Those of us who have made church a part of life for many years may not even be aware of the “church culture” we surround ourselves with. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but we need to understand what is taking place and how it can effect our ministry and witness. Let’s begin by defining some terms:
culture: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc. (Miriam Webster Online)
subculture: a group that has beliefs and behaviors that are different from the main groups within a culture or society (Miriam Webster Online)
A culture is defined in terms of dress, food, music and language. A large and diverse culture also contains many different subcultures who are part of the larger group. Bikers, skaters, gamers and hipsters have their own style and habits but are still part of our society. It’s natural to form groups with other people that share similar interests. Church people, intentionally or otherwise, create a subculture with it’s own set of cultural norms. That can be a problem if the subculture we create prevents the spread of Christianity.
The Kingdom of God will be made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. (Rev 7:9) Christianity is about reaching every person with the Gospel. Look at the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2. Many nations were gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, and after Pentecost they carried the message of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection back to their homes all over Europe, Africa and Asia. God is not a respecter of persons and the Great Commission demands that we make disciples in all the nations. The need for Christ crosses every political, social and economic line of division and so must the Gospel.
Chances are you go to church with people that act, dress and talk like you do. Within the larger Christian culture there are also Christian subcultures. It’s not unusual for a youth group to play loud music and eat pizza while the grown-ups sing hymns and have prayer meeting. Your senior pastor probably wears a suit and stands behind a podium while the youth pastor wears jeans and walks around the stage. It’s normal, like we said in the beginning, for us to group together with others like us. That causes Christians to form a church culture, a subculture of the greater society at large, and that can be a problem.
As the church we are commanded to meet together for teaching, fellowship and edification. We are to be people of the book when it comes to reading and putting into practice the Bible. We are called out of the world and instructed to walk circumspectly. But we have to be careful. When we have our own rules, music, dress code, and colloquial language we distance ourselves from those outside the church. We remove ourselves from the mission field. Just like a motorcycle gang might meet every Friday night at the VFW, or the local boy scout troop meets once a month in the troop leader’s living room, we can make Sunday morning our own little social club. We can make “church” something we get together and do rather than making Christianity a lifestyle we live. We must put on Christ every day of the week.
Church should not be about Sunday; church should affect our Monday through Saturday. We gather to worship but then leave in order to go out and serve. We sometimes think of those outside the church as the enemy. Satan is our enemy; those who do not know Christ are the mission field. Your enemy walks to and fro on the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour; the guy in the cubicle next to you in the office is not your enemy. Your faith may be attacked by supporters of gay marriage, Pro-Choicers or atheists. We must defend our faith without demonizing men and women made in God’s image. Even while being crucified Jesus prayed for those crucifying him. (Luke 23:34) We are commanded to imitate Christ and to have the same mind in us as Christ had. (Phip 2:5-7)
It is natural to create a subculture group with other people that look and act the same we do. Part of Christianity is about resisting what is natural. It is natural to desire certain things and then seek those things to fulfill our desires. Christians are challenged to rise above our natural desires and seek the things of God. We crucify the flesh and it’s desires even those those things are natural. Church is probably the last place a person that needs Christ is going to voluntarily walk into. We must carry the Gospel into the world outside of the church, showing kindness and doing good even to those who would not do the same for us. And when the people we invite do show up at church, we must find ways to make them welcome even though they make talk or act a little different than the “church people” we’re used to. Making more church people is not what we need; regeneration takes place when the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ and he changes them.