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Duncan Clark

How our faith is about culture and not rules

Every organisation has its own culture. What should that look like for you and your church? Duncan Clark gets us thinking.

In December 2017, following much anticipation and excitement, Coventry won the race to become the UK’s ‘city of culture’ for 2021.

For Coventry, this is a significant achievement and brings with it the hope of a transformed city. Those who led the bid spoke of a desire to change the reputation of the city and to see Coventry come alive, and while the city waits with excitement to see how new financial investments will impact the economy, tourism and the arts, the Church in the city has renewed expectancy that the culture of Coventry can change.

While the ‘city of culture’ bid is predominantly focused on the arts, music and diversity, the church in Coventry is talking about changing a different kind of culture. The church is taking this opportunity to communicate a vision for Coventry’s culture to more closely reflect that of the kingdom of God.

‘Culture’ is an interesting word. Its usage has increased in recent years as schools, businesses, charities and churches grapple with what makes their organisations tick. We now talk about the culture of an organisation, a football team or a school, and when we do that, we are describing the shared and accepted ideas, customs, values and behaviour of that particular group of people.

While the word ‘culture’ is not a simple word to define, someone more intelligent than me has proposed this definition: “Culture is the way we do things around here.” And when you think about it, every family, community, workplace or team has accepted norms, a ‘way of doing things around here’.

If you can’t identify what the culture of an organisation is, you only have to violate the culture to discover it! Try doing something mediocre in a culture of excellence and you’ll soon discover that by violating the culture you’ve discovered what it is!

I find it interesting that many other religions have a clear way of operating. They may have five pillars, four noble truths, six core beliefs or an eight-fold-path, whereas Christianity doesn’t have such a defined schedule of rules or practices.

We have a ‘culture’, a ‘way we do things around here’. When someone slaps us on the right cheek, we offer them the left one too because that’s the way we do things around here!

When someone takes our shirt, we run down the road to give them our coat too because guess what… that’s the way we do things around here! When we give our money, we don’t let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. When we make a promise we let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’.

Our faith is less about a list of set rules or practices and it’s more about a ‘culture’. Some may call it a ‘kingdom culture’. It’s just the way followers of Jesus do things as they live under the loving rule of their heavenly Father. It’s the culture of heaven invading the earth.

So, what does all this have to do with the Church and how it can impact and influence a city? When we consider the nature of the Church, it is important to see beyond the few hours that we gather each week and remember that for the majority of the week, the Church is scattered into offices, classrooms, shop-floors, wards and waiting rooms.

While the times we gather together for worship, teaching, prayer and equipping are vital for a church, the culture of a city will only be transformed when the church scatters into the locations God where has strategically placed each person and engage with what he is already doing there.

Society can be changed when followers of Jesus carry the culture of the kingdom, with its unique appetites and attitudes, into their specific context for mission, whether that be a home, a hairdresser’s salon, or a hotel.

Imagine the impact the Church could have in a city when its members live out the radical teaching of Jesus; when managers honour their staff; when bankers operate with integrity; when teachers care for their pupils; when politicians keep their word; when builders build with excellence.

Imagine the impact on the culture of a city if the Church, rather than retreating, permeates every corner of that city with the love and life of the Father. Imagine the impact the Church would have on the culture of a city if it served the city with Christ-like compassion.

Here in Coventry, we’re delighted that we are the ‘City of Culture 2021’, and it’s causing us to ask ‘what kind of city do we want to be?’, ‘what kind of culture are we creating?’ and ‘what kind of Church are we to be?’ Perhaps they are questions you can be asking too.

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