Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Church as Culture

Monday night in my Leading Congregational Transformation course we had another professor come in to talk about ethnology. She brought up a wonderful way of conceiving church I had never thought of before. She introduced the church as a culture of its own and her studied involved ethnology.

A church is a culture that has its own language, customs, rituals, etc. Every church has its own culture that encodes the story of God in their culture. For instance, an inner city church in Houston will have a completely different culture from a suburban church in Frisco, TX. As a new preacher to a church, it is vital to begin to understand a church's culture before making an impact.

In overseas missions, it is a grave error to plant an American church with American cultural norms and beliefs into an African church. Different symbols mean different things. God's story must be translated into the culture. This is why anthropology and the study of culture are so important for any missionary. You cannot plant an American church in an African culture.

Just so, I cannot plant a church conceived in a seminary in Abilene, Texas, in whatever church I end up at. Any model for church that is one-size-fits-all is not appropriate for church work. Culture and location matters. Each church has a different culture and needs a different way to do church. This is what makes church work so interesting to me. Every church will need a different kind of minister and symbol to get across the same message of Jesus Christ. The mosaic of Christianity points to the same thing but in different ways. How illuminating!

Flexibility is the key word for the next three years. May God continue to keep my plans and dreams for the church flexible because the last thing the church needs is a set of clones on a mission to take over the church for one agenda. I must become an observer of culture and symbol over the next three years and hopefully that will transform me into a preacher that allows dreams to come from within a church rather from without.

The Spirit of God is among the people of God. The mission of God is wrapped up in the gifts of a given community of faith. The mission may look different in every church, but the message must remain constant: God is the one who continues to seek the lost despite every human's reaction of sin. Jesus Christ is the only reason for our hope and in him is life!

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