Some excerpts from “Creating a culture of Resilience” by Mark Sayers, in Christianity Today, July-August, 2016, pp. 56-60.
Mark Sayers is senior pastor of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia and his latest book is “Disappearing Church”.
It is rare that I read an article in CT that is so well reasoned and compelling, but this is one that I can highly recommend because what he describes is what I believe can happen in our own church and, certainly, is already in place in many churches in the West. I include here a few of his observations:
“More recently, at least in the West, the church has often assumed that its travails are due at least in part to culture. Therefore, many Christian leaders have tried to reduce the cultural distance between believer and unbeliever, primarily thorough reshaping structures, language, and aesthetics to better suit the prevailing mores. See, for example the churches in every major Western city and suburb where pastors and worship leaders are indistinguishable in dress and manner from their secular counterparts—except that they talk a lot about Jesus” (p. 59, as are the two quotes below).
“If we are in a culture war, it is akin to the war in Syria—a confusing, fractious conflict. Understanding this complexity is crucial for the Western church to fulfil its mission.”
“The emerging progressivism has tapped into a long repressed desire, particularly in the young, for a radically different and better future. In the new progressive cultural mood, Catholic writer Jody Bottum sees a facsimile of Christianity, in which the categories of sin, shame, guilt, salvation, and the elect return, shaped around not theology but the goals of progressive politics.”
“The sociologist Philip Rieff divided cultures into three types. First cultures believe in fate, many gods, taboos, and spiritual forces. Second cultures emerge from scriptural codes, are monotheistic, and believe in a rational, sacred order. From this they derive commandments and prohibitions for human and creational flourishing…. The missionary movement evolved out of exchanges between a second culture—Western Christianity—and first cultures, such as the Greco-Roman world implied in Acts 17” (p. 60, as are the quotes that follow).
“As Rieff saw, the contemporary West is evolving into a third culture, a culture that defines itself primarily against the second culture from which it has emerged.”
“But for now and the foreseeable future, the technological and imperial power is on the side of the third culture. Under these conditions, when a second culture attempts to evangelize a third culture, it is the second culture that is most likely to be colonized.”
“At moments of great outside pressure throughout church history, we find spiritual movements, churches, and disciples who valued not so much cultural relevance as resilience” (his emphasis).
Sayers exhorts us to follow Jesus and “to live fully with the Holy Spirit’s guidance in a world of anxiety fragility, and emotionalism run wild. Such Christian resilience is growing stranger by the day, yet as it becomes rarer it becomes more valuable. Its strangeness will shine, pointing the way to a different future.”
“The third culture ultimately cannot deliver the utopia it seeks. True relevance to this culture will not come by accommodating to its demands, but by developing the kinds of people who can resist them.”
It is helpful to think of Hebrews 12:1-2 in respect to the third culture that Sayers mentions. It exhorts us to “rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds us so tightly, and [to] run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.”
We are to think of how much Jesus went through for us and not let ourselves “become discouraged and give up” (12:3).
Then in chapter 13, after commenting on welcoming strangers, remembering those in prison and the suffering, the proper role of marriage, we are reminded to “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be satisfied with what you have. For God said, ’I will never leave you; I will never abandon you’” (13.5).