If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: we are in the world, but not of the world. This popular sentiment of our Christian sub-culture (taken from John 17) has come to imply that the Church and the rest of the world cannot and should not mix. We are not of this world, so why should we care about culture?
Many Christians (myself included) can’t help but see all the negative and un-biblical things about our modern world. Subconsciously, we begin to think of Church culture as “holy” and the world as “evil”. We hum along with lyrics like “this is not where I belong”, as we try to get through another week. We focus on keeping our two lives—our two cultures—completely separate. Church attendance and Bible study on one side. Worldly job and earthly friends on the other.
But if Christ really has called us to be leaders, is this distinction of culture accurate or realistic? How can we fulfill our leadership calling if we keep ourselves carefully separated from the very people we are called to love and to serve?
Culture, Paint, and Pollock
So what is “culture” anyway? How do you define something so intricate and diverse? Israel Steinmetz (Dean of Academic Affairs at Artios Christian College) broadly defines culture as “everything that makes up a unique society.” This includes history, language, art, customs, geography, entertainment, transportation, technology, and religion. None of these things are inherently evil. “When we really dig into the intricacies of culture we realize how inadequate it is to label it as a ‘bad thing'”.
Israel goes on to compare culture to a Jackson Pollock painting. Much like the separate components of culture, the individual drips, blobs, and splashes of paint on a Pollock canvas combine to form a unique and complex piece of art. Every facet of culture has an intricate relationship with the surrounding features. No matter how much we strive to remain separate, our culture has an enormous influence on how we live and how we interact with others. The key is to recognize this influence and to sift it through the lens of God’s design. Israel notes that to really study this influence: “each element [of culture] would have to be parsed out individually to examine: ‘is this representative of God’s good design for humanity?’ or ‘is this representative of some deformity or twisting of God’s design?'”
Why We Should Care About Culture: Sent Into the World
Even though we are not of this world, Jesus has sent us into the world. Despite becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 4: 6-7), we remain residents of an earthly kingdom. We live amidst and are shaped by the culture around us. As followers of Christ, our commission is not to abandon the world but to live in it as Kingdom representatives.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking forward to the prize at the end of the race (Philippians 3:20, 2 Timothy 4:8). We should take time to be routinely encouraged and refreshed by the presence of our Savior and look forward to His glorious return. But, if our only focus as Christians is to escape the confines of this world, how can we effectively minister to those lost within the labyrinth of culture?
For all the negative side effects of living in this world, there exist opportunities to positively impact our culture and to advance God’s Kingdom. As Israel says in the video below: “Living in any culture means that it is shaping us and being shaped by us.”
Are you ready to become intentional about your leadership calling and positively influence the culture around you?
- Read Why Jesus-Followers Should See Themselves as Leaders
- Get Artios Christian College’s free download of Discovering Your Leadership Strengths
- Enroll in Artios Christian College’s introductory course: Essentials of Vibrant Leadership
- Stay tuned for the Christian Education Workshop led by Artios’ Director of Administration, Amber Mann Riggs!