We are now living within a post-modern secular cultural environment, which is increasingly challenging for Christians.

Within living memory, the UK has shifted from regarding Christianity as the provider of a beneficial legacy, the values of which were for our benefit and blessing, to a constraining influence to be broken free from.

Jesus, however, teaches us: ‘you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ [1]and ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. [2] Hardly constraining! Seventy-two encourages us to live out the life of Jesus wherever we are. Following the one who is ‘full of grace and truth’ [3] is a tall order in the best of times, but in our present cultural environment is getting much more challenging.

Culture is like breathing. Most of the time we’re oblivious, because it’s so frequently revealed without consciously thinking.  Not surprisingly, one of the easiest ways to describe culture is ‘the way things are done around here’. When we talk about organisational culture and every church is an organisation, amongst other things, the image of an iceberg often helps people to grasp the influence of the unseen.

The iceberg that sinks organisational change

(Torben Rick, based on Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture, 1980)

Most is unseen, most is below the surface and it’s what’s below the surface which sinks the organisation.

Understanding the power of culture to influence is enormously helpful. It helps explain why during the era of Christendom people were integrated into the church much more easily. Things have changed dramatically.

One church I know, at the beginning of last century had 720 children in their school, whereas at the beginning of this one they had less than 20. The church continued to grow, numerically speaking, simply as a result of those children growing up in their understanding of the gospel and as long as a certain percentage made a commitment to follow Jesus, their future was secure. What is more, I can guarantee the outward signs of repentance (the extent to which their lifestyle required change) were minimal, in comparison to those becoming Christians a century later. Why? Because the general culture was framed and influenced, way more clearly, around Christian values. Today there seems to be an ever-growing gap between the values of Jesus Christ and the pervading, general, surrounding culture.

Jesus’ most common topic of conversation (if you analyse the words of Jesus recorded in the four gospels) was the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is found wherever the reign and rule of God operates and Jesus makes it clear ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ [4] On the other hand, the kingdoms of this world refers to the political and secular kingdoms and governments that exist on earth. The kingdom of God is spiritual and eternal in nature, whereas the kingdoms of this world are temporal and subject to change. The kingdom of God has a focus on the will of God, in contrast to the kingdoms of this world which focus on human desires, very often those of very influential and powerful leaders. Our predicament is we are called to live under the reign and rule of the kingdom of God within the cultural frameworks, which are pre-dominantly under the influences of the kingdoms of this world. We live and move and have our being In the midst of an undeniable clash of kingdoms.

One element of The Lausanne Covenant puts it succinctly in the following manner:

The development of strategies for world evangelization calls for imaginative pioneering methods. Under God, the result will be the rise of churches deeply rooted in Christ and closely related to their culture. Culture must always be tested and judged by Scripture. Because man is God’s creature, some of his culture is rich in beauty and goodness. Because he is fallen, all of it is tainted with sin and some of it is demonic. The Gospel does not presuppose the superiority of any culture to another, but evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness, and insists on moral absolutes in every culture. Missions have all too frequently exported with the Gospel an alien culture and churches have sometimes been in bondage to culture rather than to Scripture. Christ’s evangelists must humbly seek to empty themselves of all but their personal authenticity in order to become the servants of others, and churches must seek to transform and enrich culture, all for the glory of God.

Here are three areas with which we need to engage with much more seriously:

Recognise reality. Without identifying what is so often unseen and unspoken, because it just is, we are frequently powerless to deal with its impact.

Own responsibility. The most vital commitment we can ever make is to follow Jesus Christ every day, in every way and with everyone. Culture is seen in what it does, so whilst living as a ‘silent witness’ may be tempting, it does next to nothing to present the influence of Jesus positively to others. We need to be reminded regularly without him we are nothing and in order to be fruitful followers of Christ we must be deeply rooted in him. At the same time we recognise Jesus, full of grace and truth, ‘made his dwelling among us,’ [5] or as The Message paraphrase puts it: ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.’ If we have responded to Jesus’ call ‘follow me’, then we must take responsibility to take each step in his direction. In God’s strength yes, in the power of the Holy spirit yes, but I need to say yes too.

Choose the culture of the kingdom of God. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus is the only reliable way we can navigate our journey through life as faithful and fruitful followers of Jesus. This requires us to be more focused on being a thermostat, rather than a thermometer. A thermostat sets the temperature, whereas a thermometer merely records the temperature. Which are you? If we have leadership responsibilities, alone, or as a part of a team, we have influence, often way more than we realise, or acknowledge, but what kind of influence are we? Do we set the thermostat too low? Jesus calls us to follow him. It’s an all-embracing call upon our lives, no element is excluded from the cry of our heart Jesus is my Lord.

[1] John 8:32 [2] John 10:10 [3] John 1:14 [4] John 18:36 [5] John 1:14

Nigel Coles

Nigel is Regional Team Leader of the West of England Baptist Network. He facilitates the life of the webnet team and oversees the missional strategy for the region. He also works to develop missional strategy over a wider geographical area with our partner Associations and Baptists Together. Nigel believes that when Jesus sent out seventy-two others, he meant everyone who was there, and this passion to help everyone find their way in the mission of God is what inspired the development of Seventy-two.