The Priority of Culture

Have you ever realized there is no New Testament equivalent to the book of Leviticus? Even when you take into account that we now live under grace and not the Law, I still find it remarkable that there is not a single book in the New Testament prescribing the order of worship and the organization of the Church. There is no command regarding the official liturgy, the official Church calendar, or even the sanctioned structure of the Church. Acts provides some  clues, but it’s not nearly descriptive enough to be definitive, just passing references to the fledgling structure in Luke’s narrative of the missional history of the early believers.

One simple book could have settled for all eternity the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, the worship wars, the high vs low church disputes, and the micro vs mega-church trends. In the Old Testament, nothing was left to chance, the entire religious structure was provided in great detail, so why is it missing for us?

I believe the answer is found in what we were given, which is a whole lot about our new identity in Christ and how to live accordingly. In other words, we died to the culture of world and are reborn into the culture of Heaven. Learning to live this culture is far more important than the systems regarding how we do it.

This doesn’t mean structures are unimportant; they do matter and we see the apostles wrestling through the practical side of organization in Acts 6 and Acts 15, but I believe we’ve overly emphasized ministry models and systems to the neglect of a healthy culture.

The reason for this oversight is quite simple: It’s much easier to develop a structure than it is to develop a culture. Systems can be measured, and good systems do lead to increased growth. Systems can be mass produced and taught in a classroom setting. By contrast, culture is ambiguous, difficult to track, and hard to build. Church growth places tremendous pressure on structures. Most pastors do care about culture, but feel like their life is spent playing catch up.

There aren’t easy answers to culture, that’s the point of this article, but I do believe we need a fresh commitment to its importance. Resolving to prioritize culture, no matter the cost, is a crucial first step. If this sounds extreme, consider the ministry of Jesus. He spent three whole years modeling culture for just twelve men. Of all the options for the Messiah to spend His time, He chose to disciple a few misfits into a Kingdom culture. That also sounds extreme.

While there is no one silver bullet to culture creation, we can start by imitating the Savior. Culture cannot be mass-produced but, if it’s healthy, will eventually be massively reproduced. Start with a few, even if you’re in a large church, and disciple them. Learn to live the example of Jesus together in community. Radically commit to mission. Live transparent. Invest in healthy relationships. None of the this is rocket science, we’re talking about the same  basics of the Kingdom  everyone talks about, the problem is that we seldom live it. Create a culture, no matter how small, of actually living the teachings of Jesus and you’ll see that which starts as a mustard seed will soon overshadow the whole garden.

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