Christiana Rice: Culture and Discipleship

“We need to learn reconciliation and unity. How can we love our neighbors when we can’t even love our sisters and brothers?”

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. What do you see as the biggest challenge to effective discipleship in the American church?

I think there is a grave contradiction at play. On one hand, many people want to find their own truth and have the freedom to question the traditional beliefs of the church. On the other hand, these same people still expect clergy or spiritual leaders to do the work of excavating truth for them, and addressing their questions with more questions or possible answers. This kind of contradictory paradigm produces inactive and self-absorbed disciples who will struggle to grow and thrive in their faith. They remain independent consumers, never tasting the joy of committed community on mission together.

2. How does the expression of the church’s mission look different today than it did a few years ago?

Learning to become more culturally aware is currently a common discussion among church leaders and planters. Many churches have begun to turn their attention toward “the neighborhood,” desiring to be more attuned to their contexts and committed to the felt needs of their neighbors. It’s a wonderful shift.

We still wrestle, however, with an inconsistent definition of what it means to engage our neighborhoods. For some, engagement means getting to know the context where our church gathers or where our church building exists and seeking to make a positive, Christ-spirited impact there. For others, engagement is more holistic and involves inhabiting neighborhoods with our lives, choosing to live more deeply as the church in a particular place and fostering Christ’s transformation from the inside out.

No matter your expression, every church must continually ask the question, “What is God already doing (or birthing) here, and how do we participate?” In our book To Alter Your World, we contend that participating in God’s world-altering mission means we begin to live a new narrative, telling an alternative story to that of the prevailing impression of Christian thought and practice. This will require more sacrifice, authenticity, collaboration, commitment and service, and much more willingness to be shaped by the mission of God along the way.

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3. How can the church redemptively engage the culture while remaining faithful to its discipleship mission?

With Jesus as our model, it is impossible to be faithful to God’s mission without engaging culture. The entire story of God is about an embodiment of love, redemption and salvation, in and for the world. The biblical narrative instructs us on how to love God, love ourselves and love our neighbors as an interdependent community, incarnating Jesus wherever we are. This requires that we stay connected to God, to our own hearts and to the community. When we disconnect, we forget our call to love and our identity as God’s beloved. Disembodiment and disconnection are the antithesis to effective missional engagement.

4. Which cultural issues will have the biggest influence on the church in the next five years?

There’s no doubt that our Christian family is divided. We have polarizing theological views that divide us further and further apart. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to learn the everyday practice of reconciliation and unity. How can we love our neighbors well when we can’t even love our sisters and brothers?

5. What encourages you about the recent re-emergence of church planting in the church?

I’m encouraged when I see church plants really “planting” by taking the time to tend to the soil of a real place and establish healthy roots. A rooted church becomes a part of the cultural ecosystem, affecting everything around it. The future impact of the church, rooted in neighborhoods, has the potential to transform societies with the loving redemption of Jesus.

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Read more from our discussion on Culture and Discipleship »

Christiana Rice is a practitioner and visionary voice in the missional church movement, a leader of a neighborhood faith community in San Diego, California, and the co-author of To Alter Your World: Partnering With God to Rebirth Our Communities (IVP, 2017).