How far is too far? This question is on the minds and hearts of many pastors today. The rapid success of a few prominent pastors draws others to adopt their methodology without proper consideration. The lure of immediate success can tempt pastors to disregard the priority of theology in the pursuit of overnight growth. This tragic reality in our convention needs to be addressed.
While the convention tries to reignite itself with a new and fresh vision for the future, the pragmatic pursuit of success has the potential to harm the work of the kingdom. In fact, over-the-top accommodation to the culture is potentially more divisive than other theological issues such as Calvinism. We might call it “Hyper-Culturalism,” and it places Southern Baptists at the crossroads of progression or digression.
This issue has the power to divide my generation of pastors. As I use the term, Hyper-Culturalism is the belief that one must go to the very edge of culture to reach people for Christ. The issue we face is both a theological and methodological issue. It poses the question of how far should we go toward being like the world in order to share the message of the gospel.
To be clear, I am not saying that churches and pastors should not be creative. I believe creativity is a great tool that the church can use to impact the world.
However, we must draw the line between creativity and immersing ourselves into modern-day culture.
There is a major difference between a church that engages culture and one that embraces culture. A church that engages culture with the necessary tools can be effective while holding to the priority of holiness. We see this example in a church in Louisiana. The church meets on Sundays in a bar. The pastor and church built a relationship with the bar so that the pastor can come into the bar on Saturday night, stop the music and invite those at the bar to the worship service the next morning.
This pastor is engaging the people where they are, yet he is not pulling up a barstool ordering a beer in his efforts to reach them for Christ. We need to engage culture where it is with the gospel, not embrace it by compromising biblical values and standards. People are looking for an alternative to the world from the church. We do not have to own “sexual websites” or have “in-depth sex talk series and dialogue” to engage culture with God’s message for marital intimacy.
We do not have to have to look like a nightclub in order to reach people. We do not have to speak like those who do not know Christ in order to get on their level. The bottom line is that we must engage, not embrace, culture and in doing so stand out in holiness.
The problem with Hyper-Culturalism is that Scripture clearly teaches that we are to be different. Jesus himself says that we are to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16). Paul says we are to come out and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17). God says we are to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). The letter of James says to stay unstained by the world (James 1:27).
For some reason, we have the idea that we must become like a lost world to reach a lost world. When we come to the place where we feel that we have to act like or live like lost people to reach them, we have essentially diluted the power of the gospel to change lives. This notion stands in contrast to the methodology of Jesus. Being different and separate while maintaining relevance can go hand in hand. Jesus was absolutely different from most people that he encountered yet more relevant than any human in history.
In fact, the life of Jesus was nothing like culture or society, it was absolutely contrary. Jesus’ life was marked by truth and holiness. This truth was as relevant as it needed to be. It was sufficient to the woman at the well, Nicodemus, the adulterous woman, the thief on the cross, and is as relevant today as ever.
Our generation needs to awaken to the fact that God has no superstars in ministry. God’s Word is as true, relevant, and active in my life as it is in the next person’s. While methodology is significant, the gospel is what changes people. We cannot exchange biblical truth for a chance at overnight stardom. We are called to build churches, not crowds. We are commissioned to create followers, not fans. This is done by living as Jesus lived and going as Jesus went, not by adapting our lifestyle as culture goes.
If we are going to see people come to Christ and our convention truly unified with the common goal of changing this world, not becoming like it, I believe this generation needs to rally around four things:
?Biblical Fidelity: We must allow Scripture to shape our view of culture, not culture to shape our view of Scripture.
?Scriptural Methodology: We must look at the models God has provided in Scripture and apply them in our context.
?Personal Holiness: We must make sure our lives are above reproach so that lost people can distinguish the difference. If there is no difference between us and the world, why should they embrace Christ?
?Radical Love: We must love those who are in the world, yet we share with them a message that is not of this world.
So how far is too far? I b