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A Lesson From a Culture Gone Wrong


Why is the church so ineffective in influencing or changing our culture?

That question is the cause for a proliferation of new books by church leaders, and a leading focal point in their blogs and conferences. In spite of the fact many of today’s church leaders seem almost obsessed with the topic of culture, the church has been losing its influence within our culture rather than making significant gains.


Perhaps we could find some answers in scripture by contrasting our experience with the story of a different culture gone very wrong.

If you think the culture in America is bad, be grateful you don’t live in Nineveh during the days of Jonah. In the short Old Testament book of Jonah, we see a culture in this great city that’s gone so wrong God is preparing to destroy the entire city! But in the final outcome, the city was spared and a culture was dramatically impacted.

Here are three things we can learn from that story of a culture gone wrong:

It’s People, Not Culture

Some of today’s church leaders have lost sight of what is of primary importance to God: people, not culture. I’m not saying God isn’t concerned with culture. Wasn’t it a failed culture that brought about God’s judgment in Ninevah?


It was the sin of the people.

Certainly, a city full of people steeped in sinful living creates a culture God would abhor. But it’s not the culture that is God’s primary focus; culture is the outcome of how individuals choose to live. God’s primary concern was the people who created the culture:

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

God didn’t say His judgment was coming because of how wicked the culture was, but how wicked the people were. That’s not an issue of semantics; God understood something today’s church leaders seem to be consistently missing.

A popular Christian writer who is influential within the church on the topic of culture argues that you change culture by creating more culture. By doing that, you’re simply adding to the existing failed culture. You change culture not simply by contributing to it and making more of it, but by changing the people who create the failed culture!

That’s why Jesus called us to make disciples rather than to make culture. Change will come to our culture more dramatically when those who contribute to our culture become disciples of Jesus Christ. Ironically, though, we fail at impacting our culture in this way by putting a focus on changing culture rather than primarily on making disciples.

Being focused on “culture” can cause us to put our primary concern on a nameless, faceless blob of humanity. It makes ministry impersonal specifically because it’s not oriented to the person but, rather, the collective outcome of personal behaviors.

An Unaligned Will

God’s desire wasn’t to destroy the city of Nineveh, but to save the people in it by calling them to repentance. To accomplish that, He instructed Jonah to deliver His message to the Ninevites. But Jonah’s will wasn’t aligned with God’s, as is glaringly obvious in his response to God’s commission to him: