A blog post by Tim Bowman
Last week, I wrote about the different service project ideas that my middle school students came up with. Today, I want to use that experience to spark a new conversation. In varying situations, churches have avoided, wrestled with, rejected, and/or embraced our modern culture and contexts. We live in the modern world, and culture is a part of who we are and is something we are impacted by every day.
There is no getting around this — we don’t live in a bubble. We live in the world in a particular place at a particular time. Additionally, we are not just one homogeneous people. Rather, we belong to a wonderfully diverse world. These are all good things, and it is important that churches engage and wrestle with how to be the church in the place they are in.
However, there is another question that I think can easily be forgotten in this discussion, or, at the very least, it is coated with buzz words. The question I think we should spend more time considering is this: What kind of culture do we, as a particular church, want to cultivate? What is the ethos of this church going to be? These are slightly more distinct questions than “How do we be the church in this place?”
Often I have heard churches encourage people to be “kind,” “generous,” and “tolerant.” These are all good, but in my opinion, there is still something missing. I can go around and shake the hands of my friends, say hello to people that I don’t recognize, and be pleasant to people whom I don’t particularly like. If just this is the particular church ethos we want to cultivate, then we should look into identifying ourselves not as church, but as a social club. We are all very good at being pleasant when there are free coffee and donuts around. For me, what is missing here from church culture is that the Christian life goes way beyond 11:30 am on a Sunday. Christian life extends through the week, and it is so much more than just being pleasant.
My answer to the question “What kind of culture do we, as a particular church, want to cultivate,” is answered by one word and one word alone: service.
Why does the church exist if not to worship God through our service to others? I can’t honestly say that I have been part of a church who cultivated this ethos and fully created a culture of service within its congregation, but I sure would love to. I have been part of teams where this is the case, and they are some of the most memorable experiences of my life, but a whole church doing this? I’m not sure I would want to leave on Sunday mornings if it were true!
Imagine an entire church where serving their community is their top priority. How much could get done? How much more would our students learn about the teachings of Jesus by going out and serving instead of sitting in a classroom listening to us? I grew up in a church that had a negative view of modern culture, claiming that it is a bad influence on students. This church would try and get us to be “counter cultural” by following Jesus.
I agree with the idea of being counter cultural in some sense but not in the way they believed. I can’t think of anything more counter cultural than serving others. Our “Western society” is one built on greed and selfishness where people get to the top by stepping on others. So it is entirely counter cultural to be a church that is focused on serving others.
Our world is in much need of the kind of service that Jesus calls us into.
Originally, I am from Madison, Wisc. I am a senior Master of Arts student in the CYF program at Luther Seminary. I graduated from Bethel University in May of 2012 with a BA in Biblical and Theological Studies. I currently serve at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport, Minn., as their CYF Intern.