The Cross, Community, and Culture

By Larry Barker

Cross, Community, Culture

God has called us to proclaim His gospel to the ends of the earth.  According to Matt. 4:19 if we are following Christ we are fishers of men.  The logical conclusion is that if we are not fishers of men we are not following Christ.  Partial obedience is still disobedience.  The truth of the gospel is unchanging and His children are the carriers of that truth.  Interestingly enough, one of the primary challenges to carrying out our mission is the Christian subculture many churches have created.  This has caused them to turn their focus inward instead of outward on those who desperately need Christ.  The challenge for every believer is to transform from a consumer of Christian product to a compassion for those without Christ.   

There is one act of obedience that we can do on earth that we cannot do in heaven.  That is sharing the gospel with our lost friends and family.  The goal in our churches should be to help people get over their instincts to stick together and form a “holy huddle” and empower them to live their lives on mission for God.   We must develop missional communities that remain focused on their neighbors rather than on their church.  Sadly, it appears that we would rather close ourselves up in a sanctuary several hours a week than open up our homes to share dinner with unbelievers who live right next door.

First, we must embrace the cross because without its truth we have no message.  If a church is focused on the community (serving their needs), and the culture (the context in which we live) but does not share the truths of the gospel it offers a Christless mission without hope!  A gospel-saturated congregation proclaims that Jesus is Lord, knows who they are in Christ, knows how to enter into culture without losing their Christian distinctiveness, knows its neighborhood, and exists not for itself but for its city, neighborhood, and block.  CULTURE + COMMUNITY – CROSS = NO Hope!  Any message without the cross produces a dead religion, a consumer Christianity, a social gospel, a country club mentality, and usually salvation by works.

Second, we must experience community because loving nurturing relationships in a local body of believers is necessary for spiritual development and service.  Everyone needs a place to belong.  God created us to function in authentic community where we learn to experience Christ through one another.  Jesus always had “sinners” around Him who could tell how much He cared about them and because of His compassion they were interested in His message.  The problem is that many churches require that you believe before you can belong (not talking about church membership).  CROSS + CULTURE – COMMUNITY = NO CHURCH  A churchless mission produces spiritual orphans, loneliness, individualism, selfishness, immaturity, and forces parachurch organizations to do what churches quit doing.

Third, we must also engage the community where God has placed us.  We must quit making excuses for why we do not verbally share the gospel.  God has allowed us to have impact and favor within our circles of influence.  If we truly desire to bless someone’s life we must tell them there is hope because of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  Someone has said that everything preaches but not everything reaches.  Contextualization is the particular way in which we as Christians communicate the gospel.  We must consider the context (the setting and the culture) into which we are communicating the gospel.  Darrin Patrick explains it this way, “Contextualization is not ultimately even about the content of the gospel.  It’s primarily about the way you communicate the unchanging content of the gospel.”  CROSS + COMMUNITY – CULTURE = NO MISSION

When we ignore and neglect the culture we live in we become a Missionless Church.  We become isolated and separated from any contact with lost people because of our “Come to Us” mentality.  CT Studd lived from 1860 -1931 and was an English missionary to China, India, and Africa.  He said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”  The gospel is our message of our mission and it is unchanging.  The method of our mission is contextualization.  We must admit, though, that the temptation of far too many churches is to neglect our communities and ignore the culture God has placed us in while believing we are protecting our churches.

Thanks to my good friend Dave DeVries and the development of these principles from his Multiplication Workshop.  Check him out at www.missionalchallenge.com.

Larry Barker

Larry Barker

Larry Barker serves as Director of North American Missions for the Baptist Missionary Association of America. He has a passion to see hundreds of BMAA churches planted throughout the USA and Canada, and has also served as a missionary to Romania. You can connect with him on Facebook or