To reach culture have we gone too far in embracing culture?

     Right now, I am in the battle of my life ... well not really, but going back to school is kicking my butt. While heading to the local watering hole (aka Starbucks) a few days ago to write a paper, I listened to something that has disturbed me for a while. This episode not only disturbs me but also reveals my self exalting desire, which I will get to in a minute.

     For years I have been leading people to engage their culture. I have had long discussions with other pastors about what are the best ways to interact with a culture that is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. I have argued with fellow Christians when we are called to boycott people for being, well, not a Christian. I have to admit that there are lines that are probably crossed by me over and over in the hope to share Jesus with people. I am constantly asking God and myself if what I am embracing or participating in will bring glory to Jesus or will bring me into sin. I don't believe in finding a happy medium or toting up to a line. However, I do believe there are times when engaging people within their culture will require me to do things that make me uncomfortable, but will not result in dishonoring God. It requires me to rework, in my own beliefs, what actually pleases God and what doesn't. Instead of me being so vague, let me give you an instance where my belief had to change to engage culture. In Hawaii, tats (aka tattoos) are everywhere. It is not only a native Hawaiian thing, it is the culture in Hawaii. Most of the people I engaged in had them. At first, this took me back. I grew up in a small country church and as a new believer (back in the 90's) I was told that tats were of the devil. One problem is that a close family member had one and I judged him for it. I carried this belief for quite a while and when some of the students I led came home with one from college, I judged them too. I had allowed a long time belief to keep me from engaging. Well, I actually have come to admire tats. Some people have a great story behind them and sometimes it helps to know them better by listening to why they have them. Oh, I don't have one because I am too chicken to deal with that needle nor do I feel it's the best way to honor God with my body right now (my current concentration is losing this gut). So, as you see, my belief had to change for me to engage.

     Okay, now for why I wrote this. I struggle with being loved. I want everyone to love me and I want to be important to everyone. I want to be on stage and be the center of attention. This is my constant sin that I deal with. I don't think its wrong to want love but my desire for it makes me the center of my world. As someone who struggles with the desire for accolades, I am beginning to see this in our current culture.  

     I see an emerging problem in our current Christian culture. We are awarding people for being Christian. Just hear me out for a few minutes. Does that sound ridiculous to anyone? We are rewarding people for being obedient to Jesus and then giving them trophies to place on their wall. I love Christian music and there are certain artists that I connect with. However, I see my worship of these artists more when I refuse to go to church because they are not there or even worse get more excited about going to church when they are there. Why am I not just as excited to go any other day? Is their presence there making church better than when it isn't? No, my problem is rooted in something different, I am a worshipper and I will turn that worship to other things than God in a heartbeat.

     In our current Christian culture, our tendency to worship things other than God can easily be masked in our desire to hear certain preachers or listen to certain bands. I have watched people literally skip church because their pastor wasn't preaching or that a famous pastor was preaching near them. I have heard people say how great a sermon was when someone famous spoke at their church and then they criticize their pastor's sermon the following week. I watch people drag into a service when it isn't the music they really like, but then clear their whole week's schedule when their favorite Christian band is in town. Houston, I think we have a problem and that problem is we are worshippers. Many times we really are not joining the body of Christ to experience the life of Jesus through each other. Even more, we tend to rate how good church was that day by how much we got out of it or how good it made us feel (even repenting feels good). Too many times we are guilty of making our desires central to the experience of Christianity. I struggle with this probably more than anyone. I am constantly fighting myself and my self exaltation. I have to remind myself that every sermon isn't about me or even for me. I also have to remember that the songs I am singing (notice I said singing, not sitting there watching) are for the Lord and to honor Him. I do agree there are many songs out there that we need to stop singing, but my heart before singing usually reveals how much I want God honored over me. We have a worship problem because we tend to worship ourselves over God.

     So here is where my rant hits its mark. I listened to a Christian get a "Christian of the year award". I don't think the award was really called that, but a large group of Christians awarded a famous person for being Christian. We do this all the time when we give Christian artists trophies for selling the most albums (something I use to think was only due to God but now see that sometimes its due to marketing). I love Christian music and I rejoice over the artists that God is interacting with and giving them music to encourage our love for Jesus. I just think we are missing the mark incredibly when we begin handing out Christian awards. I worry that we are continuing to feed this worship issue we struggle with and that we are teaching our children to self exalt over God exalt. Are we really okay with awarding people for doing what God has told them to do? You might say, "Yes Shawn, I think those people need a pat on the back for being obedient" and I wouldn't disagree with encouraging people to be obedient, but a trophy? Really? It looks too much like a nice shiny idol that sits on our shelves to admire our accomplishments. It also adds to this current Christian culture (that I don't believe is really Christian) that exalts certain people over regular people! It's dangerous and we are falling to it more and more in our churches. We get really excited when the pastor invites a famous preacher or they bring in a popular artist but then, we will tend to schedule our vacations or just miss out on gathering with each other when its just a regular Sunday. Maybe, I am the only one seeing this and if I am, I am probably wrong, but I don't think I am.

     Here is where this really hurts, me. Because of my struggle with self exaltation, I wonder how much of my concern is jealousy over seeing a problem. I love to be honored and it would be incredibly dangerous if I had one of those awards. I also have struggled with "me centeredness" in church (even as the pastor). It's a me problem and I need to repent. In attempting to engage culture, I go too far in embracing culture. I make the church just another avenue of serving MY needs. I make Christian music just another avenue to serve MY needs. The root is me and I also believe the root is our self centeredness when it comes to these things.

     So yes, please tell your Christian friends you rejoice with them that they followed God when He called them to something. Yes, lets celebrate when God does some incredible things with us. However, lets not idolize people or acts they do and think we are honoring God by it. Let's take the emphasis off of man and put it where it belongs, on Jesus. Because there are no SUPER CHRISTIANS. There are just followers of Jesus and a world in need of Jesus. And let's let the One who is waiting to award those who have walked faithfully, under the power of His Grace, to be the one to give the awards out. Its worth letting God be God in this.


  1. Re: being too chicken to get a son and his friend wanted to pay for my tattoo when I turned 40 (a "couple" of years ago)...and my husband was astonished that I would consider that!! His reasoning is "You don't see a Ferrari with a bumper sticker." Yeah, I'm ok with that. Blessings to you, my only Hawaiian friend. :-)


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