Communities Are Failing

communities are failing

In my last post (What Redeems Culture?) I stated that community redeems culture, but communities are failing. As a result, culture rules in the ruins of community.

One question this doesn’t answer is, “What is community?” That’s a logical question, but the fact we have to ask it is evidence that communities, as we know them, are failing.

Communities Are Failing

Communities have been failing for a long time. Small towns are shrinking in the face of hard economic times. Small churches struggle to stay alive past a dying generation.

Even our neighborhoods lack a feeling of being connected to each other, and belonging to something together. Isolating during the pandemic has only made this worse.

These small, personal communities have been replaced by large, impersonal ones. There’s talk about “the Christian community,” or the “business community.” And yet, it’s harder and harder to know who makes up that community, and what responsibility they feel towards others who are in it.

What is community?

A community is a group of people who are bound together by a common identity.

It seems strange to ask that question because community has always been part of our lives. We can all think of a community we came from, even if we’re not certain we belong to one now.

That description explains why we are talking about community now. Our sense of identity is at the heart of our deepest divisions. Instead of drawing us together, identity is fracturing us in unimaginable ways.

Identity has become the trump card in any social or political disagreement. It’s the unassailable truth, but that truth can only be defined by each individual.

This view to identity makes each one of us autonomous. As autonomous beings, we must choose with whom we will identify. With this approach, identification cannot be forced on us. Doing so violates our very humanity.

In that light, it’s understandable why communities are failing. A community is bound together by a common identity. But if identity is determined by each of us, and we each must choose our community, that bond is weak to the point of being non-existent.

Communities Come Apart.

Communities were intended to be a source of strength in our lives. But instead they come apart. Rather than being a refuge we find ourselves handling them like a ticking bomb.

How do we get communities back? How can we return communities to a place that solves problems instead creating them?

Communities were intended for good, not by us but by God. God, as he is described in the Bible, is a community of Three-In-One. (Read more at FaithCulture.org)

God created the world to be a place that allowed those created in his image to grow in community. But sin entered that world, and sin has led us to where we are now.

But there is hope. God sent his Son to pay the penalty for our sin. But he also established a new community, the church.

The church, as it is described in the Bible, is uniquely equipped to grow in the hard places left by sin. And, by growing in hard places, the church allows other communities to grow as well.

So, how do we do that? That should be a simple question to answer, and according to the Bible, it is.

The way to grow community is this: Work for the good of those around you.

This solution is so simple we already apply it in our businesses and organizations. And it works whether you believe the Bible or not. So, why has working for the good of those around us become so hard to do?

Something else has confused our idea of community. That something else is culture. Communities create culture, but superficial communities create destructive cultures (I wrote about this in my previous post).

This creates a spiral. Culture confuses and weakens communities, making them superficial. These superficial communities create destructive cultures. As this cycle has increased in speed and intensity our focus has shifted from strengthening communities to resisting destructive cultures.

In fact, we are more aware of culture today than we are of community. And that’s part of the problem.

Instead of focusing on the bad out there, we need to grow the good right here.

Then community can redeem culture.

What Redeems Culture?

what redeems culture

We’ve all heard that culture beats strategy, but what redeems culture?

For decades now, culture has been the thing everyone sought to control. We worked for it in our companies and fought for it in our politics.

But despite these efforts, we now face problems we’ve never seen before. These problems stem from conflicting views of the world, and a willingness to act on those views at any cost.

What have we unleashed? Are not these problems caused by culture? Are we not seeing the thing we have prized used against us, and taken to an extreme we could not imagine?

It seems undeniable that culture has a role in our problems. But that has not brought us any closer to a solution. Rather, we stand dismayed as the unthinkable plays out before us, and our beliefs and values are swept aside.

We wonder openly if we have reached a point of no return. Has culture become a force beyond our control? Does it now control us? To ask that another way, is culture redeemable? And if so, what redeems it?

There is something that redeems culture: Community.

Defining culture and community are complicated tasks. That’s because they are closely related, and often overlap.

But perhaps two diagnostic questions will help. Where would you be missed? That is your community. What do you worry about missing? That is your culture.

These questions are overly simplistic but can begin to create a bit of separation between community and culture. That separation helps us see the relationship between community and culture.

Community is more enduring than culture because community creates culture. It makes sense that the only thing that can redeem culture is the thing that made it in the first place.

But our perception of community seems weak in the face of what we are experiencing from culture now. How can something so intangible and undefined redeem something so powerful and out of control?

Culture is powerful because community is weak. Think about it. Where culture is its most destructive, community has already failed.

Culture rules in the ruins of community.

The more superficial the community, the more destructive the culture it creates. That’s why movements can form around hashtags and catchphrases but inevitably burn themselves out.

But the opposite is also true. The more substantive the community, the more constructive the culture. That’s why some communities survive, regardless of what forces of culture align against them (Read more at FaithCulture.org).

How did it come to this? We took community for granted and pursued culture instead. Now we’re seeing culture for what it is, and are wondering where to turn next.

Like warriors of old, we left our homes to pursue the prize. But we are returning bruised and empty-handed only to find our communities in ruins.

But there is hope. Community can be rebuilt.

We can build community. Even while we are in shock or grieving, our most basic instinct is to reach out to another human being. We look to join hands and begin to build again.

We’ve been here before, countless times. But we’ve also made the same mistake over and over again. Even as community is being rebuilt, we are drawn away by culture.

We forsake our communities again to pursue the prize. So now we must ask, what redeems culture?

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe we’ve seen enough of the destruction and chaos that culture can create.

Maybe this time the cost of rebuilding will be enough that we’ll choose to protect what we have, rather than chasing what we can’t possess.

Community is powerful because it creates culture. But it requires discipline and understanding to be content with culture in here, and resist the allure of culture out there.

We must choose the good of those who are with us over shaming those who are against us. That builds substantive communities which in turn build constructive cultures.

It’s as simple as choosing who over what.

Then culture can be redeemed.

Changing the Conversation

Changing the conversation

This Blog looks at culture and the Bible, and how they fit together. But my goal is to be part of changing the conversation about culture among Christians.

I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word, so it sets the standard of truth that culture must be measured against. But I also believe that culture is part of God’s created world, and that God created it for a purpose.

I am concerned that we have missed the purpose for culture that I see described in God’s word.

As our awareness and understanding of culture has grown, our understanding of culture’s purpose has not kept up.

That biblical purpose for culture needs to be brought into the conversation. Only then will we be able to start to apply the truth of God’s word to the problems of culture that we see today.

Culture has gotten a bad rap, and this is particularly true in how Christians think and talk about it (Read more at FaithCulture.org).

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that are part of culture that shouldn’t be changed. There most certainly are. But I am concerned that we have largely misdiagnosed the problem, so we can’t properly apply the cure.

God has a purpose for culture. That purpose is part of accomplishing his plan for us, and all of his created world. I am hoping that with biblical truth I can persuade you to look at culture from a different perspective from the one we’ve been given.

What conversation needs changing?

Our current situation presents us with a new set of challenges as we seek to understand and apply God’s Word.

God’s Word hasn’t changed, and how it describes us hasn’t changed. But the way we see and understand our world and how we interact and relate to each other has changed in big ways.

This has created challenges we have not faced before. But with these challenges come the opportunity to look more deeply into God’s word from this new vantage point, and see things we did not see before.

What we see around us is bad and unbiblical. But it gives us the opportunity to see new and profound insights into God’s goodness and grace.

By standing on what we believe about the unchanging truth of God’s word, we can gain new insights into how to respond to the issues we face today.

Perspective on Culture

Culture can help us see the bigger picture in the Bible. But before that, we need to get some perspective on how we think about culture now.

Culture has always existed but something is different in how we think about it now. 50 years ago, culture used to be rarely mentioned. But now you hear about it all the time.

Has something changed with culture, or are we now just more aware of it? The answer is both.

On one level, culture has changed. But on another level, culture never changes. In the same way, we have always been aware of culture, even if we didn’t call it that. But now we seem to be noticing and talking about it all the time.

Culture relates to everything we do, which is why it can be difficult to talk about.

God has woven culture into the fabric of his creation, and he has a purpose for it.

God has a purpose for culture. Because we are created in the image of God, we have a unique role in his purpose for culture.

As Christians, we have an opportunity and responsibility to shape the culture that we are part of. But how can we do that if we are not sure how it works?

Challenges in Our Perspective on Culture

Part of the challenge is that we all have a personal perspective on culture. How I see and experience culture will be different from you, and different from everyone else.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t come to understand how it works. The patterns we observe will be the same for each of us, even if the outcomes look different.

This brings us to another part of the challenge in learning about culture. We all will react differently to what we see (Read more at FaithCulture.org).

A lot of our conversation about culture is driven by the feelings these issues create in us. It’s easy to think that for someone to agree with me, they have to react the way I do. But that’s not always the case.

But we might not consider how someone else may see the same thing, but react differently. In that case, we loose a valuable perspective on what we are trying to understand.

The Redemptive Leader Framework helps us understand our unique, personal experience with culture. And that allows us to relate that experience to other’s experience of culture.

Culture and The Bible

Culture and The Bible

How do we connect culture to our faith? To answer that we have to understand the connection between culture and the Bible.

In my previous post I referred to a common definition of culture as the the “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.”

That definition has been used to define culture in Christian settings as well. But the problem with understanding culture only as values and behavior is that it makes the Bible a book of values and behaviors.

If we accept the definition of culture that has been given to us, we end up fitting our understanding of the Bible in to that definition. But that’s not what the Bible is.

The Bible on culture

The Bible is God’s Word to us. It is a book, but it’s a book by a Person. That Person, who we refer to as the Trinity, is beyond our ability to comprehend in every way. And yet God made himself one of us so that we relate to him.

So yes, the Bible does teach values. But it’s really teaching us to value what God values, and not just what set of human values should be in charge.

And yes, the Bible does teach us about behavior. But it is really teaching us what behaviors reflect who God is, not just which behaviors will win in God’s world.

To understand culture in a biblical way means looking at the Bible in a bigger way, and noticing where our views line up, and where they don’t.

This is actually where culture can help us. Since there is a connection between the God’s Word and culture, what we know about culture can help us look for this bigger picture in the Bible (Read more about this at FaithCulture.org).

We must always be on guard against interpreting the Bible to fit our view of culture. Culture may be part of God’s creation, but God’s Word has authority over creation.

Culture and Christianity

Culture and Christianity

Christians often talk about “the culture,” referring to the non-Christian values on display in the media and entertainment industries, or we expand that to include the influence of a secular world-view.  For some Christianity is at war with culture.

But we don’t just talk about culture in a negative way. We also use culture positively to describe things that are difficult to understand, but are causing good results. Whether it’s a winning sports team, or a company where people love to work, culture seems to be part of the answer.

Christianity and Culture

As Christians, we have started using culture to describe the kind of change we want to see in our churches and communities. We will talk about a “culture of discipleship” or a “culture of serving.” In that sense, we are describing an attitude, or willingness to act and think in a certain way.

But it’s more than that. We’ve always had expectations of how we act and think. But now our emphasis has shifted away from those behaviors being enforced from the outside, to some kind of internal motivation.

There’s a motivation, or sense of momentum that we want to describe as “culture.”

Something about that term captures what we want, and it seems that others understand its significance. (Read more about this at FaithCulture.org)

But what exactly is “culture?” Culture is a difficult thing to describe. The usual definition is that it is the “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.” I recently heard this shortened to “values + behavior = culture.”

While that definition may be true, it’s not necessarily helpful. It still leaves us with the question of values, and how values relate to behavior. How do we change values, and how does behavior change when values change?

That “beliefs, values, behavior” definition doesn’t help us know how to respond to issues of culture. In fact, it may be why culture seems so difficult to change in the first place.

It turns out there’s much more to culture than meets the eye. And the deeper we dig, the more connections we find to scripture. But maybe not in the ways we expect.

Problems of Culture

problems with culture

We are vexed by problems of culture.

Think of the things that cause you the greatest frustration and anxiety throughout your day. Perhaps what comes to mind are differences views on abortion or gender. Perhaps its uncertainty about your future and your financial security, or relationships.

Perhaps you are concerned about your kids, or grandkids, and what values they are learning, and the world they will inherit. Perhaps its all those things combined.

Whatever they are, these problems can leave you feeling overwhelming fear that can stop you in your tracks. Or they can set you running in all directions at once.

None of these issues threaten us with any physical harm, and we probably have rational explanations for what will fix them. But certain things seem to get under our skin, and we feel powerless to stop them.

If we were to work through why those things affect us, at some point, culture would enter the conversation.

The logic seems to be: If we could get others to see things our way, we could change the big problems. But they won’t or can’t. And a big part of the reason they won’t or can’t is because of culture.

Culture seems to be the trump card in any conversation about our differences.

Regardless of what you think, someone will disagree with you. But the disagreements we can identify come to represent much more than that.

The reason our disagreements become about so much more is because of culture. Culture is how we connect to the larger world around us. Culture is also how our ideas connect to each other.

That’s why culture quickly becomes a stand-in for things we disagree with or don’t understand, and that we feel powerless to change. But that’s not all culture is. It can and should be a force for good (Read more about this on my blog FaithCulture.org).

But what turns culture from negative to positive? Community.

Community can resist negative culture by creating its own positive culture. But that’s not what always happens. And even positive cultures can become negative over time.

Everything we identify with problems in the culture began in a community. The problems begin if the community breaks down, or the culture becomes detached from it.

The answer is to build, or rebuild communities. Communities can resist the destructive effects of culture with constructive cultures of their own.

But what is culture, and what is a community?

Redeem the Time In Ministry

redeem the time

The limitations of both time and money is, at its heart, a question of faith in God’s provision. My experience is that churches and Christian organizations often underestimate the role of time and overestimate the role of money in assessing our limitations. This means we often conclude the wrong thing about how God is directing us to redeem the time.

We know God can provide, so we assume that if he hasn’t provided, it’s not his will that we go forward. This is usually applied to money, but sometimes can be in waiting for the right person. But, before we come to that conclusion, we need to check our assumptions against God’s framework and not our own.

This is necessary because our perspective on time and money is shaped by the culture around us, and not by how God has revealed his character in his Word. (See my blog post, Churches Are Talking About Culture on FaithCulture.org)

If we conclude what the problem is before examining our assumptions about time and money, we look for God to answer the problem as we see it. Because we see what we don’t have, we assume God has not provided.

But if our attitudes about time and money are revealed, then our eyes can be open to seeing what he has already provided in places we would have previously overlooked.

There are good theological reasons for this. Our relationship to time is the dividing line between us and God that we feel the most often. God is outside of time, as it is part of his creation. We cannot even think about choices or consequences without taking time into account.

We are largely unaware of how time functions in how we perceive everything. As a result, we naturally assume God “thinks” like we do.  We therefore conclude we know his mind in a situation.

But our perception of time is one of our characteristics that is most affected. by culture.  As a result, we are often unaware of how our perception of time is different.

In order to see time from God’s perspective we must first recognize how culture is affecting our view of time.  Then we can minimize the effect of culture on how we discern how God wants us to redeem the time in ministry.

Time and Money

The issue of time and money at its heart an issue of faith in God’s provision. My experience in churches has been that we underestimate the role time and money play in assessing our limitations, so we often place our faith in the wrong thing in the process of determining a path forward.

We know God can provide, so we assume that if he hasn’t provided (usually money) that it’s not his will. However, we come to that conclusion too quickly because our perspective on time and money are shaped the culture around us, and not by how God has revealed his character in his Word.

If we conclude what the problem is before examining our assumptions about time and money, we look for God to answer the problem as we see it. This is a scarcity mindset.

But if our attitudes about time and money are revealed, then our eyes can be open to seeing what he has already provided in places we would have previously overlooked. This is an abundance mindset.

There are good theological reasons for this. Our relationship to time is the dividing line between us and God that we feel the most often. God is outside of time, as it is part of his creation. We cannot even think about choices or consequences without taking time into account.

We are largely unaware of how time functions in how we perceive everything and so naturally assume God “thinks” like we do. We therefore conclude we know his mind in a situation.

Money is the clearest way we place value on things. The act of valuing something reveals a great deal about how we see it, but also how we value things in relationship to it. We do this on a daily basis, and so are very comfortable with our ability to discern that value. In our consumer-driven society, we are taught to look for an alternative rather than challenge something is valued.

So, once time and money have been factored into the problem, we are grappling with trusting God’s provision in a new way. Time and money are related, but time is the resource that is truly in limited supply, both in what we can do in any 24 hour day, or in how long we have before something else (like death) intervenes.

The one issue facing every church is discerning and stewarding the resources God has provided. I find attitudes about time and money to be very revealing of an individual’s or an organization’s heart toward God’s promise to provide.

Our confidence in the gospel is revealed by whether we see time and money as limiting factors (from God’s perspective they are not), or as parameters within which we can clearly discern his leading. In light of the gospel, do we have a scarcity or abundance mindset (Eph 3:16)?

God has promised in Christ to provide for his church and the mission he has given it to accomplish. If we orient ourselves to follow his provision, we will find his purpose for what he has provide for us to do.

My basic conviction is that God has provided what the church needs, but we haven’t identified and allocated those resources effectively. To do so means being willing to reassess what our churches intend to accomplish, which is a scary thing to consider.

The tools I have developed can help get perspective on these questions.

Caring for each other in difficult times

I was listening to an episode of the Redemptive Edge podcast recently on on how organizational leaders can adapt to the quickly evolving reality of the Coronavirus. Andy Crouch, the speaker was talking about how the growth of the New Testament church took off during the plague of 165 because the Christians didn’t flee the cities, but stayed and cared for the sick.

Obviously, we are in a completely different environment for healthcare, but we also have opportunities for care that we could not have imagined even a few years ago.

There’s another question that may overshadow all of this, which is what will happen to the economy? I don’t mean to disregard that, particularly because I work with the people who manage the money for the businesses that employ the people in our communities.

So, if you have questions about that, reach out as well. I can tell you what’s going on with the Stimulus and how it is likely to affect your community.
But, we have a brief opportunity of time, right now. And I am more concerned that we do not squander that.

As a result, I’m reworking some of the tools I’ve used in the past, and am making them available for Pastors, Community Leaders, and Business Owners.