you need is one or two people from a sub-sub culture to break out and be convinced that their true peer group is actually the entire church.
Therefore, whereas understanding and reaching into sub-sub groups can be effective, and ought to be done, I suggest that we never sacrifice the unity of trans-generational fellowship for the sake of reaching out to a slice of society. Both are needed. We may reach people by focusing on a sub-sub culture, but we need to help them mature into seeing the entire Body of Christ as their peer group. Trans-generational love and nurturing must occur. Kids need to know that the old people want them, not that they simply hire a youth leader to reach them. Old people need to know that young people genuinely respect them for their accomplishments, and are willing to sit and listen to them.
Cultural awareness is important, but love always finds a way to navigate through cultural waters, and reach a kid, a single mom, or an elderly person. Cultural relevance is a tool of understanding, but love is the heart of the matter. Oneness in Christ is the banner that every Christian needs to ultimately see as the glue that not only builds the church, but holds it together, and pushes it forward into the future.
I was recently interviewed by Tim Anderson for a doctumentary on the history of Christian rock music.
The upcoming film will be entitled “Bleed Into One”.
You can read about it by clicking the following links. http://www.facebook.com/Bleedintoone
In the late 70’s, I was singing in club bands, doing top 40 songs, and making a few bucks. I was away from Jesus, and on the wrong side of life. Consequences started piling up, and so did some fear, and in the fall of 1980, I wandered into Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda (later renamed Vineyard).
I had been singing and playing in rock bands since I was in Jr. High. As I was returning to Christ, I imagined myself singing in piano bars, singing spiritual songs that might get people thinking about God. I could play piano a little, and wanted to sing about God, but had no idea what that might look like. I had no history with any of the Christian music scene, and certainly had no idea what I was about to get into. I just knew that I was done singing about the rest of life. I wanted to sing about God.
While at CCYL, I saw an ad in the church bulletin about a band named Undercover auditioning for a singer. Long story short, I got the job, and was blessed to sing for Jesus for the next 3 1/2 years.
I was an adequate singer, but would eventually become a pastor. Undercover was talented and innovative, and the timing of the band’s appearing was incredible, IMO. Undercover hit when the Spirit of God was moving upon the hearts of the youth in So Cal. Most of you know the rest of the story of that time period. Some have considered it a Jesus People revival 2.0, though definitely on a smaller scale. However you might view it, it was real, and God was working in the hearts of many people.
During those years, I was exposed to the highs and lows of “church ministry”, but seeing much that was genuine was impacting upon me. I saw the Gospel preached, and I saw people respond in faith. That time period laid the groove for the rest of my life re. becoming a pastor, and believing in the preaching of the Gospel. I saw what could happen when people to a stand for God.
Some say that the So. Cal. Christian bands of the early 80’s were trail blazers, and that we laid a foundation of many of the Christian bands that would follow. There is probably some truth to that, but the glory goes to God, whatever anyone’s analysis may be.
What I am sure about is this: I got to be used by God in a fantastic way. For me, it wasn’t about the highs and lows of what was or what wasn’t, or what should have been. It wasn’t about what was fair or unfair in ministry. Now that 31 years have passed, I can look back and say that I know that God used me, and used us.
I heard a pastor once say, “Most of us must accept the fact that our lives may never be more than an asterisk on the pages of history”. I didn’t interpret that as a negative statement, but as one that was intended to bring a healthy perspective to who and what we are regarding this great mass of humanity.
Conversely, however, our lives are seen clearly by God, and he records every act done for His glory and done in faith. I am thankful to have been perhaps only an asterisk, and maybe not even that. The important thing for me and for each one of us is that we make sure that our lives count for the purposes of God, and that in THAT, we find great satisfaction.
The man or woman who walks with Jesus will be concerned about people. They will notice the needs of people, as did Jesus, and as He still does. Jesus will use His present day disciples to meet people’s needs. We who follow Jesus must be sensitive to how He is leading us to minister to others.
Matthew records for us what has come to be known as “The Feeding Of The 5,000.” The actual number of people was more than this.
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Jesus was selective in His ministry.*
He didn’t help everybody. He didn’t respond to every human need. He didn’t accept every invitation. Sometimes he said “no”, and went in the opposite direction.
Consider this passage:
Mark 1:32-38 32At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. 33And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.
35Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. 36And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. 37When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”
Jesus had had a full and successful day of ministry. So much so that people were lining up to get to Him. Early the next morning, he rose to pray, but the disciples found Him and urged Him to return to Capernaum, where good things were happening. He refused, and went in another direction, even though He had gained widespread acceptance in Capernaum.
Critics of the church often say things such as this: Shouldn’t the church be feeding the homeless? Shouldn’t the church be helping those bound by addictions? The list goes on about what people think the church should be doing. And when they say “church”, they mean the one that you go to. Read more »
God never said that it would be easy. He said it would be worth it.
Damien Kyle, 10-2-2004
Techniques draw a crowd, but they don’t produce a church.
David Rosales, 6-7-2005
God buries His workmen, but His work lives.
What good is Jesus’ cross if it doesn’t bring a man to his own cross?
Don McCLure, 9-12-2005
Your gifting will get you into the ministry, your character will keep you there.
Mark Walsh, Vajta, Hungary
And my new favorite…
Ministry is a contact sport.
Sandy Adams, 9-10-2007