14 06 2017


13 03 2015

Ed Stetzer has some very important observations about the interaction between the church and the prevailing culture that greatly benefit those committed to being Bridgebuilding Churches. – STEVE

3 Ways Christians Will Address Cultural Issues in the Coming Years

The way we engage culture as Christ followers matters. It matters a lot. |
3 Ways Christians Will Address Cultural Issues in the Coming Years

Jean-Christophe BENOIST / Wikipedia

At some point during the 1980s and 90s, a desire birthed among politically conservative Christians to begin to stand for things that mattered to them culturally in more active ways than before.

What followed was a ground swell of support for what would become known as the “Moral Majority.” Their understanding was that those who held the beliefs they championed were actually the majority in the country. Some believed that through the right flavor of political activism, they would win the “culture war.”

Fast forward a few decades and, despite these efforts, evangelicals appear to be on the losing side for those who considered it a war.

That’s not a matter of preference or desire; it’s a matter of numbers. Simple math shows that most of the core issues on which the religious right was focused are trending the wrong direction from evangelical belief and practice.

It didn’t work.

When I said that a few years ago, it ended up being quoted in the Washington Post and was listed as a key quote of 2012. It seemed news then.

Now, that idea just seems like common sense and most people would agree. Actually, recent surveys show that the vast majority of pastors tend to agree. (I should add that I don’t use the term “culture war” except in references where others use it—I don’t think you can war against a people in culture and reach them at the same time.)

So the question is, what do we do now? How do we find our way out of a rather awkward cultural moment?

I believe Christians can and will generally focus on three approaches in the years to come.

Cultural Engagers

First, I think there will be some who will be culture engagers. This is where I fit in, but I am aware enough to know I’m not the only one who thinks about engaging culture and that my way is not the only way to do so.

That being said, those who are culture engagers are those who believe we must understand the people around us in order to meaningfully engage them for the cause of Christ. We think about planting churches that are culturally appropriate for the setting, equipping our people with the tools they need for wise and appropriate cultural engagement, and how we can be biblically faithful and culturally engaged at the same time.

We need more culture engagers and more churches engaging culture.

This issue still remains. And, as the culture is shifting, most churches (yes, most) are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them.

I teach and write about this topic often because it is so widely misunderstood. Christians need to engage culture for the cause of Christ, not run from it because people are worldly. Paul explained that he did not call us to “leave the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10) but rather to “become all things to all men” so as to engage them with the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22). (I’ve written extensively on engaging culture and contexutalization, so I won’t rehash that here, but you can find about 90 articles I’ve written at this link.)

Christians need to recognize that holiness is separation from sin, not separation from sinners. Put another way, holiness does not mean separation from people in the culture around us, but separation for the sin in culture around us.

For Christians to identify with and be identified with Christ, we need to do more of what He did. We need to be accused of the things he was accused of. We need to spend more time, not less, with the people he did.

Our churches need to better understand when we need reflect and when we need to reject the culture in which God has placed us. As one who cares about discerning culture engagement, I will spend more of my time helping churches understand and engage the cultures around them.

We need more culture engagers and more churches engaging culture.

Cultural Defenders

I do not think, however, that we only need the particular emphasis about which I am enthusiastic.

Other approaches to culture will be essential. For this too-simple article, the second approach would be that of culture defenders. These people are the ones who will take a stand in both the political and social arenas on issues that have to do with human flourishing.

They will, hopefully in a winsome and gracious manner, stand in the public square to speak on issues of life, family, and morality. They will be the evangelical voice on important issues where Christians are concerned.

They will defend certain positions, arguing that it is better for human flourishing to value certain things in any culture. These people will participate in important work and start organizations that carry it out, as well as supporting those who are already involved.

Though the work or organizations may not be inherently “Christian,” culture defenders will engage with them for the sake of the gospel. I imagine this may be the most difficult work, but people’s religious liberty will have to be defended, the greater good will need to be advanced, and truth will need to be said.

I imagine that some culture engagers and culture creators will roll their eyes, thinking that the culture defenders are not helpful or as discerning as they are. And, some, indeed, won’t be helpful—fighting in ways that are unhelpful and counterproductive. However, culture defenders will be an important part of our future engagement with culture as we move to the new cultural reality of our time.

We need more culture defenders and churches that will stand winsomely for the truth.

Cultural Creators

A third way Christians will approach culture is as creators. Now, I need to distinguish here between culture creation and evangelical culture creation.

Two-thousand-and-fourteen was the year of the Christian film. Evangelicals released all kinds of different films last year. The unimaginable success of God’s Not Dead caught people completely off-guard, both Christian and not (you can see more from the author of the book on which the movie is based in my interview with him here).

We need more Christians in culture creation and we need more churches encouraging them that way.

Many of these films were made by Christians for either Christian consumption or evangelistic purposes. Their messages are overt and clear, and they are meant to challenge those who do not share the evangelical worldview.

There is nothing wrong with these types of films. There are probably some in this vein I could do without (and some my family enjoyed together), but they help and encourage many.

However, other films written and developed by Christians do not have an overt Christian message. This type of movie seeks to shape culture in a completely different way than the others—they are creating culture that engages the broader culture.

They are not evangelistic, but they are creating and presenting a picture of a different—and better—reality to a culture that needs a picture of the vision they present.

The purpose is to create art that crosses religious boundaries, yet communicates particular constructs that reflect those of the Christian artist.

These types of projects are being produced in several genres of art, including music, theater, and film. The idea is that Christians, having been changed by the power of the gospel, espouse a worldview that creates culture. As believers, they engage in activities that shape the culture around them.

Andy Crouch has written about this in his book Culture Making (you can see my interview with him here). I would encourage you to read what he has written about the creation of culture. We need a lot more culture creators. For two examples, and there are many others, see the music of Lecrae and the movie The Blind Side. Neither see Christian as a genre, but rather hold up Christian values and a better way.

We need more Christians in culture creation and we need more churches encouraging them that way.

Culture Matters

When we assess our current situation, I believe that we find the need for all three types of respondents: culture engagers, defenders, and creators.

We need more culture defenders and churches that will stand winsomely for the truth.

Many Christians will go about this in different ways—and it won’t fit in three nice little categories. Regardless, it does matter that we think well about culture: how we engage it, defend things within it, and create it. And, we need to do so “christianly.”

The challenge will be developing ways that honor Christ, while loving and living with those who think differently. And that’s our new and great challenge.

These three different types of people interacting with culture—engagers, defenders, and creators—need to stop shouting at each other and start acknowledging the value that each brings to this new culture moment. All three types of cultural interaction are important.

In this new and shifting context, we need all hands on deck, and even though we’re working in different ways, we need to work together.

If we are not a moral majority, how do we show and share Jesus in the cultural moment where we find ourselves?

Somehow, as God’s people, that’s how we should engage culture—that because of our good works they might glorify God (1 Peter 2:12) and, ultimately, might consider the truth claims and gospel and the Christian worldview that undergirds it.

Related Topics:Arts; Film; Music


14 06 2014

James Emery White shares a straightforward critique of why so many churches talk the talk but don’t reach their unchurched neighbors. – Steve

Why “Insiders” Are Killing Your Church

by James Emery White

Let’s cut to the chase on something.

Almost everybody who follows Christ, and almost every gathering of those Christ-followers constituting a church, says the same thing:

“We want to reach the world for Christ.”

Yet, most don’t.

So where’s the breakdown?

It’s not strategy. There are vast numbers of churches who are successfully penetrating the culture of the “nones,” growing through conversion growth, and who willingly offer their tried and true strategies to any and all who wish to learn.

It’s not theology. As mentioned, almost every Christian church would have evangelism as part of their core values and integral to their mission statement.

It’s not the new generation of leadership. Most young leaders got into the game to see a lost world won to Christ. They are sold out and ready to rock.

It’s not the new generation of Christians. If you want to meet an evangelistic animal, spend time with a new believer. They are, in the best sense of the word, shameless with enthusiasm.

So what is the problem?

Jesus knew.

When challenged about His own missional emphasis toward those on the outside of faith, He responded: “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what the Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders'” (Matthew 9:12-13, Msg).

The problem? Seemingly, long-term “insiders.”

Countless numbers of leaders and members of churches have given in to a Christian consumerism. They embrace a mentality that gives ample rhetorical support to evangelistic intent but resists violently at the point of implementation because—at the point of actually “doing” it—it “costs” them.

In other words, scratch the surface of a sacrificial, pick-up-your-cross, to die is gain, eat my flesh and drink my blood, Christian …

… and you have an it’s-all-about-me, spiritually narcissistic, turned-inward, meet my needs, feed me, consumer.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s listen in:

“Of course I want to reach lost people,”

… but I’m not going to see us change the music.

… but I’m not going to lead a capital campaign to raise the money.

… but I’m not going to park far away.

… but I’m not going to risk stirring things up right now in the church.

… but I’m not going to attend a different service time.

… but I’m not going to start a new church.

… but I’m not going to stand for the pastor dressing casually.

… but I’m not going to give money to launch a new site or relocate.

… but I’m not going to watch someone on a video.

… but I’m not going to put in 50- or 60-hour weeks.

… but I’m not going to let them start playing drums.

… but I’m not going to change how I preach.

… but I’m not going to give up my favorite seat.

… but I’m not going to turn things over to a bunch of 20-somethings.

… but I’m not going to attend on Saturday night.

… but I’m not going to …

You fill in the rest of the blanks.

The problem with outreach today is that the most basic and elemental issues related to building a relationship with someone apart from Christ

… and then engaging in spiritual conversations,
… and then inviting them to an open and winsome and compelling “front door” so that they can come and see, come and hear, come and experience,
… is resisted by the very people who say they want those unchurched people to come and find Jesus.

Why? Because it would call for sacrifice or inconvenience of some kind. A leader would have to work harder, or invest in vision-casting and face potential opposition. Attenders would have to be part of a church that no longer exists solely to serve them but to serve those who have yet to enter the doors.

Which means that evangelism is fine in theory, but not in practice, because in practice, evangelism almost always involves death-to-self, the complete anti-consumer state of mind.

So can we change? Sure. But only when we look in the mirror and own the truth about our consumerism: We say we want them in heaven,

… but we act like they can go to hell.

24 05 2014

Thank you Justin Meier for sharing this video from the VERGE NETWORK

Check them out


8 05 2014


11 08 2013

cbethel  One of the churches that has grasped the Bridgebuilders Principle is Center Bethel Church of God in Alverton PA.  It is part of the Allegheny Conference of the Churches of God and its people participated in our January 2013 event at Mt. Pleasant.  Lee Kline is its pastor.  Here is a recent report from their conference newsletter:

Center Bethel Church of God – On Sunday, August 4, Pastor Lee led both services in dedicating 62 book bags, filled with school supplies, that will be distributed to those children in need within our community as they return to school. All the items collected for this project were provided by those within the Church. This is just one of the many community outreach programs that we have set in place and are always looking to work in the mission field that is right outside the doors of the church. Center Bethel is committed to serving its community and those in need! We are the Church of the community!


2 04 2013

The next Bridgebuilders Seminar will be held at the United Church of God on Saturday, May 18, 2013.  Pastor David Tressler and his Community Outreach Team will be hosting this training event sponsored by the Commission on Evangelism of the Eastern Regional Conference.  The event will run from 9:00 am-3:30 pm.  Cost is $15 per person or $50 per church registering four or more persons. This includes materials and lunch.

Dr. Steve Dunn and another Bridgebuilder trainer will be leading the event which is open to public.  Registration can be done via the ERC Evangelism web site or BRIDGEBUILDERS SEMINARS Facebook Page.  Registration deadline is May 13th.

Information about the host church including directions can be found at their website. CLICK HERE,



5 02 2013

A very good friend of mine, Chuck Frank, emailed me this segment of Bill Easum’s recent blog.  It speaks exactly what Bridgebuilders is seeking to implant in churches. – STEVE


Everyone of who follows my stuff knows I am a great fan of the local church. It is fundamental to the growth of the Kingdom, along with other forms of being the Church. I have no trek with those who say the day of the local church is over.

I can’t stand what the vast majority of mainline churches and many sideline churches have become. They set back a wait for people to show up like a spider that spins its web waits for an unsuspecting victim. I call this the Jerusalem effect and the build it and they will come effect. Oddly enough, this approach to evangelism worked when I started ministry over 50 years ago. Today, however very few unchurched people come to worship on their own.

Interestingly enough a friend gave me a url to Mike Breen’s blog . It was right up my alley. I thought I would share a couple of his quotes with you….
“So let us be clear: missionaries are always better than mission projects. Leaders are more necessary then volunteers. And disciples are surely what we’re going for rather than mere converts.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always told churches that volunteers, missions committees, and programs are not the way to go. In our new book , Effective Staffing for the Vital Church, I talk about “backyard missionaries.” Everyone needs to be trained to be a missionary in their everyday life. Also disciples are needed not volunteers.

Here is another goodie.

“There is a paradigm shift that needs to happen. We need to move from being a worshipping body that sometimes does mission to a missional body that gathers to celebrate and worship.”

I have started telling leaders that it is not enough to have small groups that make disciples; now small groups need to the missionary arm of the church. Each small group needs a mission in the community.

That leads to Breen’s last comment I want to highlight.

“Missional communities are the training wheels that teach us how to ride the bike of oikos.”

Now this is brilliant. He’s talking about 20-30 people acting as an extended family taking the message to their communities. We need to focus on training Mom and Dad, Aunts and Uncles, etc. to help their extended families be those backyard missionaries we talk about.

What is your church doing to make backyard missionaries?


21 07 2012

Thom Rainer has some excellent research and observations about the challenge facing churches in reaching their unchurched neighbors.  – STEVE

 By Thom S. Rainer

I am often amused when I hear myself identified as an expert in any area. If I am a perceived expert, it is because I have had the wonderful opportunity to listen to thousands of people over the past few decades. They are the experts; I am little more than an interested reporter.

Though much of this information could be regarded as dismal, my ultimate assessment is not that pessimistic. I believe in the God of miracles. If my conclusions focused on human ability and goodness, I would have little hope. But my conclusions presume the God of creation is on His throne.

For now, let us focus on what is wrong. Let us look with stark honesty and candor at the ineffectiveness of most American believers when it comes to sharing their faith. And let us look at reversing the trend through God’s power.

1. Spiritual Lethargy – One of the main reasons many Christians do not share their faith is simply explained by the word disobedience. Spiritual lethargy takes place when we fail to obey Him. The problem for many Christians is that they are not growing spiritually, and lack of spiritual growth inevitably leads to a diminished desire to share Christ with others.

2. Growing Inclusivism – One of the faster-growing belief systems today is pluralism (all religions lead to God). A variation of pluralism called inclusivism is a dangerous doctrine that is gaining momentum in many American seminaries, Christian colleges, and churches. This view affirms that Jesus is the only way of salvation, but he can be found in other “good” religions. There is a subtle but growing belief among many Christians that somehow “good” followers will make it to heaven outside of a true Christian conversion. Our message will fall on deaf ears if this belief persists and grows.

3. Growing Disbelief in Hell – At one time, this was a view held almost entirely by unbelievers. However recent books by those claiming to be evangelicals have brought this discussion front and center. Those who truly have a desire to reach the unchurched have a burden to see people in the eternity of heaven, but they also desire to see them escape the wrath of an eternal hell. Denying the existence of hell undermines the urgency of placing one’s faith in Christ.

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4. Busyness – Perhaps one of Satan’s most effective strategies is to get us so busy that we fail to do that which is such a high biblical priority. We can be deluded into complacency about the lostness of humanity around us. The unchurched are waiting for you to tell them about Jesus. They need to be on your to-do list. What priority do you give to reaching the lost?

5. Fear of Rejection – In research on this subject, I found that only one in four unchurched persons we be resistant to faith discussions. But nearly four out of ten of the unchurched will be receptive to your concern for their eternity, and more than one out three will simply be neutral to your attempts. Simply stated, fear of rejection is unfounded. The few with an antagonistic attitude are not rejecting your personally; their anger is merely a reflection of something in their past. Fear of rejection is an often-used excuse by Christians for their failure to witness. And it is just that: an excuse.

6. A Desire to Be Tolerant – The message of the gospel, in some senses, is intolerant. The one true God insists there can be no other gods. He is a jealous God and leaves no room for other gods. In the post-modern culture of 21st century America, Christians should know the criticisms of intolerance will come. The great concern is that many Christians are unwilling to take a narrow view because they do not want to be labeled as intolerant. But Jesus never waivered in His insistence that He is the only way to the one and only true God.

7. Losing the Habit of Witnessing – Some Christians have been very active in sharing their faith with the lost and the unchurched. But, for a myriad of reasons, they get out of the habit, and it no longer becomes a priority. Witnessing, like prayer and Bible study, is a discipine. It is a habit to learn, to retain, and, if lost, to regain.

8. Lack of Accountability – Programmatic evangelism in local churches is sometimes denigrated because it is seen as a “canned” approach to witnessing. But one of the strengths of many of these programs is that some inherent system of accoutnability is built into the program itself. Accountability is likely to engender more witnessing attempts to the unchurched. Attempting more evangelistic encounters creates a habit of witnessing that then increases our zeal for evangelism.

9. Failure to Invite – When is the last time you invited an unchurched person to church? When is the last time you offered to take a person to church, or, at the very least, meet him or her at church? It’s a simple gesture, yet so few Christians do it.

10. We Go to Churches That Do Not Reach the Unchurched – We only reach one person for Christ each year for every 85 church members in the United States. That is a frightening and terrible ratio. One of the key reasons we do not reach the unchurched is that most Christians in America are members of churches that do not reach the unchurched.

I’ve now covered ten of the most common reasons Christians fail to obey the Great Commission. This list is not exhaustive though. In God’s power, however, we can reverse this trend and reach the unchurched in America.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.