My friend Warren is a trustworthy and faithful friend. He is a guest preacher at our church, a personal confidant and a wise advisor. He is also an experienced minister and missionary, having served for decades in different settings. A few years ago, he launched a mission sending agency focused on exposing teenagers and young adults to what God was doing all around the world.
As I learned about his work in national and international missions, he shared the principle that was fundamental to his vision: “Missions is not something we do. Missions is a way of doing everything.” What a great insight. We are often so focused on to-do lists and checking boxes of tasks completed that we fail to think in a biblical, infusion, incarnate way. We approach discipleship and evangelism as compartments and tasks instead of seeing that our whole lives are an experience and an expression of our life in Christ. And a witness to his presence and work in us.
The same could be said of the topic, “cultural preaching.” The goal of Denison Forum is to grow “culture-changing Christians.” That is a God-sized vision when you stop to ponder it. It’s the passion of our Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Jim Denison. It’s a vision that is infused into all he and his team do. Culture-changing churches, pastors and sermons are the natural extension of this vision.
There are several ways to think about “culture-changing preaching.” We hope, of course, that all of our preaching changes people who then change culture. But specifically, one legitimate view is to see culture-changing preaching as an event, a single or series of sermons specifically targeted at an issue or a need that is present in the community and likely charged with increased intensity at a season in time.
This is what preaching about racism or the covid-19 pandemic has been over the last several weeks or months. Sometimes this kind of preaching is needed to expose an issue in the church, community or larger culture that is being ignored or overlooked, accidentally or intentionally. In both of these senses, culture changing preaching is prophetic in nature, calling people to God’s heart and will. God’s prophetic call in this preaching starts with the people of God.
Peter tells us, “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). However, while God’s call starts with believers, it is not limited to them. Prophetic preaching is the conscience of all people, calling all to hear, humble themselves, and heed the voice of God and his good and perfect will for all people.
Another approach to cultural preaching is to see it as a way of doing all our preaching. This approach means that we see all of our preaching through a lens of increased cultural relevance. Let me give you an example. Before the covid pandemic arrived in Texas in mid-March, we were planning an eight-week message series on handling stress. We sensed that this was a significant issue for our families after we surveyed them. When the pandemic shut down our community, we stayed with the idea of stress management and decided to base our series on 1 Peter. I would preach 10 sermons from this powerful letter.
As the series began, I looked for ways to tie Peter’s instructions, exhortations and insights to the ongoing and unique stresses that this life-threatening situation and shelter in place orders were putting on us. Several weeks into the series came the tragic death of George Floyd that ignited a new focus on brutality and racism in our country.
When this happened, I thought about interrupting my series for a special sermon on racism and inclusion. But the more I looked at the texts of 1 Peter 3 & 4 the more I realized that God’s word was already relevant for our current crisis. I choose to continue my stress series from 1 Peter. Peter admonishes, “The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:7–10 NIV).
From this text I talked about God’s urgent call to clarity, love, open heartedness and service to others, all powerful antidotes to stress, oppression, racism and distrust.
What I’m learning in fresh ways is that God’s word and Spirit are always relevant and timely for our times. God anticipates what we need to hear. Under the Spirit’s leadership, we study scripture AND we study the culture or pulse of our congregations and communities. In our interpretations and applications of God’s word, we learn to see through God’s eyes and heart and to speak His truth and love to the opportunities and needs of our times. Paul challenged the Colossians to be prayerful, watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2-6).
Like Paul, may we pray that the Holy Spirit will make us compassionate, clear, creative and courageous in all our preaching to our culture for God’s glory and the good of all people.