Cultural Renewal – The Church’s Responsibilityby David V. Edling, Senior Ministry Consultant, Peacemaker Ministries

In the World or of the World?

For several years I have been seeing more clearly that every local church is a culture within a culture. Many years ago, the culture of the church was the predominant influence on secular culture. Moral values that were taught in the church were the moral values practiced in society. Now, a significant shift has occurred—it is the church and her people that are under the influence of the world.

Unfortunately, when conflict comes to the church, all too often the practices of the world come with it. People often “vote with their feet” and angrily leave (an escape response to conflict). Others respond with their pocketbook, withholding financial support until the manipulative power of money brings the result they want (an attack response to conflict).

James 3:13-18 contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God, which is from heaven. This passage says that one is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil, and that the other is pure, peace-loving, and considerate. The culture of any church can be measured by these characteristics. Are the people and their relational patterns earthly and unspiritual or are they pure and peace-loving? Every church that seeks to honor God and display his wisdom will look for ways to conform its culture to God’s Word.

As a way to communicate the dynamic of discovering a unifying theme or “vehicle” from which to cultivate a renewed culture, both in the church and in the world, please follow with me a discussion below between two pastors who serve in the same church. They are discussing ways to draw their church back from the brink of completely falling under the influences of worldly culture and wisdom. They want to equip their members, as any good pastors would, with tools to confront the unspiritual influences of secular culture, perhaps through a ministry of biblical peacemaking in their church. As you hear their discussion, picture what the culture of your church could be like if you undertook similar activity.

Searching for a “Vehicle”

Alex stood close to the window of his church office. Looking out across the parking lot to the busy street beyond, he drew a deep breath and then glanced at Doug, his ministry associate. Doug, who had been on the church staff for four years, sat on the other side of Alex’s desk.

“When I came to this church twenty-nine years ago, people were satisfied with the idea that God had set a standard for Christian life, and they knew it was to be reflected day in and day out, both in the church and out there.” Alex stabbed his finger at the window.

Alex turned to face Doug. “Today it seems like what’s ‘out there’ has had far more influence on us than we have had on it!”

“But doesn’t the Bible tell us to become all things to all men,” asked Doug, “so that we might win some to Christ?”


We’ve been called to be a distinct culture that has a transforming influence on the secular culture of the world.


Alex looked out the window again. “Whenever I read Paul’s first letter to that troubled church in Corinth, particularly the ninth chapter, I think about what it would be like to experience the same freedom Paul knew in ministry. But I don’t think what he was saying there means what you are implying, Doug. No, I think you’ve missed it.” Alex continued with some frustration, “The church can’t become like the world and then expect to be in a position to make any lasting influence on individual men and women or their culture. As the church of Jesus Christ, we’re called to be in the world, but not of the world. We’ve been called to be a distinct culture that has a transforming influence on the secular culture of the world. I’m afraid just the opposite has been happening for far too long. I used to believe that cultural change was a byproduct of a changing and reforming church, but there just seems to be no effective way to challenge the imagination of our members any more. They are being saturated by the values of the world more than by heavenly wisdom.”

Alex abruptly returned to his desk and sat down. He picked up a web site printout and began to read it to Doug with some irritation.

In a recent national survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, people were asked if they believe that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging or if moral truth is relative to the circumstances. By a 3-to-1 margin (64 percent vs. 22 percent), adults said that truth is always relative to the person and the situation. Among teens who were polled, 83 percent said that moral truth depends on the circumstances, and only 6 percent said that moral truth is absolute. Born-again Christians were more likely than others to accept moral absolutes. George Barna, head of the research group, noted, however, that substantial numbers of people who call themselves Christians believe that activities such as abortion, gay sex, cohabitation, drunkenness, and pornography are morally acceptable. “Without some firm and compelling basis for suggesting that acts are inappropriate, people are left with philosophies like ‘if it feels good, do it,’ ‘everyone else is doing it,’ or ‘as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s permissible.'” Barna went on to say that based on these findings, the church is in trouble, and that failure to address this issue at its root—and to do so quickly and persuasively—will undermine the strength of the church for at least another generation, and probably longer.1

“Alex, I don’t think we can expect people not to make some compromises if they are going to be successful in business these days. If we started taking a hard line about every moral nuance that might be implied from Scripture, we would empty the church overnight!”

“I’m not talking about taking a legalistic, hard-line approach, Doug,” Alex replied. “I’m talking about changing the culture of this church so that our people will come to their own conclusions about how they should live ‘out there.'” His eyes brightened, “What I’m talking about is transforming the church by transforming the culture of the church! As people experience a cultural change in the church, they will be confronted with the reality of the difference between life in Christ and life in the world. True Christians should recognize the tension with worldly culture, and then they will have to make a decision. Doug, if we could identify a specific area of life where the church’s culture and the world’s culture clash… where there is a comprehensive and life-engaging practical application that would ignite our people’s imagination…. ” Alex’s voice trailed off and he sighed, “Is there any practical ministry that we could focus on that you can think of?”

Alex paused and frowned. “Tell me, Doug—what aspect of life touches everyone and yet isn’t as politically charged as things like abortion or homosexuality? What all-encompassing concept affects us all, every day that we could identify as a vehicle of change for the culture of our church? What concept could affect the culture of society as our members react and respond in a way that is clearly different from the wisdom of the world?”

Doug and Alex sat in thought for several minutes. The silence was broken by the intercom. Peggy, the church secretary, said, “Pastor, Deacon Johnson is on the phone and he says he’s had it! Apparently he just got off the phone with an angry member who was complaining again about the use of church funds. Will you talk to him?”

Focusing on God’s Model


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Several days later Doug and Alex were deep in discussion again. “Doug, I really think your idea is brilliant! Focusing on conflict and how Christians should respond to it is a perfect vehicle to bring about cultural change in the church! We see the tactics of the world at play in the church whenever there’s any disagreement. People attack each other with harsh language and manipulative power plays, and others run away, never to be heard from again. But the thing I’m most concerned about is pursuing this in a biblical manner. We can’t expect God to transform the culture of our church if we don’t consistently follow his means of change, as well as live up to his standard for the culture we hope to build. In other words, the way we seek to implement biblical change is as important as the result we seek: people responding to conflict biblically.””Well, I know you weren’t too pleased with my misunderstanding and misapplication of 1 Corinthians 9 the other day,” Doug replied, “so I’ve come better prepared to discuss a biblical model for cultural change. I think this can help us work through how to implement a plan for equipping people with conflict resolution skills that are consistent with their faith commitments and with God’s means of change. Here’s what my search of the Bible has led me to believe about the dynamics of cultural change in the church.”

“What I did was step way back from the text of Matthew’s gospel. I wanted to see if I could learn anything about God’s paradigm for cultural change by looking at a single account of God’s coming into the world to change men and their culture. Here is what I found.”

Doug laid a copy of his outline on Alex’s desk:


The Dynamics of Biblical Cultural Change from Matthew’s Gospel
1. John the Baptist generates a new level of ministry expectation.

Matthew 3:11 – “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I…

2. John the Baptist bases the need for change on God’s coming judgment (an unavoidable, life-changing biblical truth).

Matthew. 3:12 – “His [the Lord’s] winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

3. Once the expectation and need for change has been established, God follows through!

Matthew 3:13 – “Then Jesus came…

4. Jesus’ strategy for change:

A. Come follow me (Matthew 4:19)

B. Come be with me (Matthew 26:38)

C. Go! (Matthew 28:19)


Alex studied the outline for a few minutes and looked up several of the passages. “Okay, you’ve got four main points, with the last one subdivided into three strategic steps. Let’s start with the first point: generating a new level of ministry expectation. How does that translate to our situation and the topic of biblical conflict resolution?”

Generating New Expectations

“Our people need to be challenged with a new vision of what it means to be a Christian,” said Doug. “Romans 12:18 says, ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ How many of our members could say they are making an effort to live at peace with those in the church, let alone with everyone? John the Baptist changed people’s expectations by preaching about the One who would bring a new reality to life. Well, that new reality has come, and our preaching should reflect it as we confront our members with the higher biblical standard of peaceful relations with all people. Preaching about peacemaking can create a new expectation for personal relationships. As you know, unbelievers are watching Christians when things go wrong. They challenge the power and validity of the Christian message because they see no difference between the reaction of someone who claims to know Christ and his neighbor who doesn’t. That kind of hypocrisy needs to be confronted and we’re the ones who need to be proclaiming that message.”

Alex looked again at Doug’s outline. “All right, we establish a new expectation by setting a higher standard through our preaching. How does that result in a desire to change worldly habit patterns? For instance, how does a strong-willed church member, a used-to-having-it-his-way businessman, suddenly recognize that he is being a hypocrite? How does he realize that he typically handles conflict with strong arm power and manipulation tactics—in business and in the church—rather than with patience and gentle instruction?”


Christianity is about believing that God means what he says!


“This new expectation and a hunger to do what is right are related,” Doug answered. “If that expectation doesn’t get translated into a heart-felt desire to live up to God’s standard, then you’re right, no change will occur. That’s the second point of the outline. Christianity is about believing that God means what he says! When God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 12 to ‘Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord,’ I believe I have a responsibility to do something. I believe our members take God’s Word seriously when its implications are made clear to them, and that they will respond because it’s not us but God who is calling them. By grace through faith they have believed, and by that same grace they will desire to live holy lives if they are taught what that looks like. I believe if we are faithful to proclaim the expectation – God’s eternal standard for faith and life, he will be faithful to generate in our members the desire.”

“Well,” Alex responded, “I believe change begins with a challenge to the status quo. John the Baptist’s message certainly confronted the religious presuppositions of the day. If we’re going to be biblical about this, we’ll need to challenge the foundations that support unbiblical patterns that our people have fallen into regarding conflict.” Alex looked down at the outline. “I see your next point is follow-through. What do you see as the implications for our ministry?”

Following Through with Ministry Change

“I love that definitive statement: ‘Then Jesus came…!'”‘ exclaimed Doug. “It says it all! God follows through to meet the expectations and needs of the people. As we know, unmet expectations are one of the leading causes of conflict in the church. Once we’ve started down this path, we’ll need to do just as God did, follow through by providing discipleship training and specialized opportunities for those who are gifted for service in a church-based reconciliation ministry. We’ll also need to begin to hold people accountable for their wrong, unbiblical reactions to conflict. I don’t think we can call people to a higher standard and then not provide a structure of loving accountability. While I didn’t include it in my outline, Jesus certainly used the occasion spoken of in Matthew 18 to teach his disciples about the importance of accountability in relationships within the kingdom. We’ll want to do the same if we hope to preserve the church’s integrity.”


Follow-through means being as intentional about peacemaking as we are about evangelism or youth ministry.


Doug paused, then continued. “Follow-through, Alex, means being as intentional about peacemaking as we are about evangelism or youth ministry. Because God places such a high value on peaceful personal relationships, I’ve concluded that this is both appropriate and biblical. Look at Ephesians 4:3: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ There’s that exhortation again, ‘make every effort,’ the same urging as in Hebrews 12:14. I think God takes peace among Christians very seriously.”

“I agree with you, Doug, but I’m still somewhat skeptical that these steps will actually result in a significant change to the culture of our church. Will people be affected so much that they’ll actually go out and impact their day-to-day world?”

Modeling Cultural Change

Doug responded eagerly. “You know if all we were talking about was teaching and preaching I would have the same doubts. But as you recognized earlier, another element is required—modeling. We have to model what has been taught through consistent lifestyles and by being peacemakers ourselves. That brings us to the fourth point on my outline. Jesus didn’t just confine his ministry to words. He lived among his disciples and modeled the principles that they would later live by.


What makes so many ministries ineffective is their failure to demonstrate before people’s eyes the message they’re hearing with their ears.


What makes so many ministries ineffective is their failure to demonstrate before people’s eyes the message they’re hearing with their ears. Jesus said, ‘Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Biblical leadership and the making of biblical leaders is what Jesus did through words and deeds. Of course, that’s classical pastoral equipping that’s described in Ephesians 4:11-13. But it starts with leaders who are committed to their followers and followers who are committed to being equipped for ministry.

Jesus demonstrated the power of that kind of leadership when he called his closest disciples to be with him. To be more specific, one of the most significant times that Jesus modeled cultural change was at Gethsemane when he told his disciples, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’ (Matthew 26:38). Jesus chose transparency over escape, self-exposure over stoicism. Transformational leaders with integrity don’t isolate themselves or cover up; they continue to model personal dependency in both good times and bad. Peacemaking pastors will see times of conflict as God-given opportunities. They will transform those opportunities into assignments for ministry. Of course, the ability to be that kind of model in conflict comes from a deep dependence and trust that’s grounded in the reality of Christ’s authority and God’s sovereignty.”

A Sense of Mission

Doug looked at his watch and said, “Alex, I appreciate your listening to this long explanation. I’m almost finished. The last point on my outline is Jesus’ last strategy for change, ‘Go!’ It’s driven by a sense of mission as big as the Great Commission—a mission so worthy that it overcomes the fears of even the most timid, because it’s bigger than the sum of individual parts. In other words, it is a mission confidence to go into ‘that’ culture from ‘this’ culture because the church truly has been the church, an overcoming body called to withstand even the gates of Hell. A church transformed through a culture of peace is a radical training ground for peacemakers who sow in peace and raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

Doug sat silently waiting for Alex’s reaction. The older man stood and walked to the window. He turned to Doug and said quietly, “Doug, will you forgive me? Through the years you have been gentle and patient with me, and I realize that I’ve not lived up to the biblical means or norm that you’ve so carefully considered with me today. Later I may want to discuss some ways of fine-tuning your plan, but now I need to deal with something more important. The other day I harshly criticized your understanding of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9, and later you heard me beat down Deacon Johnson on the phone. Those actions did not inspire confidence in me as a spiritual leader for a cultural revolution of peace. If I’m to lead our efforts to build a culture of peace in our church, I’ll need to change. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

Doug stood and walked toward Alex with a smile. “Alex, the cultural change in our church has just begun. Yes, I forgive you.”

Putting it All Together


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Alex and Doug will continue to work out their plan for effectively leading their church into a culture of peace. They understand that Jesus’ strategy for cultural change came to fruition when people recognized their need for change and had a new sense of expectation. Jesus called people to follow him, to be with him, and to go. All three elements seem to be necessary if we want our church cultures to become cultures of peace, transforming lives that are then ready to confront the world and its culture.As we seek to emulate our Lord’s paradigm, we need to remember three vital instruments for our doing so: (1) reliance on the Holy Spirit as we recognize and call forth the spiritual gifts God has given to men (Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12: 4-11, Eph. 4:11-13); (2) consistent modeling of the character traits that qualify church leaders (1 Pet. 5:2-3; 1 Tim. 3:2-12; Tit. 1: 6-9); and (3) gentle instruction when opposed. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “He [the leader] must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25, emphasis added). If we believe that responding to conflict biblically is the vehicle through which we can create a new and transforming culture in the church, the biblical practice of gentle instruction is particularly important. People really do need to see a consistent message as well as hear it.

Would you like to see the culture of your church renewed to a culture of peace? Do you want your church to become a training ground for culture-changing, transformational relationships that witness to the world? Paul called on the church at Ephesus to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Paul didn’t mean a worldly and shallow “peace,” and neither do I. Rather, I mean peaceful relationships between believers that truly reflect Christ’s standard that is the biblical norm. His standard for our words is “speaking only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4: 29).


Relational peace is built on the peace that Jesus won for us on the cross.


His standard for our deeds is “bearing with each other and forgiving whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Col. 3:13). In other words, this relational peace is built on the peace that Jesus won for us on the cross. It is the same peace that James wrote about: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

If this is your vision for the church, Peacemaker Ministries can equip you and your church to respond to conflict biblically and cultivate a culture of peace. A culture of peace is begun as church leaders recognize that it will take nothing less than an intentional cultural revolution in the church to break worldly patterns of responding to conflict. Peacemaker Ministries has many resources that will facilitate and fuel your revolution at each step of the model discussed in this article. Visit The Peacemaking Church section of this website for more information about cultivating peace in your church.


Endnotes

1 Quoted in “The Church Around the World”, vol. 30, no. 6, 2002, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL.

I am indebted to my former pastor and ministry partner, Dr. Richard P. Kaufmann, for the insight of the three elements employed by Jesus as a transformational leader.


David V. Edling holds an MAR (Theology) degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in California and a JD from California Western School of Law. He is a Senior Ministry Consultant for Peacemaker Ministries (www.Peacemaker.net), an international ministry committed to equipping and assisting Christians and their churches to respond to conflict biblically.

This article in its entirety may be photocopied, re-transmitted by electronic mail, or reproduced in newsletters, on the World Wide Web, or in other print media, provided that such copying, re-transmission, or other use is not for profit or other commercial purpose. Any distribution or use of this article must set forth the following credit line, in full, at the conclusion of the article: “© 2005 Peacemaker® Ministries, www.Peacemaker.net. Reprinted with permission.” Peacemaker Ministries may withdraw or modify this grant of permission at any time.

 

Skills

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February 16, 2015