What’s The Big Deal About Culture?

What’s The Big Deal About Culture?

Posted on 16. Nov, 2012 by in Kingdom Lifestyle

I have had the unique opportunity of living in a few different locations in my life. I was raised in a relatively small midwest town, whose heart and soul was heavily influenced by the automobile industry. I spent many years in Atlanta GA, with its mixture of international ethnic flavors and southern mannerisms. Then there was the real small, midwestern Missouri town of 10K people and its unique close-knit family structure. Also, there was the midsized, 100k or so deep south GA city with it’s political and social strongholds of the past. Now, another midwest city, St Louis with it’s history as the portal of expansion for the old west.

I have experienced the uniqueness of many foreign (from the American viewpoint) lands. Places like Okinawa Japan, Pakistan, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, The Philippines, The Kingdom of Tonga, Swaziland and South Africa.  Each, expressing the richness and depths of longstanding, if not centuries old heritage and views.

So, why am I giving you this long litany of cities: because none of these cities are totally alike in their socio-cultural-spiritual aspects. In fact, most of them actually have multiple pockets of cultural expressions. This understanding is crucial to our understanding of the presentation of the Gospel.

In the current state of Christianity today, there is a discussion of the significance of cultural understanding as it relates to “spreading” the Gospel. While the effects of the Gospel are a one size fits all, its presentation is not. In fact, this type of presentation can actually be detrimental to its understanding and obedience. The U.S. has truly become a melting pot of cultures and beliefs. In any large city, you can travel just a few blocks and it may seem like you are crossing the borders of three or four countries. I have traveled down the street of one city and passed through distinct ethnic neighborhoods: Jamaican, African American, Korean and Hispanic. Each with its own culture and story.

We see that Jesus commonly presented truth in a manner that was in context to the culture. To the largely agrarian society, He spoke in parables about planting, harvests and vineyards. To the religious, he connected back to the Law of Moses. In general, He used common words of the day to place the truth of God into the everyday story of his listeners.

The following list is adapted from Tell The Story: A Primer On Chronological Bible Storying, and presents multiple reasons why we should have a solid cultural understanding before we seek to present the Gospel.

1.     So It will Make Sense

I also like the word relevant, meaning: something that pertains to the matter at hand. Knowing the culture, allows us to present the gospel in a way that makes sense to people we are trying to reach. The good news must be seen as the answer to the complexities of their lives.

2.     So we can identify issues or barriers that will prohibit the understanding of the gospel.

This is more obvious when speaking of foreign cultures: to the Hindu, Jesus can become another avatar and to the Muslim, a good man. But it becomes just as significant and maybe even more challenging when dealing with an “Americanized” culture.

For instance, in the south, the pretext of religion is very evident. You can find many large denominational churches and everyone seems to be saved by virtue of their membership. However, in the north and as I have been told, the northeast, church membership and involvement is seen as unimportant. Both of these cultures have their issues or barriers to receiving the Gospel.

3.     So we will not seek to convey the gospel via our cultural views, lifestyle or metaphors.

This one I really learned by experience. I had lived for 16 yrs in the high-energy business world of Atlanta. It was non-stop from morning till night and we approached our “church” with the same mindset. Then I move to the small, laid back, family focused town of 10K people! The brakes were slammed on, but I didn’t know it! Need I explain any more?

I also, have been in foreign fields where it is quite obvious, that western missionaries conveyed more than the fundamental truths of the gospel.

4.     So the gospel does not become a hodgepodge of individual spiritual beliefs

Simply put, if we do not know the culture, how can we tell they are really getting it? Individuals may “mechanically” receive the gospel or born again experience we preach, but many may only incorporate this event into their own personal spirituality. In fact, this is becoming prevalent among the mosaic generation.

There are probably more reasons we can come up with, but suffice it to say, if we are to effectively proclaim the gospel, we must present it in the context of the cultural story.

So the question I must ask myself: do I understand the story of the culture I am attempting to reach? How can I go beyond the heaven/hell issue and present the good news in away that provides the answers to the questions of that culture.


Dr Martin lives in St Louis MO,  with his wife Ava and their dog Zoe.  His ministry is to assist church leadership in developing membership ministry involvement and growth. The focus is on teaching and empowering the body of Christ to demonstrate the power of His kingdom in tangible daily life. The results: increased faith and the potential for greater revival and harvest. He is available to speak to your local assembly, organization or ministry. For more information, check  us out here


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