How to Respond to a Culture You Don’t Like Anymore

Ever feel like the culture is changing so much you really don’t like it?

You’re not alone.

The culture around us is changing.

You can debate when the collapse of Christendom in the West began, but there is little doubt we are witnessing a massive shift away from the cultural consensus that existed even a few generations ago.

So as a church leader – as views on work, politics, sexuality, family, parenting, drugs, finance and other values change – how do you respond? What do you do when the world for which you trained—maybe even the world where your approach was once effective—is disappearing before your eyes?

What’s the key to responding when the world around you no longer

shares your value system

pays much attention to you

thinks you add anything to the cultural mix?

I see at least five approaches emerging, some that are helpful and some that aren’t.

The world many leaders stepped into when they began in ministry no longer exists. Click To Tweet

1. Be Oblivious To Culture

Some churches appear to be oblivious to culture.

Walk into a church like this, and you won’t be able to tell whether it’s 2021, 2011 or 1981 for that matter.

The sermons are theoretical and not at all practical, nor do they engage the realities of the world people inevitably will walk back into Monday morning.

The music is remarkably stale and sounds like nothing you’d hear anywhere else. No one looks like they would be comfortable visiting a trendy local restaurant. It’s the same old, same old, and this church seems old.

What happens if you’re oblivious to the culture around you? If you’re indifferent to the culture, it should be no surprise that the culture is indifferent to you.

This approach produces irrelevance.

If you're indifferent to the culture, the culture will be indifferent to you. Click To Tweet

2. Hide From Culture

Unlike churches that are indifferent to the culture, churches that hide from the culture are aware of what’s going on around them. But they’re scared. Really scared.

So they hide.

You’ll hear Christians in this camp vow to never do anything ‘secular.’ Sometimes Christians set up their own networks as a safe cocoon from others.

They live on GodTube and Faithbook, or increasingly alt-right sites. They have ‘Christian’ or ideological alternatives to everything you can think of.

This approach stifles the mission of the church.

Effectively it’s a retreat and runs counter from the church’s mission to advance.

As a result, many in this camp don’t actually know any non-Christians.

You can’t reach the world you don’t know, understand or love.

 3. Slam The Culture

This has become a very popular approach over the last few decades, perhaps peaking in the last few years with the crazy political narrative that’s emerged in the U.S..

I continue to be baffled as to why Christians insist non-Christians adopt our moral views. Why on earth would Christians expect non-Christians to act like Christians when…they’re not Christians?

If you want to be ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.

If you want to be ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them. Click To Tweet

Having a government that doesn’t embrace the church’s values line for line puts Christians in some great company—the company of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Jesus spent zero time asking the government to change during his ministry. In fact, people asked him to become the government, and he replied that his Kingdom is not of this world.

The Apostle Paul appeared before government officials regularly. Not once did he ask them to change the laws of the land.

He did, however, invite government officials to have Jesus personally change them. 

Paul constantly suffered at the hands of the authorities, ultimately dying under their power, but like Jesus, he didn’t look to them for change.

Rather than asking the government to release him from prison, Paul wrote letters from prison talking about the love of Jesus Christ.

Instead of looking to the government for help, Paul and Jesus looked to God.

None of us in the West are suffering nearly as radically as Jesus and Paul suffered at the hands of a government. In fact, in Canada and the U.S., our government protects our freedom to assemble and even disagree with others. Plus, it gives us tax breaks for donations.

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

Maybe the future North American church will be more like the early church, rising early, before dawn, to pray, to encourage, to break bread.

Maybe we will pool our possessions and see the image of God in women. And love our wives radically and deeply with a protective love that will shock the culture. Maybe we will treat others with self-giving love, and even offer our lives in place of theirs.

Maybe we’ll be willing to lose our jobs, our homes, our families and even our lives because we follow Jesus.

That might just touch off a revolution like it did two millennia ago.

Perhaps the government might even take notice, amazed by the love that radical Jesus followers display.

I hope so.

4. Embrace People And Offer An Alternative

Of all the approaches I’ve noticed, this is the most encouraging in my view. And it’s the one I also try to embrace.

There’s much about today’s culture we may not like, but that’s no excuse to stop loving people within the culture.

In an age when so many churches push away people they don’t agree with, the field is ripe for Christians willing to embrace their neighbours.

To actually love them. Kind of like Jesus told us to.

Does that mean we have to agree with everything they do? Of course not.

But (…think about this…) the church is uniquely positioned to offer a radically beautiful alternative to the culture in so many key issues, like our sexuality, how we handle our money, what we do with our bodies, and in basic disciplines like confession and self-control.

When culture truly becomes post-Christian (as it has in Canada, where I live), it’s often not that people are rejecting Christian teachings, it’s that they don’t even know what those teachings are. And they’re surprisingly open to Christianity if the Christians they meet are loving and generous people.

Many are open to a new way to live. Here are just a few alternatives core to Christianity providing an intriguing counter-cultural viewpoint:

In an age where sex is anything you want it to be, Christianity teaches that sex is sacred and that we value the who far more than the what, which changes the what and the how.

In a culture where greed and debt have become the norm, Christ-followers can model and teach generosity and life that isn’t measured by what we accumulate. Teaching young families to save and give is truly countercultural these days, and deeply biblical.

In an era when the family is morphing and even fragmenting before our eyes, Christians can offer support and mentor kids and teens and extend friendship and tangible support to parents and adults who are alone. (Orange is fantastic at helping churches do this.)

Do you see the pattern? There are so many other areas where we can embrace people who are different than we are and humbly come alongside to help.

What do you do with people who are different than you? You love them. Click To Tweet

5. Focus On The Core Mission

Before the global crisis hit in 2020, most churches were struggling, but so was church. Liberal and conservative churches were transfixed on politics and ideas (more than the core message of Christianity) were often struggling to reach new people.

Even attractional churches, which made up the majority of growing churches in the last two decades, were finding growth much harder than it used to be. (I wrote more about why here.)

If there’s one trend to watch moving forward, it’s that America likely accelerated its journey into becoming a post-modern, post-Christian culture.

Which means the future church will have to stand as an alternative to the culture, not an echo of it.

As a result, in the future church:

Cool won’t cut it

Hype won’t cut it

Fun won’t cut it.

Real will.

A focus on the core purpose of church: introducing people to a relationship with Christ, with each other and life-changing discipleship, will be the one thing that church can offer that the world doesn’t.

Churches that focus on this will grow. Churches that get lost in politics, ideology, hype or anything off mission won’t—at least not the long term.

The culture needs an alternative to itself, not an echo of itself.

Thoughts?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

How to Respond to a Culture You Don’t Like Anymore

16 Comments

  1. Steve E on May 29, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    This world is a mess, but Rom 8:28 tells us that “in all things, the Lord is at work for good for those who love Him”. And, we are trained by trial. So, there must be a lot of training going on for our good. Effective witnessing in support of the great commission is finding peace in our faith by following the greatest command: love the Lord, and love your neighbor. If we do not have our own houses in order, we cannot serve the fallen world. If we get healthy in our relationship with the Lord, and then get healthy with our neighbors in biblical priority (with our spouse if married, with our nuclear family, with our extended / church family, with non-believers) we will know peace, and our content happiness will enable us to serve this fallen world and spread the Word. And, what should we expect during this? We will sin, and be sinned against – we all fallen. With this expectation, we can more easily seek and give forgiveness and get back to peaceful loving.

  2. Douglas Wiebe on March 27, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Re: #4 : In my last church plant 2007 – 2004 (inner city) each Sunday we had opportunity to listen to “prophets of the culture”.. that is to intentionally engage with an musician/artist/ of our community to show and talk about their work and the message… to assure them that they are heard, to try to understand, to honour them, and then in the sermon following their presentation to engaged and respond while preaching the regular lectionary text of the day.

  3. Rebekah on March 27, 2021 at 11:38 am

    Great thoughts. Just a comment that #3 sounds like you’re only talking to men, even tho I know that’s in your heart not the case.

  4. Michael Bulkley on March 27, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Well said. Thank you.

  5. Aaron Lehmann on February 12, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    I disagree with the notion that music should change to sound like music that is sung in the culture nowadays. Today’s music is intended to provide aural wallpaper, you’re not supposed to learn from it or think about it or be changed by it. The music in a church should do all three. Today’s music doesn’t lead the listener to love and revere others. The music in a church should do that.

    I’m Eastern Orthodox. The service is anything but contemporary. It’s over 1500 years old, most of the time! But that means that I know that I’m practicing liturgy with the Church throughout time and space. The same one all the others are practicing. I’m practicing the same liturgy the saints and angels are practicing. I’m not just singing whatever songs the choir leader decided to sing today.

    People don’t come to church to take part in the same culture as the outside world – they get that every day of the week. They come to take part in something sacred. We have that. Why should we deny them?

    • Douglas Wiebe on March 27, 2021 at 6:01 pm

      For our church plant purposes, and because of confusion over church music, we simply did without “church musich” for the first seven years, almost entirely. We had lots of musicians from the community come in and play their stuff, and listened carefully, and honoured them as prophets of culture….we did prepare us for worship (for listening intensily to the sermon follwoing).

    • Gary on March 28, 2021 at 8:42 am

      If you’re focusing on the music you personally don’t like you’re missing the point. As a community of believers let’s stop criticizing the worship style of our fellow believers, whether it’s the music, the liturgy (or lack thereof), the venue , the way the pastor dresses, etc. and begin reaching out to those who don’t know Christ. That should be our collective mission.

  6. Tim Yau on December 7, 2019 at 6:54 am

    On the whole I agree with your overview of approaches, however in the UK there seems to be a growing interest in ‘1. BE OBLIVIOUS TO CULTURE’ churches. I’m talking rites, ritual, and monastic practices that have just stepped out of a time machine. I think that it’s because it’s exotic, authentic and communal. It’s counter-cultural to the trying too hard to be relevant types.

  7. Notie Emmanuel on December 7, 2019 at 6:00 am

    I really don’t agree with number 5. With the music thing and other culture, adapt that in Nigeria you will be in an uncontrollable mess in no time. I know some pastors here in Nigeria who are doing the culture to culture thing I bet you won’t like the result. Number 4 is good to me and quite effective too. But ultimately let the Holy Spirit lead. I am sure the Holy Spirit is never outdated. Thanks

  8. Notie Emmanuel on December 7, 2019 at 5:58 am

    I really don’t agree with number 5. With the music thing and other culture, adapt that in Nigeria you will be in an uncontrollable mess in no time. I know some pastors here in Nigeria who are doing the culture to culture thing I bet you won’t like the result. Number is good to me and quite effective too. But ultimately let the Holy Spirit lead. I am sure the Holy Spirit is never outdated. Thanks

  9. Brian on February 18, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    If you want to reach the unreached, do something that requires courage and radical love. Open your home to the homeless or those in marginal living conditions. The North American church could end homelessness this week if every Christian who had a house with an unused room would make it available to someone that has no one. I’m not talking about putting someone in the damp room in the basement full on unwanted furniture and clothes. I mean bringing someone into your home and treating them as your brother or sister, breaking bread with them and listening to their stories and pain.

    Can you imagine what the world would think of a church that would care for those most disadvantaged in society? Can you imagine how Jesus would pour out His spirit on His church? He is coming back soon, so now is not the time to play it safe with your faith.

    Read Isaiah 58, Mathew 25, 1 Timothy 3 and 5. Remember that it is what you do to the least that counts.

    • Chris on March 27, 2021 at 10:44 am

      Brian, I agree that the church needs to get out of its walls and engage with the disenfranchised. 100% agree on that. The problem of homelessness, however, is not always a lack of resources. Many who are homeless suffer from mental illness and addiction. Providing shelter is not the fix-all to the problem. Churches need to advocate for treatment programs that reach these folks and are effective in yielding results. What are your thoughts?

  10. Sophie Edwards on October 28, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    This article is exactly what God has put in my heart. Sad that the church can’t see that we have to change and therefore limits what God wants to do within the church.

    • Chuck on October 28, 2017 at 3:41 pm

      I wonder how many churches that are now dead have on their tombstone, “That’s not the way we did it back THEN…”

  11. Chuck on July 22, 2017 at 7:40 am

    Some 35-ish years ago, Christian singer Amy Grant asked the question: “Who are we as Christians to demand that [non-Christians] must meet us on our turf?” This was essentially her justification at the time for using Contemporary Christian Music (which was far less accepted across the popular culture back then even within the Church) to share the Gospel.

    I believe her question was extremely valid. See Point 5.

  12. Jon Magnuson on July 21, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Thanks, Carey, great article. We have been navigating this issue in our Messy Faith series. Right now, we are having conversations about the GLBT Community & the Gospel. We are drilling down on several aspects of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4. I think we have too often stayed in the first three areas when it comes to engaging our culture – particularly in the area of sex and sexuality. I hope that changes soon, there is no shortage of other voices available at people’s fingertips.

    Blessings, keep up the great work and thanks for responding to God’s leading in your life and using your platform well for the kingdom.

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