Who/What ‘Influences’ You? [v108]

FEBRUARY 2008

WHO/WHAT ‘INFLUENCES’ YOU?—Here’s a few things that come to my mind when I think about ‘societal influences’:

– Parents
– Friends
– Media (TV, Internet, Movies, Newspapers, etc.)
– Politicians
– “Culture”

Now, of course, the first four items are actually ‘parts’ of the overall “culture,” and that there are many more things that influence us, but I believe these are among the top ones—and for me, sadly, the “culture” is having a much greater ‘unfavorable’ affect on us than it did just 50-100 years ago.

Culture is a hot topic these days, and among a number of public intellectuals, religious leaders, and social activists, there is an urgent conversation about the importance of cultural “renewal.”

So then, who or what ‘influences’ the culture and what makes ‘it’ change?

Well, historically the culture has been shaped by a small number of “gatekeepers.” Majority perspectives have little bearing on culture formation. Instead, “elites” dominate. Richard Neuhaus notes: “Even though [these elites] may be a minority of the population, they succeed in presenting themselves as ‘mainstream’ through their control of powerful institutions in the media, in entertainment, in the arbitrations of literary taste, in the great research universities and professional associations, and in the worlds of business and advertisement that seek the approval of those who control the commanding heights of culture.” Increasingly, grassroots political efforts to reverse the current cultural direction are proving futile. Even though politicians in some ways could be considered ‘elitist’, politics only reflects culture, it doesn’t direct it.

Some have said that culture changes when a society’s “assumptions and aspirations are captured by new ideas and images that are developed by thinkers and artists, expounded in both scholarly and popular forms, depicted in innumerable works of art, literature and entertainment, and then lived out attractively by communities of people who are committed to them.”

Well, in my opinion, the ‘slice’ of today’s culture that has been ‘dictating’ society’s direction in the past few decades is represented by education, art, media, and entertainment. So, to make any sort of change, these are the ‘areas’ that one must address.

One of the ‘organizations’ that is dear to my heart is the “church”—specifically the Christian church that, in my definition, are the ‘people’ that desire to follow Jesus in their lives, not necessarily the buildings they come together in.

I have recently read a couple of great books related to what the ‘culture’ thinks about Christianity, and the ‘diminishing’ affect it is having on the culture—it was very ‘eye opening’.

The Barna Group (kind of a Christian ‘Gallup Poll’ organization) sited in one of their reports a few years back that since 1991, the adult population in the United States has grown by 15 percent. During that same period the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million—a 92% increase.

Upon examining the data, they concluded that unchurched adults are notable for three unique behavioral patterns:

– ISOLATION: They see themselves as outsiders and often take refuge in that status. Evidence of this arms-length approach to life, beyond their refusal to participate in church life, includes lower levels of voter registration, less money donated to non-profit organizations, fewer non-profits supported, lower levels of media usage, and less engagement in community service activities.

– NON-COMMITTAL: You can see this emotional and intellectual distancing of themselves through their more moderate ideology, their more ambiguous theological perspectives, a lower likelihood of embracing terms used to describe oneself (such as “generous,” “friendly” and “deeply spiritual”), a substantially lower level of self-professed commitment to their faith of choice, and their rejection of the idea of responsibility for nurturing other people’s faith.” Barna also noted that the high proportion of atheists and agnostics among the unchurched fits this pattern of distaste for finite or irrevocable choices.

– INDEPENDENCE: In addition to having the highest likelihood of registering to vote but refusing to align with a political party, the data show the unchurched to be less likely to marry, less likely to have children (even when married) and being less loyal to organizations and products.

Now, at least at my church, we strive to create ‘community’ to ‘combat’ isolation; help people make up their own minds about what kind of ‘commitment’ they are comfortable with giving to their Christian faith; and foster the ‘favorable’ attributes of living in “dependency” on Jesus.

Sadly, as many surveys have shown, most of the unchurched do not feel that the “church,” in general, is not about doing very well espousing these ‘virtues’, but that ‘they’ are just another “special interest group” trying to “tell” them how they ‘should’ live—and that the people that call themselves “Christians” don’t live the way they ‘preach’.

One of the books I read that got me thinking about this is titled, “Unchristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters.” The authors mention that, “historically, Christians were known for their wide and significant contributions to culture, but somewhere along the line, Christianity’s positive influence on culture changed.”

They site that the “emphasis on heavenly pursuits overshadowed the idea of living a life that offered common grace and promoted cultural influence”—that is, if a Christ-follower is only about getting a ‘free pass’ to Heaven, then that will “alienate Christians from the broader dialogue about life, justice, and the here and now.”

Trinity Forum member and Author James Davidson Hunter asserts that some faith ‘communities’ have relied on the primary ‘means’ of changing culture to be the thought that if people’s ‘hearts’ and minds are converted, then they will have the right values, in-turn will make the right choices, and the culture will then change.

Though the ‘renewal’ of our minds is truly essential to a humane society, by itself it will not (and has shown not to in the past) accomplish that ‘ideal’. As mentioned before, cultures are shaped by “elites,” where ‘networks’ of them come together for a common purpose—then the ideas and values they perpetuate sustain the moral ‘fiber’ and social conscience of the culture. It doesn’t take all that many people to witness dramatic ‘shifts’ in the convictions and aspirations of a culture.

“Unchristian” co-author David Kinnamen sites that, “in 30 years the idea of being gay has moved from being commonly viewed as abnormal in society, to being an acceptable alternative life-style. Regardless of your personal feelings about this influence, one must acknowledge the immense success their ‘approach’ has had on everyday life in America.”

Kinnamen says that this “illustrates perfectly the potential for cultural influence to happen when leaders throughout the seven channels of culture (*) work together towards a common goal.”

*[The seven channels of culture are the social institutions that govern any society, including business, government, media, church, arts and entertainment, education and the social sector. Their combined output of ideas, films, books, theology, websites, restaurants, investments, social work, laws, medical breakthroughs and technology drive an entire nation].

So, what does all this mean for the ‘church’ going forward in influencing the culture?

Addressing the reticence of the unchurched takes more than prayer and hard work: it requires a lot of deep reflection to see the world and the local church from a completely different angle.

“Unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed,” says George Barna. “They are wholly disinterested in church life—often passionately so. Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serve the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer. The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter—and on-going relationship—with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.”

I believe it is imperative to address our cultural crisis ‘correctly’. We need a generation of ‘apprentices’ of Jesus who are called, trained, and prepared to be cultural gatekeepers. Simply getting a job in a culture industry is not enough. Simply doing ‘something’ can easily lead to doing more harm than good (as has been shown in the past). Asserting power as a culture “warrior” is usually ineffective and counterproductive. Going solo rather than building institutions and connecting with other networks will not lead to change. And expecting immediate results will not foster faithfulness in our generation.

There is also a great deal at stake in these matters. We are fast approaching a ‘tipping point’. We live in a sort of ‘Augustinian’ moment. Like St. Augustine at the end of the Roman Empire, we live in the twilight of the “pax Americana.” We are deep in uncharted waters, engaged in a culture war the likes of which has no historical precedent.

Gabe Lyons believes that the ‘church’ is positioned like no other “channel of influence” to shape future culture. He says, “Although the work of culture creation may take place outside the physical walls of a church building, the local church creates a natural space where social networks of leaders, within all seven channels of culture, can work together towards a common goal. Nowhere else does this potential for synergy exist…the Christian church has strayed away from its potential influence in the here and now, positioning itself instead as just another subculture. Many Christians currently hold unique and influential positions throughout the seven channels of culture, but have never been supported by fellow believers.”

Gabe continues to suggest a “big idea”—one that he is personally ‘fostering’ by founding an organization (Fermi Project) to help advance the following:

– Exploring and embracing the “Cultural Mandate”
– Teaching About Callings and Cultural Influence”
– Connecting With Local  Communities”
– Looking For Good Culture”
– Convening Conversations About Future-Culture”

All this being said, the one thing I can say personally, that has been such a great ‘influence’ in my life that it has overridden all of the cultural ‘pressures’ I had experienced in my life, was to give over ‘control’ of my life to Jesus Christ, to follow His teachings (as best I can), and desire to live a life that would be acceptable to Him.

I believe if more of us actually ‘believed’ this, we would indeed change the ‘culture’, but more importantly, change the eternal ‘destinies’ of people!

[Excerpts from: John Seel (The Trinity Forum); Gabe Lyons (“Unchristian” and Fermi Project); David Kinnaman (“Unchristian”); George Barna; ]

(If you would like to further investigate what does it really mean to “believe,” visit the following link:
http://www.4VIS.com/sfm/sfm_pres/sp_q10_d1_1of10.html ).

If you are interested in more about the opportunity for the church to influence our culture, visit the web site of the ‘group’ Gabe Lyons (Co-author of “Unchristian”) founded, the “Fermi Project”:
http://www.fermiproject.com

Also, if you are interested in my ‘summary’ of the “Unchristian” book, just shoot me an e-mail requesting it.

Blessings…Mark

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v108) for FEBRUARY 2008
If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at: mbesh@comcast.net

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ATTITUDE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
Bruce Larson tells this story in his book, Faith for the Journey. Once there was a successful factory that made drills. One day the owner told his corporate officials that he was going to retire and that he had chosen his son as his successor. At the next board meeting the son asked his four vice presidents, “What are your goals for the company for the next five to ten years?”

One vice-president replied, “Well sir, we’re looking at new sizes and shapes for different drills.”

The son then dropped his bombshell. “I have news for you–there is no market for drills.” One could feel the tension in the air. He continued, “From now on we will not think drills. We will not sell drills. We’ll sell holes! People don’t want to buy a drill; they want to make a hole!”

As they began to think of other ways to create holes they developed, among other methods, lasers for drilling holes. This attitude change and other innovations keep this company in business while its competitors lost large shares of the market and some even went bankrupt.1

It wasn’t aptitude but attitude that made the difference!

(In reading) Reports by research specialist, George Barna, in recent years (they) have consistently revealed that the church and Christians as a whole in the U.S.A. are not making any significant impact on the culture. Also, there is little difference in the manner of living between Christians and non-Christians. Others such as Chuck Colson are saying that in the U.S. we are now living in the post-Christian era. Alarming observations, to put it mildly.

So what is wrong? A scary thought is that we could be rapidly heading in the same direction as the church did in Great Britain a century or so ago. Then the great spiritual and missionary endeavors were coming out of their country. But today the church there is but a shadow of what it was. As one British rector (minister) poignantly said about the church in England: “The times changed, the people and their needs changed, but the church remained the same, and little by little it became irrelevant and lost its impact.” Instead of looking at itself, the church then blamed the indifference of the people for their leaving in droves.

True, our message never changes but the application of it and our methods of presenting it must apply to the needs of today’s generations–not yesterday’s. Furthermore, we are NOT in the business of building churches with a little “c”. We are in the business of saving people and making disciples.

Like the disciples and early Christians, when we do God’s work in God’s way for God’s glory may it be said of today’s church: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
[Brent Porterfield]

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ONLY ONE BROKEN KEY
Evxn though my typxwritxr is an old modxl, it works quitx
wxll xxcxpt for onx of the kxys. I havx many timxs wishxd
that is workxd pxrfxctly.

It is trux that thxrx arx forty-onx kxys that function wxll
xnough, but just onx kxy not working makxs thx diffxrxncx.

Somxtimxs it sxxms to mx that our church is somxthing likx
my typxwritxr–not all thx kxy pxoplx arx working propxrly.

As onx of thxm, you may say to yoursxlf, “Wxll, I am only
onx pxrson, I don’t makx or brxak thx church.”

But it doxs makx a big diffxrxncx, bxcausx a church, to bx
xffxctivx, nxxds thx activx participation of xvxry pxrson.

So, thx nxxt timx your xfforts arx not nxxdxd vxry much,
rxmxmbxr my typxwritxr and say to yoursxlf, “I am a kxy
pxrson in thx congrxgation and I am nxxdxd vxry much.”

This is what happxns to thx wholx church, and multiply this
by many timxs–thx wholx thing just doxs not makx sxnsx!1

So, don’t be a broken key—be a useful one.

“For as the body [the Church] is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body…And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” [1 Corinthians 12:12, 26].
[Author unknown]

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OVER 35
People over 35 should be dead. Here’s why:

– According to today’s regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even maybe the early 70’s probably shouldn’t have survived.

– Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint.

– We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. (Not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.)

– As children, we would ride in cars with no seatbelts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

– We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors!

– We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.

– We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this.

– We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

– We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the street lights came on.

– No one was able to reach us all day. NO CELL PHONES!!!!! Unthinkable!

– We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X-Boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, video tape movies, surround sound, personal cell phones, personal computers, or Internet chat rooms.

– We had friends! We went outside and found them. We played dodge ball, and sometimes, the ball would really hurt.

– We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

– They were accidents. No one was to blame but us.

– Remember accidents? We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.

– We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate worms, and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes, nor did the worms live inside us forever.

– We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s home and knocked on the door, or rang the bell or just walked in and talked to them.

– Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team.

– Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment.

– Some students weren’t as smart as others, so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade. Horrors!

– Tests were not adjusted for any reason.

– Our actions were our own.

– Consequences were expected.

– The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law. Imagine that!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers and problem solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.
Congratulations!
[Author unknown]

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DEEP THOUGHT:
Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.
[Author unknown]

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I hope you enjoyed some of these insights. Share them with your friends and colleagues, so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from—and more to share with! Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” especially if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“They [the early Christians] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:42, 46-47].

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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