Why you can’t keep up with culture (or can die trying)

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It can increasingly feel impossible to stay relevant to culture. It can feel like there’s good news to share and embody, but how can you when can’t keep up with it? What we often feel, but may not know, is that “culture” has been changing at an exponential rate. 

For thousands of years, culture reinvented itself around the rate of each new generation, which is roughly every twenty to thirty years. But that has shifted dramatically in the last 10-15 years. Rather than culture reinventing every generation, it’s reinventing every eighteen months. In other words, whether you’re ready or not, the most predictable thing about life today is that our culture will change at a rate that is hard to keep up with, no matter who you are. 

That means that your life and leadership will never really be able to “catch up” to culture.

And if the speed of cultural change is ten times faster than it was ten to fifteen years ago, where does that leave Christian leaders? 

The history of God’s people is marked by innovators and pioneers in all sectors of society. It’s in our lifeblood. In fact, the last two thousand years paints an astonishing picture of followers of Jesus innovating in social movements, art, technology, architecture, biological sciences, church life, psychological development, movement multiplication (and that’s barely scratching the surface). And yet today, rather than being on the forefront of innovation, both within and outside of church life, Western Christianity seems stuck. 

Take this short, two-minute video example of the history of Sunday School I put together. It started as a revolutionary, and even scandalous innovation. But then culture shifted, and look where it ended up.

The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has provided an opportunity for the church to see where we stand and what we’re missing. It became pretty clear that when you remove weekly live worship services, church (which is always a people and not a place) isn’t necessarily sure what to do or even why it exists. Like a string of old Christmas lights, unplug one bulb, and the whole string of lights goes dead. 

This year we are seeing the need for kingdom innovation now more than ever. We’ve got a culture that seems like it is shifting under our feet before we got our footing from the last shift. We’ve got a global pandemic. Conspiracy theories on the far left and the far right. Uncertainty all around about what the future looks like.

So where does that leave Christian? In the world in which we now live, the people of God either need to innovate or simply close up shop and stop fighting a war of attrition. That is why, for Christians, missing the tool of innovation is the equivalent of a carpenter missing a hammer. 

When kingdom innovation works, it means God’s will is becoming a reality here “on earth as it is in heaven.” The transformational promise of the gospel is colliding with our world, continuing to adapt and change to the needs of the current moment. Think of it this way: When the Reformation happened, there wasn’t a sense that reformation had happened, as a once and for all occurrence. The leaders were supposed to keep reforming. These continual changes were meant to spread into all domains of human life and existence! Why? Well as theologian Abraham Kuyper once said: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!’” Yet somehow that became past tense. We stopped actively reforming and, instead, a tribe of Christianity became reformed. 

Because of God’s faithfulness, we don’t need to worry about the survival of the church or the endurance of the gospel. So while the gospel is never at risk, what is at risk is our own faithfulness to what Jesus has called us to. As leaders, will we be faithful in leading the people of God into the uncertain and tumultuous waters of the future? As Andy Crouch wrote in Culture Making, “Why aren’t we known as creators—people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful?” 

What if we embraced that calling again? 


Join Doug Paul for a free webinar about “Ready or Not: Kingdom Innovation for a Brave New World” on Monday, March 8 at 2:00 p.m. ET.

We are better together!

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:22-23

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