What Does Culture Mean In Christian Community
In all organisations, there is either a culture that is clearly defined and intentional created or one that just happens. Should we be clear on the culture we are wanting to establish and if so, what are the key things that need to underpin a healthy Christian culture in our homes, churches and places of work?
In the book Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Peter Scazzero, Peter examines six key components of a healthy culture. Before we look at these components, it is important to establish both the context of the Christian community and why we exist.
To begin with, all people who come to an organisation including churches, have an element of chaos in their lives which originates from their backgrounds, cultures and families of origin. Our goal is to take people who often struggle with relationship skills, hurts and insecurities and shape them into a family that lives and grows in an intentional Jesus culture.
So what is culture? It is something that is hard to define and to understand, culture must be experienced and felt. Culture is very hard to articulate. Peter defines culture as 'the sum total of the learned patterns of thought and behaviour' of any group. Despite the difficulty in being able to define a culture, the culture of an organisation is very important and needs to be intentionally created, shaped and maintained. This is the responsibility of the leader.
When looking at culture for churches, Peter identifies six characteristics or qualities of emotionally healthy church culture. This would be a good place to start when looking at any culture:-
Quality 1: Slowed-Down Spirituality
But those who wait for Yahweh’s grace
will experience divine strength.
They will rise up on soaring wings and fly like eagles,
run their race without growing weary,
and walk through life without giving up. Isaiah 40:31 TPT
Instead of being caught up in the frantic pace of life, we instead slow down to be in the presence of Jesus. From this time we receive all that we need for everything in life. If we want to be in a church culture that changes lives, we must set up a rhythm of life that is slower and deliberate. Scripture, silence, prayer and solitude are at the heart of the community as being with God is always the start and doing for God flows from this place. Instead of living from the spirituality of others, each person intentionally cultivates their own personal relationship with Jesus. The community embraces the reality that lasting fruit only comes through abiding in the presence of Jesus first individually and then as a community.
Quality 2: Integrity in Leadership
Integrity will lead you to success,
but treachery will destroy your dreams.
Integrity is one of the most important character traits of godly leaders. What they are on the outside is what they are on the inside when they are walking in integrity. As leaders learn to walk in integrity, they give both themselves and then others permission to live lives out of vulnerability and brokenness. In an earlier blog, I wrote about the difference between image and identity. When a leader's image is the most important thing, they are constantly working to ensure others see them in the best light and are impressed with who they are. Power, approval from others, worldly success and fame is what motivates the leader whose image is their focus. In a healthy culture, the leader knows their identity and is firmly established in who God says they are and who they are in Christ. Through knowing their identity, leaders with integrity openly invite others to ask questions and can set healthy limits which means they are comfortable saying no or yes to things as appropriate.
The most important characteristic of a leader who displays integrity is that they lead themselves and in doing so their work for God comes through a deep inner life with God.
Quality 3: Beneath The Surface Discipleship
13 These grace ministries will function until we all attain oneness into the faith, until we all experience the fullness of what it means to know the Son of God, and finally we become one into a perfect man with the full dimensions of spiritual maturity and fully developed into the abundance of Christ.
14 And then our immaturity will end! And we will not be easily shaken by trouble, nor led astray by novel teachings or by the false doctrines of deceivers who teach clever lies. 15 But instead we will remain strong and always sincere in our love as we express the truth. All our direction and ministries will flow from Christ and lead us deeper into him, the anointed Head of his body, the church.
As a Christian community, our desire is to grow up into the image and likeness of Christ. To do this, we must develop a culture where self-awareness is paramount, and through this self-awareness, we can act upon the things that need to change. Although church activities look and feel 'good', attending or being involved does not lead to Christians maturing in their faith. Instead, through the slow, hard process of understanding what the Word of God says and how to learn to live this in our everyday lives, people can be disciplined. People are to be supported to break free of the beneath the surface issues including habits, sins and influences from the family of origin so they can truly live as Christ-followers.
When people are authentically discipled, they learn to meet Jesus in their losses and limits, through receiving the love of God. They learn to love others and live out the gospel of grace and the truth of the scriptures. Sins are confessed and dealt with and disciples are encouraged to pursue healthy desires and celebrate the many gifts God gives including friendship, nature, laughter and music.
29 For he knew all about us before we were born and he destined us from the beginning to share the likeness of his Son. This means the Son is the oldest among a vast family of brothers and sisters who will become just like him. Romans 8:29
Quality 4: Healthy Community
25 He has done this intentionally so that every member would look after the others with mutual concern, and so that there will be no division in the body. 26 In that way, whatever happens to one member happens to all. If one suffers, everyone suffers. If one is honored, everyone rejoices. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 TPT
When our focus in a church is about changing lives, the culture must be one where people are not defensive, they are approachable and feel safe. When communicating, the emphasis needs to be speaking clearly to others, respectfully and honestly. Not only can we learn to love others with the way we speak, the way we manage conflict needs to be carefully taught and demonstrated by the leaders and more mature. Elephants in the room need to be discussed and people need to be equipped to be able to fight cleanly and in a way that respects and builds relationships.
In a healthy community, there is an emphasis on listening to different viewpoints, choices and different spiritual journeys. People are free to share and encourage and allow others to go on their own spiritual journey. There is no blaming, shaming as the community connect out of weakness and vulnerabilities.
Quality 5: Passionate Marriages and Singleness
21 And out of your reverence for Christ be supportive of each other in love. 22 For wives, this means being devoted to your husbands like you are tenderly devoted to our Lord, 23 for the husband provides leadership for the wife, just as Christ provides leadership for his church, as the Savior and Reviver of the body. 24 In the same way the church is devoted to Christ, let the wives be devoted to their husbands in everything.
25 And to the husbands, you are to demonstrate love for your wives with the same tender devotion that Christ demonstrated to us, his bride. For he died for us, sacrificing himself 26 to make us holy and pure, cleansing us through the showering of the pure water of the Word of God. 27 All that he does in us is designed to make us a mature church for his pleasure, until we become a source of praise to him—glorious and radiant, beautiful and holy, without fault or flaw. Ephesians 5:21-27
I found this one the most interesting. Peter states that our mission is to 'model God's passionate love for the world by living out of our marriages or singleness'. The culture of the church should be one that demonstrates the love that Christ has for the world through the way we relate to our wife, husband, or how we live a life of singleness. Oneness with Christ leads to an intimate oneness in married relationships. In a church culture there needs to be an open discussion of sexuality and a realisation that the intimate relationship between a husband and wife reveals to the world the intimate relationship Christ is wanting with His Church, His bride! Chastity in singleness also is an opportunity to display this exclusive intimacy Christ is pursuing. Each person is made invaluable and unique handmade creations. There must be a love for each other and no hint of using other people for your own gain.
Quality 6: Every Person In Full Time Ministry
18 Then Jesus came close to them and said, “All authority of the universe has been given to me.19 Now wherever you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.20 And teach them to faithfully follow all that I have commanded you. And never forget that I am with you every day, even to the completion of this age.” Matthew 28:18-20.TPT
As the community promotes a relationship with Christ that involves stopping, spending time with God and living a life that involves walking with God, then our perspective on ministry changes. Every person has been commissioned to walk in the authority Jesus has given us every day. No one person is singled out to be in full-time ministry. The church family stops the consumer and consumer mentality and reject mainstream cultural norms. No longer are work and spirituality compartmentalised, but everything that is done is an act of worship that brings order. The community is one that is based on the Kingdom of God thinking, speaking, acting and living. Within every persons' sphere of influence new skills in loving others are used and the presence of Jesus is practiced. Every believer is both being discipled and discipling others. As a body, there is an active push against any ideology that demeans humans, including racism and sexism.
As we live in more challenging times, we can either hide, or we can actively pursue the examples of Christ and how to live in a community where the culture is one that promotes the growing of His Kingdom on earth. As people come into the church broken, hurting, with the things of the dominant culture very much controlling their lives, God is calling us to push back through understanding what culture is, how Jesus developed a healthy culture and what the Word of God says about how we are to live and relate to others. Culture is not something that is developed quickly, but instead as we stop, immerse ourselves in the Word, learn to hear God's voice and walk in relationship with God, we can slowly become more and more the people that truly represent God on earth. Slowing down spiritually is the first step. Then we must be people of integrity which requires us to understand and walk in the identity God has given us to live. Deep and intentional discipleship has to be a priority, not works. This discipleship is not just completing church activities, but actively reading the Scriptures and purposefully cutting away anything that is not of God and growing into healthy spiritual and emotional people. Our community must be healthy, where people are heard and understood and we can love each other no matter where we are on our spiritual journey. Marriages and even singleness need to be encouraged so that these relationships reflect the love Christ has for His Church. Finally, as we live in a Christ centred community where each person is equipped to slow down, connect with God and be discipled, each person is released into the world in full time ministry. With this cultural model, the Church will have the huge impact on the world that He intends His Church, His bride to have.
What culture are you intentionally pursuing in your family, church and workplace?