We concluded our series “The Church” this past weekend. I wrote a story/parable of 5 churches and shared it with Church at the Grove. I want to offer a huge thank you to Tim Stevens and his book Pop Goes the Church from which I adapted the story of the 5 churches. I recommend Tim’s book for churches wanting to engage culture for the purpose of leveraging it to share the hope and grace of Jesus.
Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture has had a huge impact in shaping how Jesus and how the church addresses culture. Jimmy Long’s Generating Hope also influenced me in how the church engages culture.
Here is the story:
I would like to tell you a story of a small town here in
America with five churches and how each of these churches responds to the culture around them.
Somewhere, OK is a typical small town in
America that has gone through a tough decade as they have seen many people lose jobs due to plant closings and changes in the economic landscape. Other than that, it has developed a culture that reflects American society and what is generally important to people living in
America. Clothing and fashion, music and movies, sports and leisure, you name it, this small town reflects much of the cultural influence we all see in our culture.
There is somewhat of a cloud hanging over this town until
Hollywood calls and announces they are coming to town! One of the huge motion picture companies announces they are coming to Somewhere, OK to film a new movie starring none other than Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. They wanted to have a perfect setting of small-town
America and chose “Somewhere, OK” to be the place they would spend over three months filming the new blockbuster! Most people were thrilled, some were critical but more than anything, it injected a new energy and excitement into the life of the town that had not been seen for years.
It wasn’t long before some of the churches in town began to weigh in with their response to the news of
Hollywood coming to their town. Here is how five churches responded to this cultural invasion.
Pastor Bill at “Turn or Burn” first church quickly condemned the movie industry and asked the people in his church to voice their concerns and to avoid doing any business with any vendor in the town who was providing hotel rooms, meals or any other services for the film crew, company or any individuals in the casts. He quickly provided a list of these businesses for his congregation to avoid.
Reverend Tom at “Us four and No More” Community fellowship began a series of messages on biblical separation. He emphasized staying pure and fleeing from immorality. He knew this film would be tempting people to go to the movie theater since it was filmed in a familiar location but challenged the people in his congregation to have nothing to do with the evil ways of the world!
Minister Bob at “Whatever makes you happy”
Church began to work his contacts in the film industry to get as many cast members as possible to come speak to his congregation or be interviewed on his weekly church TV show. He had been writing a series of sermons on new books from Oprah’s Book Club, but would be glad to interrupt this series of talks to see an increase in attendance with some potential
Hollywood guest speakers. He knew that it would be a fairly long interlude without a message referencing the Bible, but he was willing to sacrifice to have more people in his church.
Elder Melissa at “Tradition-R-Us”
Temple in the middle of town had been at her church since the economic boom in the early 80’s. She was old enough and wise enough not to be influenced or swayed by the daily headlines. She had nurtured this flock for many years and wasn’t about to change any of her routine for anyone or anything. She knew she needed to continue simply teaching the word, regardless of what went on around them. For the entire year, she had been teaching through the book of Leviticus and wasn’t about the interrupt this expository study for some pop culture shenanigans. She never planned to mention the movie production and several of her congregation thanked her for helping them find a haven away from the insanity that was outside the walls of the church building.
Paul Smith had only been the pastor of
Church for a little over 2 years. In that short time he led them to discover why they existed as a church. He walked them through a delicate transition to change their name that reflected the mission of the church, which was to develop people to follow Jesus and Make Disciples.
Soon after they heard the mayor of
Smalltown, OK share the BIG news about the filming of the Tom Cruise/Angelina Jolie movie, pastor Paul gathered some of his leaders to pray about this huge opportunity for ministry and the potential they may have for leveraging this event in their town for sharing the hope found in Jesus. The rippling impact could begin in this small town but ripple all the way to
After two years of leading this group, pastor Paul sat back watched his team respond with the love and grace of Jesus! He couldn’t have been more proud! One of the leaders led the conversation by saying, “There are going to be six hundred people here from
Hollywood who need to know how much they matter to God!” One of the other leaders responded, “I’m not that excited about the theme of the movie—God knows it’s already hard enough to keep my kids from this stuff, but that’s not the point. The entire community will be watching how this church responds to this. Are we going to point our finger at them with judgment? Or are we going to accept them right where they are? Miss Nolan, one of the original members when the church began spoke up, “It sure is going to be hot here when they are outside filming, maybe we can simply provided some relief from the heat.” With that, a plan was put together.
Teams of volunteers began to give out bottles of water during the hot afternoons of what would become the hottest summer on record. Each morning they distributed copies of the “LA Times” so the cast members had a little feeling of home. They also arranged housing for some of the crew members after all the motel rooms in the town were full. The coached the host-homes to simply love, accept, and listen to the crew members and resist the urge to “preach”.
During this time, pastor Paul planned a series of messages of how “The Church” can engage the culture and leverage the culture in such a way to share the hope that is can result from a personal relationship with Jesus. He titled the series; “Cruise Control” and taught through a series of passages from the Bible giving direction to how we can fully trust God with complete control of our life because He is primarily a loving Father that knows what is best for us.