Creating Culture

Posted on February 5, 2013 by

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Blueprint With Compass

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“The best Young Life is yet to be done.” Do you believe this? For years, older YL staff would encourage younger staff and leaders with that statement. It is a wonderful idea that rests upon a profound understanding of culture. Part of this understanding is a belief that the best way to impact culture is to create new culture.

Abe Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” As the area director on Boston’s North Shore, I had the privilege of learning from Dean Borgman, Culpepper Professor of Youth Culture at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. In a conversation with a few Young Life staff, Dean said to us, “Whoever tells the stories, controls the culture.” This is a powerful statement even if it is a bit over-simplified. More recently, others have written or referenced this thought in various renditions. [See the following blog http://drdavewalsh.com/posts/75 ; a similar quote attributed to Erwin McManus http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/421257-whoever-tells-the-best-story-shapes-the-culture ] While telling stories is vital, there are many factors to consider when understanding culture.

In his book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch presents 5 responses to culture as follows:

  1. Condemn culture
  2. Critique culture
  3. Copy culture
  4. Consume culture
  5. Create culture

Many well meaning people stand outside of and condemn all culture as evil (not realizing they are a part of culture themselves). Others read and think a lot about culture, offering critique; most in this camp are thorough with analysis, but short in application. Copying culture (i.e. contemporary Christian music movement) is an approach where a parallel culture is created as an alternative to evil, bad, or problematic culture. Many youth ministries operate this way. Perhaps the most troubling response is to simply consume it – don’t question it, don’t think about the impact, simply jump right in. For the past three decades The Barna Group and others (e.g. Pew Forum, Josh McDowell) generated research results reinforcing the notion that most Christian’s lifestyles reflect that of the general population. However, a Gospel Coalition post from September 2012 demonstrates that Christians who are actually attempting to live-out their faith have a lower divorce rate than the general public. This is much like the followers of Jesus in the middle ages who survived widespread disease and sickness, not through medicine or financial wherewithal, rather through sharing what little they had with their neighbors (Christian & non-Christian). It was not advanced education, medicine, or improved habitat that impacted these lives. It was the simple command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mk 12:30) that caused these believers to share what little food, shelter, and clothing they had. The result was communities that survived the contemporary challenges as grew vibrant and healthy. Likewise, the Roman approach to parenting in the early years of Christianity was dominated by the thought that the father had supreme patriarchal powers. These were often abused by selfish or shortsighted men; when followers of Jesus taught and modeled a new way (Eph 6:4-6), it radically changed the way families operated. Christianity changed the culture with a new culture, a Gospel-centered culture.

According to Crouch, the best way to change culture is to create culture – something better (or more effective). The most effective and meaningful way to create culture is do it in community. In the Culture Making, Crouch proposes numbers relating to concentric circles – 3, 20, 120. The proposition is that we all have a small number of friends that we know well and trust deeply. These are the ones with whom we share ideas, ask for input and feedback, and trust to “shoot straight” with us; this is the 3. The second level is a group of people important to us; they are insiders and we value their insight. When a new idea is proposed, they understand the current state of affairs well enough to give thoughtful input – the 12 . The outermost circle of folks is comprised of the ones who initially push the ideas out to a broad reach – the 120.

As YL leaders, we understand Crouch’s proposal when applied to discipleship. Jesus modeled this for us in his relationships with his 3 (Peter, James, & John), his 12 (the disciples), and his 120 (the third layer of folks that were close to Jesus see Acts 1:15). If we believe that the “The best Young Life is yet to be done,” then Crouch’s insights could help us in this endeavor. Throughout scripture, part of God’s redemptive plan includes the “cultural mandate” given to man in Genesis 1:28. Consider how your current relationships with staff, leaders, committee, and kids may fit this model of 3,12, & 20, and thus, allow you to change the culture of your community, club, or YL area to look and feel more like Christ and less like the world.

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