Wednesday, January 19, 2011


We have all had that dreaded experience, much less if you are a Mac user. All the functions of our computers come to a grinding halt. Nothing is working and we are left to restart. Once we restart, things start working like they were intended. Not all of life is a computer, at least not yet, but it remains true there comes time when we need to restart so things start working in their intended way. The church of Jesus Christ is no different. Throughout the journey of the the people called Israel, the people of God, there have come times when pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete have been necessary. Destruction of towers, great floods, and exile were all part of the attempt to return the people of God to their created function. The earthly pilgrimage of Jesus was in a effect a restart of the relationship of God and the people of God. People such as Phylis Tickle suggest since Christ about every 500 years the church goes through a restart process. I am suggesting we are at that point now.

In many ways the church is no longer functioning like it has been created to. In fact looking at the world of the church reveals more proximity with the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the Jesus day, than with Jesus. By and large the culture has stopped turning to the church for direction and started turning to anywhere else. Why? When the church is turned to the return is a religious system which short circuits a missional, relational and incarnational interaction with the Creator. In his book So Beautiful, and others, Leonard Sweet talks about the MRI church, Missional, Relational and Incarnational. In order to become such a place the church will need to restart. This does not mean what has always been is bad and of no value. Restarting does not mean everything is going to be scraped for the latest and greatest. Restarting means a return to the designed intention.

Restarting the church would return the church to understanding the creation of the church was not for organization, it was for being the mission of God. Being the mission of God requires organization but the organization supports the mission of God, not the mission of God supporting the organization. Pressing the restart buttons would return the church to a mindset of relationship with God through Jesus, and relationship of a community. This means more than simply knowing who God is, it is entering into community with others as we seek after a God who is seeking us. Finally restarting would move Jesus off the pictures on the wall into our day-to-day lives. I find myself treating Jesus as a memorial figure. Someone who once lived, was great, changed the course of the world but is dead. Jesus is alive, resurrection, not only alive, Jesus is with us this very moment. An incarnational Jesus is one who is amongst the people, real and tangible with and through the community called the church.

Unlike restarting a computer restarting the church is a much more involved process. There is also more at stake in restarting the church than a computer. Let me be clear, if we do not act the work of God will not be derailed. Simply we will not experience life as we are created to experience it. Still there is great struggle ahead in restarting the church. There is not reason to think we will have it any easier than Jesus himself did in addressing an organization that has lost its essence of existence. Just like Jesus it starts small and builds momentum. It starts when individuals decide there is more to life than they are experiencing. It grows when those individuals form a community that is missional, relational and incarnational.

The restarting of the church is underway. There are people and communities who have decided to return to life as offered at creation. Likewise there are people and communities committed to keeping things as they have been for the past 5 centuries. For the rest of us, we must do some serious seeking to see where it is that God is at work.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Culture Is Never Neutral

We all live multicultural lives. They may not be culturally diverse, including other races, religions and ways of life, still there are multiple cultures we all live in. There might be the work culture, the home culture, the family culture, the culture of your church, the American culture and on it goes. None of the cultures we exist in are neutral. Meaning all of these cultures have been formed in one way or another. Some cultures form more organically. Patterns develop and before long there is a sense of simply being. Once the culture comes into existence those who are a part of that culture work to preserve the culture, even if there is no knowledge of where it came from. Other cultures we exist in are intentionally created. The values and ways of functioning are chosen and not left to happenstance. Like the more organic culture, once the intentional culture is established effort is made to maintain that culture. No matter what, culture is developed, and there are always players looking to have the culture function in certain ways. This leaves us with a choice, we can simply react to the culture around us, or we can participate in shaping it.

Everyone can be intentional about the formation of the cultures in which they exist. There are cultures which are more challenging to shape, like the American culture. Still we have some level of control over the cultures we exist in. There is always the choice to simply let it happen around us, to take on the attitude of whatever will be, will be. The appeal to this kind of culture formation is often appealing as it requires very little from the participants of the culture. On the flip side there is a great challenge in this style of culture development. Culture in never neutral, there will be ab underlying mindset that will influence the culture. Overtime the culture developed my by extremely dysfunctional and trapped by the influential people who have much to gain from the culture as created.

Intentional culture runs the same risk as being held hostage, however when the formation of the culture is done intentionally good questions are asked and engaged. As the culture is formed questions come to the surface about the values and functions of the culture. There is then conversation about the shape of the culture. A simple example is looking at home life. Many people are frustrated with their home life. Often not termed as such but it is a culture problem. People are not unhappy with those in their home, they are unhappy with the culture of their home. Chances are the culture was allowed to develop organically. The good news is the culture can be changed. It will take hard work and dedication because culture is never neutral. Patterns of functioning will have to change and who holds authority, and how they hold it may have to change. The culture of a home can be intentionally set, and they worked to preserve. If there is not a willingness to be intentional about the culture being developed, we must simply figure out how to endure the culture which emerges.

So what am I really saying? Culture does not simply exist, or is not something which just is. Culture has emerged from a chosen passivity, or has been shaped intentionally. When a culture is first emerging it is easiest to be intentional. Once established, it is very difficult to change the culture because of the desire of stakeholders to remain stakeholders, or the desire of the passive to remain passive. You can engage a culture and be a shaper of the that culture. This is true whether it is your home, your work, church, country or any other culture. Just know there will be other people and situations working to influence the culture as well. Their work may be to preserve the culture already in place.

In the next entry I will explore the role and importance of leadership in culture setting.