Reexamining the Necessity of Culture Adoption (Part 1)

I have attended and worked with enormous churches, and also with very small ones. I have worked with churches that delivered impressively polished, theater-worthy presentations, where event timing was measured in the seconds, all of it driven by headset-adorned technicians working feverishly behind the scenes to keep the flow of the service as smooth and fluid as it can be. I have also worked with churches where we were not entirely certain what was going to happen from one moment to the next. Whatever happened happened, and we just rode the wave. I have worshiped with groups that met in gorgeous, multi-million-dollar facilities, complete with beverage restrictions in the worship center/auditorium, and I have worshiped with believers who met in apartment living rooms, with overflow seating on the floor.

What the body of Christ needs to understand and to become convinced of is that none of that matters!

Cultural Relevance

There is a growing obsession in today’s church with what might be referred to as “cultural relevance.” Somehow, somewhere, someone has convinced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of contemporary believers that we cannot be effective at reaching our communities with the message of Jesus unless we become culturally relevant. It is outside the realm of possibility for that line of thinking to be more misguided.

Do not misunderstand me to be saying that cultural relevance is wrong. I am not saying that. Indeed, I would argue that cultural relevance (properly defined) is a non-issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ is culturally relevant, and we are incapable of making it non-relevant. To say that the gospel of Jesus is not culturally relevant is to assert that contemporary culture does not need Jesus. Thus, to them, he is irrelevant. Such an argument is asinine.

My disagreement with striving after cultural relevance is not with the cultural relevance of the gospel, but rather with the prevalent mentality in evangelicalism that says the church must adopt the marketing methodologies of the world in order to reach the world with the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Audience Assessment

Neither am I saying that we should avoid doing assessments of our audience in order to capture the attention of our hearers. As I write this, I am actively preparing a workshop for Christian authors and bloggers in which I will walk them through how to identify and connect with their ideal target reader. I do believe in understanding the demographic and psychographic makeup of our audiences.

The apostle Paul stated quite powerfully that he became a slave to all to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) He became “like” a Jew, and “like” one under the Law, and “like” one not having the Law in order to appropriately influence each segment of society. However, nowhere in that passage did Paul say that he altered his message. He altered himself! The change was always with him, his person.

It was to this same church that Paul said, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:3) He did not suggest altering the message, softening it, or removing some of the more difficult aspects of it to “unveil” the message. To emphasize that truth, let’s look at what Paul said that led up to his statement:

We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:2b, ESV


We do not shamefully tamper with the word of God just to make it palatable to those outside the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, understand that the world is hostile to the gospel. The only way to make the world not hostile to the gospel is to make it something other than the gospel. I choose, rather, to stand for truth rather than posture for the approval of a world that stands opposed to everything that defines me.

Pining for Approval

Why do we even want to be liked by and approved by the world? James, the brother of Jesus said, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, ESV) “Adulterous” is a strong word, powerfully describing how we look to God when we breathlessly chase after the emptiness of what society esteems.

Jesus himself said…

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:19, ESV

This same Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” (Luke 6:22, ESV)

We don’t want to become like the world. We want the world to become like Jesus. It is that very tension that I have heard described as “the struggle between holiness and Hollywood.” The fact that so many Christ-followers are enamored with the entertainment that the world provides is fairly disquieting. Our environment bludgeons us with endless filth to leave us worn and weakened, but the Bible calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2, NASB

It strikes me as absurd that we should alter who we are as followers after Christ, and how we worship when we come together as a body of believers, just to make our worship of God an easy swallow for someone who does not even love Jesus, fall at his feet, or acknowledge him as Lord and King. We need to be far less concerned with what the world thinks of us, of our worship assemblies, of our church family, and far more concerned with God’s truth and God’s glory.

Lifting Jesus Higher

Our ministry is not about us. It is about God. If we cause it to be about us, then we need to re-evaluate why we are doing what we are doing, because such a ministry is not of God. Ministering in any way that draws attention to us, to our church family, to our music, to our videos … anything other than God, robs God of the glory that is rightfully his. Rather, we should say with Jesus’ cousin, John, “He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

So, if becoming like the world in our method and our message is not the answer, how do we get people introduced to Jesus? Jesus himself answered that question before we even asked it.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. – John 12:32, ESV

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; – John 3:14, NASB

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” – John 8:28, ESV

Instead of investing our efforts in discerning ways to become sapid to a world that hates us, immersing ourselves in the latest George Barna research nuggets, we should apply ourselves to lifting Jesus high above all else, and in so doing, Jesus will draw all men to himself.

Next week, we will dig more deeply into what it means to lift Jesus high, and what impact that will have on us personally, and as a body of believers.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon
Facebook Author Page
Twitter – @DamonJGray

Damon J. Gray

By commenting, you agree to the Long-View Living Comment Policy.

No Comments

  1. Julie on June 21, 2018 at 12:00 AM

    Our ministry is not about us. It is about God. That is so spot on, Damon. I think wanting to be entertained at church is a side effect of society’s desire to be distracted from anything of depth. If it’s worth contemplating (and God is), it’s worth the time and effort devoted to it. Sure, meaningful participation in the community of the church should be supported by uplifting music, scripture, homilies – but should be done in a way to inspire in us a deeper desire and love of God. You get out of it what you bring through the door with you, and what you leave on the altar before Him in your humility when you are there. Bright and shiny things can cause you to take your eyes off of that altar, for sure. (I actually prefer to keep my eyes closed during much of the mass just to really allow myself to concentrate on the readings and soak them in, rather than be distracted by anything else.) Thanks for sharing this. Great post – looking forward to part 2.

    • Damon J. Gray on June 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

      This was a difficult piece to write, and part two is no easier. There are two seemingly distinct arguments to make, but the truth is they are inextricably joined. We want to spread the gospel of Jesus, because we know people need it. But somehow, the church has become convinced that the gospel message is too harsh, too demanding. People will not accept it. And so, as contemporary society is wont to do, we “”lower the standards.”” We call for a less-than-all commitment, and assure society that God will be okay with that.

      The other part to this is what you mentioned above, that contemporary society has a short and shallow attention span, so we believe we must grab their attention with flashy presentations, amazing lighting, mind-blowing oral presentations, and precision musical presentations. Some churches go so far as to hire professional musicians for precisely that reason.

      What I am getting at, is that ultimately all of that is misguided. None of that is wrong in and of itself. But it is all driven by a misguided premise, and that premise is that presenting the raw, unadulterated cross of Jesus, and the full, die-to-yourself call of discipleship will be completely ineffective. I completely disagree. Jesus says otherwise, and my own experience has shown me otherwise. When we present Jesus and his message exactly as it comes to us in scripture, people quickly learn that it is what they are starving for, and they beg for more.

      • Damon J. Gray on June 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

        Another aspect to this is that by filling our message with all of the human theatrics, polish, effort, technology, ingenuity (note, ALL of that comes from us) we are actually getting in God’s way. By investing in our cleverness and creativity, and by RELYING on that, calling on it as a “necessary” component to an effective outreach, we have blocked God’s path, saying, essentially, “It’s okay, God. I’ve got this.”

  2. Daniel Gray on June 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

    I need to admit that I was working and multitasking so I read this really really fast but I really really like the heart of it and the content very well written sir.

    • Damon J. Gray on June 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

      Thank you Danny. I appreciate the encouragement you multitasking marvel! 😉

  3. R.W. Williams on June 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

    Amen. What drove me from a Whatcom County mega church was the marshmallow manner in which they presented the gospel. I found a rock solid tiny church in Lynden, and our pastor said he’d go to jail to stand solidly on God’s word.

    • Damon J. Gray on June 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

      Interestingly put Robin. Yeah, it is called by so many different names. Marshmallow, easy believism, watered-down gospel, etc. Any time the sentence begins with, “”Well, all you have to do…”” I know we are headed down that road.

      All you have to do is everything. Give up everything. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Take your your cross. I die daily. Anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

      Some of that has to ring a bell, right?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.