One of the things we have to develop if we are to be missionaries to those around us is the ability to step back from our culture and observe it carefully and thoughtfully. We do this so we can best connect the Gospel of Jesus — of his available Kingdom — with the culture we live in. We also do it so we can be careful not to let toxic pieces of the culture we are seeking to redeem insinuate themselves into our worldview. That’s why we are told “be in the world, but not of it.” Being observers and exegeters of culture teach us how to “be not of it.”
Let me offer an example that, perhaps, will stir the pot.
If you read The Culture Code, by Ciotaire Rapaille (and if you’re serious about reaching the American culture, you need to read it), he talks about the culture of the United States. He says many things, but one thing he mentions is that part of the “code” of America is the culture of abundance. We don’t just buy what we need, we buy far above and beyond that. In fact, if you get down into the history of this country, you see that this is actually woven into the fabric of America since its’ inception. It’s absolutely fascinating.
So in this culture we find ourselves in, abundance is good.
But it goes further than that. We ascribe certain qualities and virtues to abundance — “success” or “value” or “meaning.” In American culture, a simple formula is this: The more money/stuff/friends/houses you have = the more successful/valuable/meaningful you are. It’s a simple formula and we probably see it all around us. People base their personal identity and value on the degree of abundance they are living into. We know this is destructive. All we have to do is look at our current financial system and see how unstable this is. Yet it’s all around us.
What’s interesting is how it is playing out in more subtle ways, insinuating itself into much of the world Christians inhabit. The sad reality is that churches/pastors live by the same simple formula: The more you have = the more successful/valuable/meaningful you are. In other words, the more people go to your church, the better you are as a pastor. The more people that show up on a Sunday morning, the more successful you are. We’ll even reward you with special perks to affirm you are special: The conference circuit. If your church gets big enough, we’ll stick you on a stage with the spotlight on you in front of thousands and thousands of your peers, who lean forward with baited breath, waiting to hear what you have to say.
The more people in your church = the more successful and influential you are. Or more simply, “Big = right.”
Here’s my question: Who says so?