Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pastor Mark Batterson - Thoughts on Life and Leadership

Pastor Batterson wrote this. Great article on Culture. check it out!

"The Batterson Blog - Thoughts on Life and Leadership" -

Decoding Culture

One of the themes of Buzz 07 is decoding culture. I just finished a chapter for a book that will be published on the topic next year. It's a collection of "essays." Just thought I'd share an excerpt.

Church Steeples
There was a time, just a few centuries ago, when nautical maps of Europe had legends that included the location of churches on land and church steeples doubled as navigational tools for ship captains. Churches were typically built on choice real estate in the center of town or atop the highest hill. And in some places, there were ordinances against building anything taller than the church steeple so it would occupy the place closest to heaven. Nothing was more visible on the pre-modern skyline than church steeples. And in a sense, church steeples symbolized the place of the church in culture. There was a day, in the not too distant past, when church was the center of culture. Church was the place to go. Church was the thing to do. Nothing was more visible than the church steeple. Nothing was more audible than the church bells. And it might be a slight exaggeration, but all the pre-modern church had to do was raise a steeple and ring a bell.

Is it safe to say that things have changed?

The church no longer enjoys a cultural monopoly. We are the minority in post-Christian America. And the significance of that is this: we can't afford to do church the way it's always been done. Our tactics must change.

Don't get me wrong: the message is sacred. But methods are not. And the moment we anoint our methods as sacred, we stop creating the future and start repeating the past. We stop doing ministry out of imagination and start doing ministry out of memory. And if we think that raising the steeple or ringing the bells will get the job done; the church in America will end up right where the Israelites found themselves in Judges 2:10:

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.

Permission to speak frankly?
Too many pastors are getting As in Biblical exegesis and Ds in cultural exegesis. We know Scripture, but we're out of touch with the times. The end result is a gap between theology and reality called irrelevance. We're out of touch with the very people we're trying to reach—the unchurched and dechurched. We've got to exegete our culture so we can close the gap. That's what incarnation is all about.

The post-Christian church needs a revelation: irrelevance is irreverence! Church and Culture As I see it, the church has four options when it comes to engaging culture: 1) ignore it, 2) imitate it, 3) condemn it, or 4) create it.

And each option leads in polar opposite directions. We can ignore culture, but the byproduct of ignorance is irrelevance.

The more we ignore culture the more irrelevant we'll become. And if the church ignores the culture, the culture will ignore the church.

We can imitate culture, but imitation is a form of suicide. Originality is sacrificed on the altar of cultural conformity. If we don't shape the culture, the culture will shape us.

We can condemn culture, but condemnation is a cop out. Let me just call it what it is: condemnation is spiritual laziness.

We've got to stop pointing the finger and start offering better alternatives. If the church condemns the culture, the culture will condemn the church.

Those three options will lead the church down a dead-end road to irrelevance, but there is another option--the only option if we're serious about fulfilling the Great Commission and incarnating the gospel. We can compete for culture by creating culture. In the immortal words of the Italian artist and poet, Michelangelo: criticize by creating. At the end of the day, the culture will treat the church the way the church treats the culture. And we're not called to condemn. We're called to redeem.

Cultural Capital

Let me confront an issue spiritual leaders face: it is difficult to demand attention if we don't pay attention. If we talk without listening, what we have to say is viewed as a diatribe. And we'll keep answering questions no one is asking!

A few years ago someone paid me a surprising compliment that caught me off guard. They thanked me for quoting non-Biblical sources in my messages. No one had ever commented on that component of my communication, but that compliment has become part of my philosophy of preaching.

I love to read and I'm interested in just about everything, so it's not uncommon for me to quote anyone from Aristotle and Heraclites to Gladwell and Goleman. And what I realized is this. Quoting Scripture gives me credibility with Christians. Quoting non-Biblical sources gives me credibility with non-Christians. And while our non-biblical sources should never be unbiblical, we have to recognize that cross pollinating with non-theological disciplines gives us cultural capital.

Every year we do two series titled God @ the Billboard and God @ the Box Office that explore spiritual themes in popular songs and movies. The reason is simple: the sixty percent of Americans who don’t attend church get their theology from movies and music. For better or for worse, musicians and movie makers are the chief theologians in our culture.

In the prophetic words of the eighteenth century Scottish thinker, Andrew Fletcher: "Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws."

Our culture is shaped, even more than we realize, by the movies we watch and the music we listen to. And we have a choice. We can ignore them. We can condemn them. Or we can dialogue about them.

God @ the Box Office and God @ the Billboards are attempts to exegete the movies and music that are shaping the cultural consciousness of nearly two hundred million unchurched Americans. We exegete the scripts and lyrics and juxtapose them with Scripture. And while a series on movies or music may sound like watered-down or dumbed-down versions of the gospel, they are actually two of our hardest hitting sermon series because movies and music are brutally honest about the human condition.

We need to get serious about exegeting culture and finding spiritual identification points. We need to redeem cultural metaphors to communicate the gospel. Isn't that what Jesus did as a parabolist? He framed truth in ways that fit within the cognitive categories of his listeners. It was intellectual incarnation.

If we choose to ignore the culture around us, we aren't following in the footsteps of Jesus. We're only digging our own grave and burying ourselves alive.
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