Last week, I wrote that the second reason American Christians should care about the health of the evangelical church in Croatia is that the work of establishing a strong evangelical culture here is unfinished.
Missionaries and Croatian church leaders have done heroic work here.
- They have established congregations, ministries, and schools.
- They have baptized brilliant, devoted, wonderful, talented people into Jesus Christ.
- They have charged those people with developing into leaders for the churches.
- Those brilliant, devoted, etc. people have worked extremely hard alongside the missionaries and the small group of older church leaders to lead and serve the church here.
But discipleship, the work of growing Croatian evangelical Christians up into the image of Jesus Christ, is an unfinished enterprise. In some important ways, Croatian evangelicals right now are spiritual “orphans”. (By “orphans” I am alluding to 1 Corinthians 4.15, where Paul tells the believers in Corinth, “You have many guides in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers.”)
Croatian evangelicals have “many guides in Christ” (voices from inside and outside Croatia that provide guidance and inspiration), but they don’t have many fathers (mentors who will invest their lives in transparency and intimate brotherhood) to disciple them and help them grow in Christlike maturity. Ergo: orphans.
Let’s talk about the unfinished work here. As I see it, the crux of what is unfinished is the establishing of a strong church culture. In comparison, it’s easier to gather a group, start meeting together, have a program for this or for that.
But it’s hard to establish a healthy, strong church culture. It requires years of patient, Christ-like sacrificial leadership, years of investment in a group of people.
In comparison with American evangelical churches, the culture in Croatia’s evangelical churches is weak. This does not mean that all American evangelical churches are healthy; they are not. But evangelicalism has been active in America for hundreds of years, with widespread success, and the general evangelical culture is ingrained and interwoven with American culture in general.
Not so here; most Croatian evangelicals are first-generation evangelicals, they don’t have the positive aspects of legacy to rely on. This is what I mean by “not having fathers”.
It’s all about church culture. Culture is the attitudes and values shared by a cohesive group of people. These shared things rise from common background, common experiences, shared sorrows and victories and prejudices. Together, they shape how the group responds to events, the type of leader that the group responds to, etc.
The best definition of culture I know may be Seth Godin’s line: “people like us do things like this.” “Do things like this” can refer to the things people like us choose to do, OR it can refer to the way people like us choose to do the things we do, I think.
Culture works like the current in a river or ocean:
- You may not see it, but you feel it.
- If you try to walk or swim in the water, the current pushes you where it wants you to go.
- If drop a light object in the water, the current carries it along. It will drift away from where you drop it to wherever the current is going.
- You CAN go against the current, but it requires effort and the current is always pushing you to comply.
A great illustration (unfortunately America-centric) of culture’s influence is the Lazy River at some large swimming pools, that meandering circular track of water where people drift in inner tubes, following the current. Try walking against the current instead of floating with it, and you’ll see what I mean. THAT’S culture.
Church culture is important, because–like the current in a river, or the tides, or a Lazy River–it determines:
- How people in the church will view the unchurched world around them.
- How people in the church will treat the moral failings of one of the members.
- How the church makes decisions.
- How the church handles conflict.
- What kind of leadership the members respond to.
EVERY church has a culture. Church culture starts with the way leaders view themselves and their calling. It works its way down through the volunteers to the children, through everyone who attends or participates in the life of the church. It includes not just people but the way the church communicates, how decisions are made, the way bulletins are produced or the building is cleaned. Culture affects it all.
In Croatia, as in America and around the world, healthy churches have a healthy culture. … (more Friday)