The short answer is, no, I’m afraid it can’t.
But let me explain.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to speak on the subject of church culture. Preparing and presenting this material was just the kind of challenge I enjoy – but I wasn’t expecting that my presentation would have a surprise ending: As I prepared for this talk, the ending was a surprise to ME before it was a surprise to anyone else.
I shared that culture is the climate, the atmosphere, the vibe, the environment, the temperament, the personality or the feel of your church.
Some people call it the DNA of a church. Just as your DNA is in every cell of your body, making every part of you uniquely YOU, your church’s DNA is in every part of what it is and does.
It’s the water you swim in at your assembly, the air you breathe and the weather you experience.
I shared that a great church culture is a huge benefit for your church, an advantage of almost inestimable worth.
I related how I had reviewed many books of the Bible asking the authors and the Author what they had to say about an ideal church culture. This was as helpful as it was enjoyable.
I mentioned that every single attendee of a church impacts a church’s culture, with the solo or senior pastor usually having the largest impact of anyone involved.
And I shared how church culture is similar to church values, in that, while we can’t just fake it, purchase it, download it from the web or import it from another church, we can ask for it and download it from heaven. God gives great churches great cultures by grace.
The great news that I thought I was going to conclude with is that:
Great people, shaped by, influenced by, filled with, enthralled with a great God create a great church culture.
I also shared two quotes and one illustration to flesh this out.
We’ll start with a paraphrase of Dann Spader, founder of SonLife Ministries, summarizing the “fore and aft” promises associated with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20:
The church that balances winning the lost, building up the believer and equipping the worker experiences the manifest presence and power of God.
The second is an actual quote, from revivalist Oliver Price:
“Revival is having Jesus Christ, obviously present and actively in charge of your church.”
My illustration is the Christian camp. Every Christian camp I’ve visited has had a wonderful culture. Christian. Warm. Relaxed. Wonderful!
I’ve often thought: why can’t my church have a culture like this?
The truth is that your church probably WON’T have a culture like this until Jesus returns, and here’s why (and this was the surprise ending to my talk).
Camps are places of retreat – and that’s fine. You don’t have to call your men’s retreat a “men’s advance.” Strategic retreats are not final defeats. Think: Dunkirk.
But camps are places of retreat. If they have motel rooms instead of “rustic” cabins we call them “retreat centers.” And we love them. And we should.
But churches are not places of retreat. They’re not holy huddles no matter how hard we try to make them that way. They’re not support groups. They’re not religiously flavored social clubs.
Churches are mission stations on the mission field known as the world (Matthew 13:38) and every church member is a God-called missionary assigned to the mission station.
Churches are forward operating bases in the holy war being fought over planet earth, located smack dab in the middle of enemy territory. They are supposed to be constantly storming the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18), rescuing lost and blinded sinners from the Devil’s kingdom, ushering them into Jesus’ glorious kingdom.
If your church doesn’t feel anything like a mission station or a forward operating base it’s because it has been effectively brainwashed and/or neutralized by the enemy.
So what can we realistically say about culture? We can say that a church, which has downloaded the culture of heaven into the war zone of earth, can experience a great culture, a loving culture, a welcoming culture, a praise-filled culture, the manifest presence and power of God, Jesus Christ obviously present and actively in charge, but it will never quite experience the relaxed culture of a Christian camp until the Christ Himself brings heaven down to earth.
It will involve hard work, passionate prayer, internal conflict and external attacks. It will have the enemy attacking it at every vulnerable moment, with every conceivable strategy (Acts 5:3, II Corinthians 2:11, Ephesians 6:13). It will succeed only with hard work, heaven-sent character and constant vigilance, and it will be well-worth all the blood, sweat and tears shed in the process.
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:2-4