Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Christ-honoring or Culture-chasing? Do We Even Know the Difference?

The following is an email I received from Tom Willoughby, a Southern Baptist pastor in Missouri. The events Tom describes below happened at his church Wednesday night. Read his description of the service and ask yourself if his church is a Christ-honoring, evangelical Southern Baptist church, or a Culture-chasing Southern Baptist church which we ought to either censure or withdraw fellowship.

I say, without hesitation (and more than a little admiration), that Tom's church is the former!


I caught my Wednesday Night group off guard. We've been going through the BF&M 2000 for the last few weeks and we just did Salvation last week. So I came in and said that we were going to think a little more about salvation, but specifically missions.

I told them that they had just been appointed as missionaries to reach a tribe whose name I made up. I said that they had just been dropped into the valley where their tribe is located (incidentally, I said that the tribe was about 9,000 strong located within a ten mile radius (this happens to be the number of people within a ten mile radius of our church)). I then asked them how, not knowing anything about their tribe, they were going to reach them with the Gospel? I set up a dry-erase board and we began 45 minutes of brain-storming. They came up with some excellent ideas. Better than I could have imagined. Such as:

Make friends
observe customs and practices
identify their leaders
learn what they enjoy
observe clothing
learn the language
work with kids first to gain access to parents
dress like them
learn their style of music
make sure that in giving any type of gift that we do not create needs that they cannot meet themselves
learn their spiritual views
have patience
be kind and loving

Well, the list went on and on. Finally, one guy named Tim, in his early twenties I recently led to Christ is sitting their next to his wife and I see the light come on. He says, "You know, everything that's up there could also apply to the people around here. We could do all of those things right here in El Dorado." Exactly!

After the obvious follow-up, I then shared with them that the missionary in this tribal region viewed all of his supplies as tools to reach the people. Nothing was irreplaceable. If that is the case, then how, as missionaries to El Dorado must we view our possessions? Everything we have becomes a means to an end.

And then I asked them, if we are not willing to do the things listed on the board in El Dorado, then obviously we are not serious about reaching people, so, what are we here for?

You could have heard a pin drop. It was beautiful! People stuck around afterward thinking about what needed to happen to reach our community. Please pray that God will continue to use this study to spark a fire within the hearts of our membership.

Well, thanks for reading my ramblings. Hope it was edifying in some way.

In Christ,



Bill Scott said...

I vote with you as the "former" and not the latter. I guess that was a wonderful validation of the cliche, "Missions begins at home." I would like to hear a follow up from the pastor in a few months to see what they were able to implement and sustain with their home based evangelical endeavors.

Anonymous said...

Kick them out, that kind of approach would open their church up to all kinds of evil and depraved behavior due to the influence of native tribes. The church must be set apart from the culture. This church should spend more time dedicated to doing those things that will insure holiness and less time trying to look and sound like the world. This church trying to be popular, hip and "of the world." They probably serve chai tea and espresso.

Nomad said...

I agree with Bill and would love to hear about this churhc again in a few months. What a wonderful, insightful Wednesday night service. If only more would be like that!

Anonymous said...

Not culture chasing because they still meet on Wednesday nights. :)

TBC Elder said...

The group sounds certifiably Christian to me...if they had coffee at the Wednesday night gathering, they would qualify as good Baptists as well. (Note: If the 'tribe' didn't drink coffee, however, the IMB wouldn't consider this a viable field to cultivate...we go to make Baptists of the world, not to make the world Christian *grin*).

Rex Ray said...

I wish these suggestions to reach people were available when I joined a group to go to country that used to be a part of Russia. (Kirkastan…not spelled correctly)

The rule I refer to is the one that states: “Make sure giving a gift we do not create needs that they cannot meet themselves.”

The country did not have drink coffee, because they didn’t have any, but low and behold, our group wanted to take them coffee and required everyone to save a certain amount of space in their suitcase for coffee. I refused on the grounds I was not going to be a part of introducing them to a drug they did not need. They filled my suitcase space with caps.
Rex Ray

volfan007 said...

well, i would say that it all depends on what they did with this info. for example, if they kept preaching Gods Word while doing the things mentioned....then fine. but, if they started having ballet dances instead of preaching, then i'd see a major problem. would you? or, if they decided to not preach on sin, judgement, hell.....ever, as one church in nashville decided....then, i'd see a major problem with thier seeker friendly approach. wouldnt you?
i think what the pastor did was smart and enlightening for that congregation, but he should remember to keep the main things the main things. whether they have guitars and drums, or pianos and organs, whatever they feel fits is fine; but they should not do away with the teaching and preaching of the bible. God has chosen the foolish of preaching....


Marty Duren said...

Pleeez, dude. That's the point of the entire exercise. It's HOW TO GET THE GOSPEL TO THE PEOPLE.

It's obvious that this pastor Tom cares more about Hollywood than he does about the gospel. They are probably looking for the first opportunity they can find to water it down, deny the virgin birth, and question the scripture all while having a brew and praying in tongues.

Give them time ;^)

John Mann said...

Wade and Marty,

These comments sound like intentional manipulations of a very good comment made by Dr. Yarnell. "Hollywoodizing" is a real danger for some churches. Please be honest with Dr. Yarnell's comments and avoid manipulating them for the purpose of instigating an argument. This would seem to be the irenic thing to do. said...

John Mann,

Uh . . . I don't hear anyone mentioning Dr. Yarnell by name -- but you.

Further, nothing that the good professor says needs manipulation.

It's a little like the backward masking craze of the 80's. I kept telling people, "Why manipulate the record by playing it backwards? It's bad enough listening to the words on the record playing it straight."




Bob Cleveland said...


Even the comment thread hints at the problem: suspicion and fault-finding, directed toward anyone who differs.

Someone comes up with a great idea to REACH PEOPLE and up comes the reaction "yah .. BUT....".

I think the only way to counteract this, pre-rapture, it so accept the fact that it's human nature and resolve to stand up for what you're standing up for, for the duration. said...

Or, Bob, to give autonomous churches and independent, conservative Bible believing evangelical Southern Baptists FREEDOM! said...

By the way, John, is that your real name. :)

My puter says it's not. Sigh.


Anonymous said...

I believe what the pastor did was an excellent I will try soon. However, I wonder if we should take the ideas and encourage the people to do these things in the marketplace, which is the primary place of evangelism and not use this to change the culture or our church. True there are seekers in a service, but they see our worship and our God and that is what draws them to God (as opposed to just being drawn to a fun place to hear music and a message). I believe the cultural makeup of the church ought to resemble the cutlural makeup of its members. As the members change over time, so will the cultural expressions of worship in that church. Regular church gatherings serve to edify the body. I don't think they should be geared toward the lost. Evangelism ought to take place primarily in the marketplace and sometimes I think we do a diservice to our members by focusing so much on evangelism in the church service.

John Jax said...

Excellent point made by this illustration Wade. That pastor is exactly right. Much of this is taught to missionaries at the Learning Center in Richmond prior to appointment. I hope others "get it."

(By the way, how much information can your 'puter give you on who blogs. (re: John Mann's post) If you can tell who certain people are, some folks at would love to know how you do it.:)

John Mann said...


It is clear that your comment about "chasing culture" and Marty's about "Hollywood" were taken from Dr. Yarnell's comments on Marty's blog. Not suspicious, just observant.

May need a computer check up. John Mann is my real name. Not afraid to exercise my FREEDOM either. said...


I don't give away my secrets.

:) said...

John Mann,

Ok. Sorry, John.

Are you this John Mann.

This John Mann

This John Mann

This John Mann

Or another.

Please introduce yourself to us since your name carries no biography.

Welcome to the blog world.

John Mann said...


Was not at all referencing the pastors Wednesday night service and offered no.. "yah but." I pray for him all the best and am pleased to hear the Holy Spirit moving in his church and that he will reach many for Christ through this effort. My comments were directly related to Marty and Wade, again, please stay on track and do not manipulate what was said. said...

'Puter' is an acrostic for "(the)perceptive union (of) thinking (and) theoretical reality.'


John Mann said...


none of the above. I am the pastor of a church in Texas that is doing everything we can possibly do to reach people for Christ. said...

Blessings John.

Keep up the great work.

Affiliated with SBCT?

John Mann said...

Yes, actually, SBTC. Thanks for the blessings. You as well.

volfan007 said...

wow! folks, take a breath. i said that what the pastor did was good...enlightening. did i not? it was a great idea. it will probably help them win people to Jesus. but, some churches have taken this "change our church to fit the culture" to the extreme, and that's what i would not be for. ok?

i dont think its a good thing when a church does away with preaching and teaching the bible because they are more concerned with gaining an audience. i mean, if thats true, then lets just get strippers on stage and you'll get an audience of men...i'm sure. or, lets have elephants and ponies do tricks next sunday, and lets not do any of that teaching the bible stuff...that'll draw a crowd. but, i dont think that the Lord would be real happy with that church, do yall?

and, before anyone starts with the "you're using a straw men agruement stuff," i know of a church in nashville...a big church...supposedly conservative... that told an evangelist to not preach on sin, judgement, or hell. he was told that they were trying to be more seeker friendly and that would run off the crowd, or something to that effect. thus, they didnt preach on such things anymore.

i know of churches that think that having ballet dances and skits and mimes doing thier thing and such is better than having preaching and teaching of the Word of God. they have these things instead of preaching. i dont think that any church should go down that road, do yall?

that being said, any church is free to do whatever they want to do. they can all drink poisonous kool aid if they want to. i aint trying to tell another church what to do. but, i dont think church ought to be so into fitting the culture, or to try to be so seeker friendly, that we forget who should be the center of attention....Jesus, and what He thinks. do yall?

again, for those of you who dont read my post, or maybe i am not writing real clear...whichever the case may be...what this church in missouri did was great! it was fantastic! it was stupendous! it was wonderful! as long as they dont forget that we have a bible to follow, rather than polls and what the world wants and likes.

thats all i was trying to say.

volfan007 said...


If you listen to our services at Emmanuel you would see that we have preached verse by verse in the last 15 years through Genesis, Leviticus, Joshua, Psalms, Proverbs, Daniel, John, Romans, Ephesians, Galations, Philippians, Jude, etc . . .

So, I agree. Teaching the Word of God is important.

You say, very clearly, that you do not want to tell churches what to do.

Me too.

That's why when an agency of the SBC tells an autonomous, independent Southern Baptist Church who has received a person into membership by their statement of faith and baptism (by immersion, after faith in Christ) to REBAPTIZE their member --- I cringe.

Do you? said...

Volfann, look forward to your answer. Off to OKC for meetings.

Blessings to one and all today.


Alycelee said...

Sounds wonderful... This pastor gets no buts only blessings from me :)

volfan007 said...

well, wade, to answer your question. i would just say this... the sbc is also an autonomous body, and it can determine who can go to be missionaries, and who can not. right? so, whatever they feel is important to determine whether someone is qualified to go as a missionary is up to them. now, i know that we....the churches of the sbc...can tell them not to make things that important, or to make things that important. we have that ability every year at the sbc. but, if they say that they wont let anyone go to the mission field that has an iq under 90, then they have the right to do that...right? or, if they tell a family that we wont send yall because you have teens in your some people i know were told....then, really, they have the right to set those standards...even if some of us dont agree with it. or, if they tell a person that we wont send you due to your being overweight, as different ones have been is a policy, or used to be...then they have that authority to do so. even though, i..a large not like that policy. i guess i should bring that up at the next sbc meeting if its still a policy. no, i'm kidding. i wont. but maybe someone will.

so, i guess that's my answer. did i answer your question?


ps. i am thankful that you preach verse by verse thru books of the bible. amen! i do, too. we are going thru the gospel of john right now. also, i am always willing to try new things to make worship better, or to reach more people with the long as it lines up with scripture.

John Mann said...

To all,

My concern [only mine, I do not speak for volfan or Dr. Yarnell or Wade or Marty, so please do not speak for me] with SOME [not all] of OUR [SBC's] approaches are as follows.

1). They allow methodolgy to drive theology.

2). Pragmatics over process. Rather, what works over what is right.

3). Adoption of a psychological approach to ministry.

4). Adoption of a sociological approach to ministry. [the over-reliance of what sociologists have to say to the neglect of theologians have to say].

5). The organization dictates the body instead of the body dictacting the organization.

6). The goals are lowered so the success seems higher.

7). Today [the immediate] to the neglect of tomorrow [the future].

Notice, I accused no person nor church of having done any of this, I only stated the perceived dangers. I have sought to be concise not exhaustive. Please take my comments for what they are and ask for clarification if needed.

John Fariss said...

Great idea. I like it so much I expect I will try it. My hat is off to this pastor!

TO John Mann:

I agree with your concern about methodology driving theology--although I think it is hard to avoid it in subtle ways, and is more prevalent in the lives of most Christians and churches than any of us acknowledge. Most of what passes for theology in many people's lives, and consequently in many churches--at least what they act upon--is based on perception rather than Biblical reality.

You commented that pragmatism should not be elevated over process. OK, but in my experiences in churches from the Deep South to the Mason-Dixon line, the driving force is most often tradition (whether Biblical or not) rather than what I consider process. And the consequence is that we keep reviving dead programs that long ago should have had a decent burial so the church can move forward with things that actually work.

What is wrong with ministry informed by psychology or sociology? Perhaps that is not what you meant though.

Please clarify your comment about the organization dictating to the body. I tried to figure that one out, and came up with some possibilities, but would rather hear your explanation than my assumptions (and I assure you I do know how to spell "assume").

John Fariss

Bob Cleveland said...

John Mann:

I wasn't referring to your comment. Yours wasn't critical or suspicious of the church and their efforts in the encouragement of the members to condsider their outreach..

"Someone comes up with a great idea to REACH PEOPLE and up comes the reaction "yah .. BUT....".

That's what I was talking about.

I figure Wade & Marty can defend their motivations and sources and words a WHOLE LOT better than I can.


volfan007 said...


were you talking about me?


Bob Cleveland said...


If I'd wanted to name names, I would've. The idea goes beyond you, which was my point.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to be suspicious of what they will.

Anonymous said...

John Farris,

I agree with you concering the driving force of 'tradition.' This poses a different danger than 'pragmatism.' The difficulty we always face is balance, keeping the pendulum from swinging too far either direction. I was commenting in regards to the beginning of this thread in regards to "culture-chasing."

As to sociology and psychology, I have no problem with sociological understanding, i.e., general education levels, income, and hobbies of the various communities. These are useful for the purpose of "engaging the culture." However, I would stop short of 'targeting.' This seems to be a tradition the Church could do without.

As to psychology, as an advocate of a "nouthetic" approach to counseling, I am very concerned when our pulpits are more interested in doing mass therapy as opposed to communicating clear biblical theology. Perhaps I should have said, "driven by psychology and sociology to the neglect of theology" in the original comment.

As to the "organization dictating the body" I reference that to the approach of some who seem to develop a ministry that takes an approach of "this is who we are as a Church, you will either fit in with us, or you can go down the road." To elaborate on this would carry this thread way off track, and I fear I am in danger of doing that already. Suffice it to say, I have personally heard some pastors say that they desire a certain type of people, and if a new believer does not fit in to that type, they will suggest they join some other Church. This is hugely disturbing to me, as it seems to "erect a middle wall of separation" insted of breaking it down. Please don't try to link that comment with the PPL or baptism issue. There is a world of difference between not allowing membership because of a theological belief and not allowing membership due to one's income bracket.

That is probably very vague, and I will clarify more if invited, but I do not want to drift too far away from the issue that was raised. Thank you for asking a sincere question.

Bob, my apologies.

volfan007 said...


ok. i was just wondering. God bless you, bro.

john mann,

amen to what you wrote. that's good stuff.


Bob Cleveland said...

John Mann: Accepted with my thanks.

Volfan: Thanks for the blessing.

(I'm leaving now .. I hear the strains of "We Belong to a Mutuuuu---alll Admiration Society" running through my head)

Anonymous said...


As with so many other issues, we sound as if our choices must be "either/or." There is a difference in being accessible to a culture and becoming uncritically reflective of a culture.

Using the missionary analogy has some valid application in our secular culture. Missionaries acquire language skills, adapt to local customs and culture in so far as is possible in order to share the Gospel.

But missionaries are never totally absorbed into a people group. Racial and cultural distinctions will still exist. No missionary would participate in a human sacrifice (to cite an extreme example) in the name of reaching a people group.

The goal of appropriate adaptation is to share Christ. But does that mean that the corporate worship of the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ by a Christian community should be geared toward the culture around or is worship focused on expressing an alternative --the culture of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps this is another false “either/or”?

Even in using an indigenous language with cultural sensitivity we share the missionary goal of seeking transformation in Christ. This would include adding new words and deeper meanings to existing words in the language of the people, seeing a change in the ways the tribe would live and relate to one another and neighboring tribes.

However, we must use discernment. We are not yet fully transformed, therefore our adaptations may unwittingly endorse the materialism and radical individualism that exists within us as well as in our culture.


Anonymous said...


Excellent post. As a former missionary I love this. The mission field has a lot to say back to us here in America about reaching a culture with the gospel.

Most people know that the majority of evengelical Christians do not want to take this to the extreme and "smoke pot" with those we are trying to reach. There have been abuses but for the most part that is not the norm, nor will it be. IMO that is a straw man argument meant to scare everyone back into our safe, comfortable, pews and not venture out into the real world. There are many believers holding to the Holiness of God while playing an electric guitar, contrary to popular belief.

Those that choose to withdraw from the culture usually do so for reasons other than God's Holiness.

Some people end up isolating themselves so much that they become little more than monks. They usually have no witness to the surrounding world and they look more like the Amish than Jesus. We all know you can be "in" the culture without being "of" the culture. Jesus did it, so can we.

John Fariss said...

John Mann:

Thanks for the clarification.

FYI: I wasn't trying to link your comments to anything in particular, PPL, baptism, or anything else, just seeking clarification of an interesting comment.

Actually, your clarification was quite good, even if it went in a direction I did not anticipate, and I dare say I agree.