Two recent conversations sparked this article. One was a conversation our church staff was having about the music ministry at church. It was a conversation similar to one I’ve been involved with dozens of time over the years—how to work with musicians and the like. As we hashed things out, one of our staff concluded, “Why do we put so much time and effort into the music thing anyway?”
I concluded, “Some things are more important than you might think…”
The second conversation was with a potential church planter who was sharing a vision of a house church with me. He talked about doing away with music, and preaching and buildings, and just being a “New Testament” organic church. Then he asked me what I thought. I responded, “Do you really want to know what I think? “Yes,” he said. “Really?” I insisted. Then I told him that in the last fifteen years I’d talked with at least a hundred guys who shared a similar philosophy of ministry. And I added, “I don’t know any of those “churches” that lasted even a year, and I don’t know any of those guys who are still in ministry.
I told him that I actually agreed that his philosophy was Biblical. But it didn’t make sense culturally. Then we discussed the men of Issachar from 1 Chronicles:
“…from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do…”
--1 Chronicles 12:32 (NIV)
These were men who understood God, but they also understood their times. They knew God and they knew their culture. We’re called to minister with a Bible in one hand, and an iPad in the other—we need to understand our culture. Some things in our culture are more important than they actually should be.
So, I started to put together a list of those things. I’ve shared this list at four church planter clusters recently, and here’s an updated list of some of the things that might not be super important Biblically, but they are culturally:
David assigned the following men to lead the music at the house of the Lord after the Ark was placed there. They ministered with music at the Tabernacle until Solomon built the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. They carried out their work, following all the regulations handed down to them.—1 Chronicles 6:31-32 (NLT)
Music is important in the Bible, and we’ll have music in heaven. But in our culture, it is way more important than we might think.
I my first church plant we started with a Junior High girl “pianist” accompanying our singing. She is now a missionary, but she’s never been a good musician. We’d get ahead of her and have to wait for her to catch up. Then she’d get ahead of us and we’d have to sing faster to meet her notes. It was awful, but I didn’t care. It was only music. Then I opened my eyes (and ears) and realized how critical music is in our culture. We don’t put up with bad music. There’s only three places where we even tolerate bad music—grade school programs, beginner recitals and karaoke.
Music has to be great, and everyone has their opinion about what is great. We all think that the music on our iPods is “classical.” The top television shows in our culture are all about music: “American Idol”, “The Voice”, “Dancing with the Stars”, “Family Guys” (Just kidding about that last one—or am I!?)
Music is crucial.
Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem…--2 Chronicles 3:1 (NLT)
Something in us equates spirituality with a building. It happened to Solomon and it still happens today.
When people say they are “going to church” they mean a building. I know Biblically the church isn’t a building—it is people! But culturally we have to understand how essential facilities are.
Jesus replied, “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…--John 4:21-23 (NIV)
Jesus says location isn’t very important. But we have to understand our culture isn’t there yet.
Rick Warren recently admitted, “The dirty little secret to church growth is location, location, location.”
One church planter who has experienced his church being kicked out of their building by the city says a drop in attendance followed: “Based on regular conversations with groups of people that are not currently attending we believe attendance will at least double shortly after returning to our original location. The responses we hear are either "the area is too rough", "the building makes me feel anxious" or "this place is just not home" all followed with a statement about attending regularly again once we reopen our original location. This covers 95% of the people we talk to that are not attending regularly now.”
4. Critical Mass
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”—Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
Jesus says that where two or three are gathered, he is there! But if we only have two or three people in our church, visitors will not feel comfortable coming in, let alone coming back.
Facilities that are uncomfortably empty communicate that nothing is happening.
At the Catalyst West Conference last year Andy Stanley got off on a tangent talking about hiring preacher’s kids. “Preacher’s kids just get it,” he said. “After a great service, some people will says, ‘The Spirit was moving today.’ But a preacher’s kid will correct them, “Not really, the room was just full.”
There is something culturally important about a room that feels full.
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.—Isaiah 64:3 (NIV)
The number one reason why church plants fail, according to Ed Stetzer is “unrealistic expectations by the church planter.”
We need to manage our expectations. But it is tremendously difficult. The Bible tells us to expect the best, expect tribulation, expect a future and a hope, expect the people will want to kill us, and expect God to come thorough—unexpectedly.
We need to constantly communicate that we’re expecting great things while at the same time we need to constantly communicate that we’re not caught off guard by the latest curve ball our church is facing.
“Whoever can be trusted with a little thing can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with a little thing will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?—Luke 16:10-12 (NIV)
Jesus says money is a little thing, it is worldly—it won’t be in heaven, it isn’t true riches and it isn’t even ours anyway. So it’s not that important.
But culturally it is essential. If we can’t deal effectively with money, we will never be able to effectively minister in our society.
Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three.—2 Samuel 23:20-23 (NIV)
Benaiah was pretty close to a super hero—but he didn’t even make David’s first string! No wonder David was so successful—he had great teammates around him.
We can’t do it alone. Just ask Kobe Bryant. He can lead the league in scoring, but if Dwight Howard keeps missing free throws in crunch time, Kobe’s team is sunk.
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?—James 2:2-4 (NIV)
James says what we wear really doesn’t matter. But what we wear communicates to our culture that we either understand our target group, or we don’t.
What people wear on the platform, and what our greeters wear speaks volumes in our society. We need to understand the times.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.-- 1 Corinthians 1:27
Paul says the latest and greatest is generally foolish.
But if we ask twenty-somethings in our culture to turn off their cellphones, we are asking then to cut off what they believe to be their lifeline.
10. Tell me what I missed.
I’m sure there are plenty of other things that are more important thanks we might think. Feel free to let me know at JDPearring@gmail.com
The men of Issachar understood the times. We need to imitate them. I’m not advocating imitating our culture. I understand the Bible admonition to, ”Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within…”—Romans 12:1-2 (Phillips)
But we have to understand where people are, if we’re to meet them where they are and help them progress to where God wants them to be.