Culture and Discipleship is a conversation, a roundup of nine compelling voices—authors, church leaders, culture observers and disciple-makers. Together, they present a hopeful, pointed challenge to pastors who are looking to redemptively engage the culture for the purpose of effective discipleship.
To Alter Your World: Partnering With God to Rebirth Our Communities (IVP, 2017)
1. In your sphere of ministry, what do you see as the biggest challenge to effective discipleship in the church?
Fear and laziness. It all comes down to those two. They’re like tightening reins on the charging horses of the human spirit.
2. How does the expression of the church’s mission look different today than it did a few years ago?
For many years now, it has been assumed the church could influence culture by a combination of planting and growing churches, and political lobbying and activism. We certainly don’t rule out Christians being involved in the political process, and we’re all for more and better churches. But it’s been shown that, on their own, those two activities haven’t had the longed-for effect on our society.
I think the biggest shift that’s occurring is the move toward an understanding that God is on the move, extending the reign of Jesus throughout all aspects of culture and society, and that it’s our job to join in with what God is doing. This will include politics and church leadership, but it also includes social justice, radical acts of hospitality, standing with the powerless, speaking up for the voiceless and unleashing Christians to see God at work in all sectors of society—education, healthcare, the arts, business, the legal system and more. This will require a different form of discipleship that doesn’t just teach Christians good doctrine and helpful habits, but opens their eyes to think Christianly about every aspect of their lives and opens their hearts to discern what God is doing and how to join in.
3. How can the church redemptively engage the culture while remaining faithful to its discipleship mission?
I usually defer to Lesslie Newbigin’s matrix of the church being a sign, foretaste and instrument of the unfurling reign of God through Christ. The church is to be a sign, pointing our culture to the values of that reign—such things as justice, reconciliation, beauty, peace and wholeness—and to show how Jesus embodies, teaches and fulfills those things. But more than that, the church’s function is to be a foretaste of those very things. We are to demonstrate what real justice and reconciliation look like. We are to bring beauty and healing to this broken world. We are to be like a trailer, a taste of the greater age to come, right here in the midst of our culture.
4. Which cultural issues will have the biggest influence on the church in the next five years?
Where do I begin? Or more accurately, where do I end? The breakdown in civil public discourse is a big one. Since the church in the West has always seen itself as having a voice in such a discourse, it’s going to be hard to navigate our way in a world of fake news, constant public outrage, a widening gap between the left and the right, and a complete loss of trust in institutional voices. I don’t think complete withdrawal from the public square, or combative involvement in public battles, is the way forward. The church will need to find more winsome ways to present its case for the new world that’s being birthed by Jesus.
5. What encourages you about the recent re-emergence of church planting in the church?
I’m excited about church planting, but not as an end in itself. I always ask, “What kind of churches are we planting? If they’re just newer, fresher versions of the kinds of churches we already have littered throughout every neighborhood in America, it’s less exciting to me. In our book To Alter Your World, we tell lots of stories of people launching new faith communities in the most unlikely places, doing the most unlikely things for God. Discipleship needs to broaden to include teaching the skills of spiritual discernment, place-making, community organizing, responsible consumption and more.
Michael Frost is a leading voice in the missional church movement, the vice principal of Morling College in Sydney, Australia, and the co-author (with Christiana Rice) of To Alter Your World: Partnering With God to Rebirth Our Communities (IVP, 2017).