A young African prays with a bible during an outdo

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What force exerts the greatest influence on your congregation and the Christians you know? Are they shaped more by the gospel of Jesus Christ or by the culture around them?

Of course, the “Sunday school answer” always is Jesus. Christians pattern our lives after the teaching and example of Jesus. But is that the true answer? To what degree are our thoughts and actions formed by Jesus? And to what degree are they dictated by customs, actions and philosophies that have nothing to do with Jesus?

Two answers

Two answers quickly come to mind—“some of both” and “yeah, but … .”

“Some of both” is an accurate response, isn’t it? We try to follow the Golden Rule, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, as well as all Jesus’ teachings about ministering to “the least of these.” But we acknowledge we’re influenced by modernity—from air conditioning, to musical instruments, to organizational charts, mission statements and goal-setting.

But the question is: What force exerts the greatest influence? It means only one answer will do. And it implies a deeper level of influence than the contemporary trappings of church facilities or management principles.

That’s where the “yeah, but …” answer comes into play. If we take the question seriously, and we start thinking about more than cosmetic influences, we’re tempted to respond, “Yeah, but we’re not influenced by culture as much as the church down the street.” And thus begins the finger-pointing.

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