Don’t drink the water: How culture has corrupted the American Church

Publicado: agosto 19, 2011 en 3DM Discipulado, Iglesia, Iglesia Emergente, Misión Integral

by Mike Breen

One of the things we have to develop if we are to be missionaries to those around us is the ability to step back from our culture and observe it carefully and thoughtfully. We do this so we can best connect the Gospel of Jesus — of his available Kingdom — with the culture we live in. We also do it so we can be careful not to let toxic pieces of the culture we are seeking to redeem insinuate themselves into our worldview. That’s why we are told “be in the world, but not of it.” Being observers and exegeters of culture teach us how to “be not of it.”

Let me offer an example that, perhaps, will stir the pot.

If you read The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille (and if you’re serious about reaching the American culture, you need to read it), he talks about the culture of the United States. He says many things, but one thing he mentions is that part of the “code” of America is the culture of abundance. We don’t just buy what we need, we buy far above and beyond that. In fact, if you get down into the history of this country, you see that this is actually woven into the fabric of America since its’ inception. It’s absolutely fascinating.

So in this culture we find ourselves in, abundance is good.

But it goes further than that. We ascribe certain qualities and virtues to abundance — “success” or “value” or “meaning.” In American culture, a simple formula is this: The more money/stuff/friends/houses you have = the more successful/valuable/meaningful you are. It’s a simple formula and we probably see it all around us. People base their personal identity and value on the degree of abundance they are living into. We know this is destructive. All we have to do is look at our current financial system and see how unstable this is. Yet it’s all around us.

What’s interesting is how it is playing out in more subtle ways, insinuating itself into much of the world Christians inhabit. The sad reality is that churches/pastors live by the same simple formula: The more you have = the more successful/valuable/meaningful you are. In other words, the more people go to your church, the better you are as a pastor. The more people that show up on a Sunday morning, the more successful you are. We’ll even reward you with special perks to affirm you are special: The conference circuit. If your church gets big enough, we’ll stick you on a stage with the spotlight on you in front of thousands and thousands of your peers, who lean forward with baited breath, waiting to hear what you have to say.

The more people in your church = the more successful and influential you are. Or more simply, “Big = right.”

Here’s my question: Who says so?

Who in the world says that formula is right? Where in scripture can I find it written that people with the biggest churches are the most successful in the eyes of Jesus and his Kingdom? Now I’m not saying that big churches can’t be successful in the eyes of the Kingdom, I’m simply saying it’s not a given. I’m saying that just because you have a lot of people coming to your church doesn’t mean you’re actually preaching and living out the Gospel of Jesus. This formula we’ve accepted in our church culture is an adoption of the wider culture, not the culture of real Kingdom life. It has insinuated itself into our thinking and we must see how toxic it is. In fact, you would have a hard time convincing me that our enemy’s strategy isn’t to let a certain % of churches grow to reinforce this toxic and warped way of thinking. It pushes us away from true Kingdom success, so it’s not really a loss for him, is it?

Really hear what I’m saying. It’s not that big churches are bad. I’m not saying we shouldn’t want our churches to grow and see more and more people come to faith and be discipled. I pastored one of the largest churches in Europe. But I didn’t evaluate the success of our church on the size or % growth of our church attendance.

It’s about quality, not quantity. If I had to pick between a church of 50 people who were all disciples and Kingdom citizens or 5,000 people who went to my thing on Sunday but few were actual disciples…I’d take the smaller group every time. EVERY TIME. Because that is what Jesus valued most, it’s what I value most.

How many churches at the end of the year ask themselves, “Did we grow this year?” and use the answer to this question as a barometer of success or failure? Yes, of course we want our churches to grow and see more people come to faith. But that is in the Lord’s hands, not our own. Life in the Kingdom of God says that success is faithfulness. Period. Success is obedience. Success is doing what God has asked you to do and being faithful to him, letting him control outcomes. Daniel in the Old Testament refused to eat the food of the culture for fear of being contaminated. My friends, our churches and our minds are contaminated. The “world” has crept in and warped the way we see things.

The value of your ministry is not evaluated on how big it is and how fast it is growing, as if we were stockholders evaluating the growth of the shares we hold. Your ministry is successful if, and only if, you and your community are obedient to what God has asked you to do. Ask yourself this question: Are we being faithful?

There were times in Jesus’ ministry when he had more than 20,000 people coming to hear him speak, hanging on every syllable, wondering what he’d say or do next. This same man lost next to everyone, with even his closest friends leaving him. We see the same kind of journey for the Apostle Paul. Yet in the eyes of the Kingdom, both are “successful” because they were obedient.

Perhaps there is no better way to close this post than with the covenantal prayer that John Wesley would use and has become a guiding prayer in my own personal journey. May it comfort and disturb you:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.



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