Engaging Culture

Telling Your Story in a Post-Christian Culture

We live in a Post-Christian culture. Done. Get over it. They don’t play by our rules or understand our values. The Christian worldview isn’t dominant anymore. And yet I keep running up against pastors and Christian leaders who seem dumbfounded that network TV programs don’t honor religious faith, politicians don’t appreciate the faith-based audience, or the culture in general is more and more secular.

We can complain and lament all we want, but sooner or later we have to recognize the inevitable, and act on it. We have to understand how the dominant culture works, speak their language, and engage. In spite of numerous national ministry conferences, we’re not going to “Take America Back” to the way it was in the picket fence era of the 50’s.

The culture has turned, and we need to stop acting like we live in the good old days. How do we do it?

First – Respect your audience. When Paul engaged the philosophers in Acts 17 he was a nice guy. He didn’t protest or complain about their beliefs. He respected them, and that respect opened the door to his witness.

Second – Learn the language of the culture. Again, in Acts 17 Paul understood their culture and offered an alternative. He wasn’t ignorant of their religious system, and because he did his homework, they were willing to listen to this message.

Finally – Think in terms of how to express your faith in the “now” of the culture that surrounds you. As I said before, we’re never going back to some idolized America of the 1950’s. (If I was African-American, I certainly wouldn’t want to go back). People aren’t interested in a faith that worked “back then.” They want answers to the challenges they’re facing right now. As you express your faith, do it in terms of “right now.” Be contemporary, relate your message to the current world we live in, and stop rooting your religious experience in what you did years ago.

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  1. Phil…I think you just named the pink elephant in the room.  We all knew it was there, no one wanted to admit it.  Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  2. Every so often we need to go straight to the point. Thank you, Phil. As much as we like to relive the past, God tells us, just like He told the Jewish people, “behold I do a new thing.” We must remember that God is NOT sitting on His throne worried about the cultural shift. He’s already prepared for it and has made provisions available for the people who follow to engage the culture – if we would just trust Him through the challenges. It’s always easier to hold on to what we know – what we are familiar with – instead of dealing with the unknown. The culture may be Post-Christian, but it can never be “Post-God.” God’s desire for the hearts of every individual is eternal and never goes out of style. Genuine Love and Truth are our ultimate currency. “Love God with all that we are… and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” Let us continue to pray for the individuals that make up our culture and ask Christ for the wisdom to study, be relevant, listen to and share genuine stories. May we rise to the challenging Call… by God’s grace… and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit so the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples by our love – carried out in all of our interactions with others – whether through technology, the media or face to face. Acts 17 is a great example, as well as 1 Corinthians 9: 19-27.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  3. also amazed that folks still think this way – we have "lost that battle" – we need to be thinking of how we can  reposition  ourselves in the cultural landscape.  how do we reflect God's love in this culture, right now?

  4. Stop chasing money, start following the Lord – He knows the world far better than we do and will keep you fresh for whatever age you are in.
    What is Matthew 6:33 maybe it is still relevant for today?

  5. Perfect Phil! In produceing a young adults show I quickly had to come the relization that though I was raised in a King James world…my audience was reading, and living, the Message translation. Most members of my audience dont really care about the tribulation and end times. They just want to get out of college or pay off their bills and eventualy get married. Once I started changing my "brand", as Phil so beautifully calls it, then I started seening more and more connection with my audience without changing the overall message, just the way it is presented.
  6. Every now and then, I drive past a church, here in the Chicago, and they're having an evangelistic "Outreach". It resembled what I have been involved in from time to time (and I'm sure a lot of those reading this will agree). I'll describe the scene: There was the church band, the youth group standing  around looking very bored, and with the exeption of a hand-full of homeless guys dancing, the rest of the space was totally empty. (I love homeless guys, so that's not a slam against them). But… the majority of the time, the neighborhood NEVER shows-up. So many churches are trying to answer questions that nobody's asking. We, indeed, need something that resounds within our culture. Something that truely reaches people.

  7. I agree with it all! The only thing to keep an eye on is the pendulum swinging so far the other way that we compromise biblical values. I know this isn’t what you are talking about Phil, but after teaching a lot of high school and college age film students, I find this is our biggest concern. The bible is Holy and written by the finger of God. It is timeless. I think when mentioning “relevance” and “relating to our culture” we must always pair it with a healthy reminder that it must start with God’s word. Although this might seem a “given” I find it’s not when dealing with youth. They are the future of the arts and are listening intently to those in the driver’s seat now. If a young Christian grows up never knowing they will be “different” than the world, eventually they try to “fit it” so hard that they become the world. I realize I am super sensitive to this subject because of my occupation, but I think it’s true non-the-less.  The “x” factor to our Christian lives is God’s will… and sometimes that doesn’t make sense until long after we follow it. 

  8. Frankly, I think that this is the kick in the pants that the Christian culture has needed for a while. I've seen the Christian community as a whole become more inwardly focused to where we have created our own sub-genre. We have "Christian" music and "Christian" movies that, while they have done some good to give people "adequate" alternatives to secular media, have served to create this crazily-shrinking bubble. We need to wake up and face the music. We're not reaching the world like we need to. That's why I'm glad there are people like you, Phil. I've grown up fascinated, even entrawled, with media (I was raised in part by TV), and I am still amazed with how behind some of the Christian "heavyweights" are in reaching people and how resistant to changes in media they seem to be.

  9. Speaking of keeping things “relevant”, here is a good article related to the discussion above, perhaps … http://www.relevantmagazine.com/pc_article.php?id=7275

    Bryan Coley,
    “Dangerous for the Whole Family”
    Relevant Magazine, 8.21.07

    Let’s pretend for a minute that you are a Hollywood executive and are learning what it is that is “Christian.” You might first try people in Bible robes and then maybe make something dealing with the end of the world because Christians like to dwell on the apocalyptic. But your best guess is to put a dog or a lion in it … maybe include a kid and, above all, make sure there’s no cussing. To put it into a word, make it “safe.” So “Christian” equals “safe.”

  10. It's easy to stay relevant and on the cutting edge when you listen and care for the people you want to reach out to while staying connected to God.

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