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Culture Care: Possible or Impossible? By Jon Lewis

A Steward Leader’s Call for Culture Care

The moment came toward the end of my seminar with fifty-five African men and women involved in ministry in Kinshasa, DRC. The subject was Creation Care, and I was delighted to see how the topic was inspiring new thoughts and convictions on the part of my participants. It was gratifying to hear them agree about the need to model care for their African environment that better dealt with street trash, green spaces, and river pollution.

Then, one man stood up with a look of despair; he asked, “But how is it possible for us to make any difference with such a huge issue? We’re talking about deforestation of the second largest rainforest in the world, mining exploitation dominated by international cartels, and trash control of twenty million people in a city only capable of handling 10% of that number! Is it realistic to truly respond to these insurmountable problems?” What followed was a great, animated discussion about how we, as God’s people, must be faithful in making a start—somehow, somewhere and let our Heavenly Master worry about ultimate results.

This past week, I had a moment of despair about my responsibilities as a faithful steward. It came while reading through Christianity Today’s commemorative publication on the life of Timothy Keller. In one article, the renowned Japanese artist Makoto Fujimura reflected on Keller’s influence on his life and how it had led him to what he called “the art of Culture Care.” Wow—Culture Care! Could God expect us to grapple with the seemingly impossible task of stewarding contemporary culture?

 It didn’t take me long to reflect on the past few weeks; the news of presidential debates, justice department indictments, and protest marches made me feel this was one topic I would much rather skip over, ignore, or at least relegate to those articulate Christian bloggers who love jumping into the fray of the culture war. After all, the dynamics of our current American culture are so huge, so vitriolic, and so intractable; what possible difference could I ever make?

But then the image of my Kinshasa friend with his question about Creation Care came to mind. So did the famous starfish story about the man who attempted to do something about thousands of dying starfish washed up on a beach. When asked what real difference his throwing a few of them back in the ocean might make, the man picked up another and threw it in the waves, stating, “Made a difference to that one.”

Culture Care

So here is my first attempt at thinking about how we might approach cultural care, especially with particular cultural communities we rub shoulders with. Combining critical comments from Fujimura’s article and my thoughts, consider these four possible expressions of cultural care.

Accept Responsibility

Accept Culture Care as part of our responsibility to steward the home planet on which God placed us.

After all, we cannot live in the world without being part of culture. It is just as much a part of the world we’ve been mandated to care for as our rivers, wildlife, air, and oceans. It doesn’t mean we will successfully change all cultural values into God’s ones. Still, it also means that we cannot hide in some corner of inactivity, thinking this aspect of being a faithful steward doesn’t apply to us.

Learn to Love

Learn what it means to love the cultural community we are engaged with while still understanding it doesn’t mean we must be “of” it or “against” it.

 Our modern tendencies toward black-and-white, either-or perspectives do not need to preclude how we view the people behind their cultural expressions. Consider how Jesus saw the multitudes around him, not as political factions, but as people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36.) By the same token, caring lovingly for people of a particular cultural community does not mean you are embracing all they stand for or believe. Christian Culture Care will demand significant spiritual maturity built on a deep, unshakable foundation of biblical truth.

Be Respectful

Regardless of how much we differ with a particular culture or community or how much they disagree with us and our faith perspective, maintain and demonstrate respect for the individuals of that community.

Prove in practice that it is possible to genuinely respect someone while still disagreeing with their ideas or beliefs. After all, this is also an expression of our faith that they are creations of God in whom He has placed His image. Plus, it may be the only way to maintain dialogue, leading to more excellent communication and understanding.

Cross the Divide

Let’s not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the immensity of today’s cultural divide or the seeming impossibility of bridging it.

Instead, we must adopt a “starfish rescuer” attitude to make a little difference in the corner where God has planted us. Just like honey is produced from a thousand tiny, virtually inconsequential encounters bees have with flowers, in the end, our consistent and persistent faithfulness might produce something sweet for God’s glory after all.

Be God’s Stewards

Both Creation Care and Culture Care are, without doubt, enormous challenges in our present world. But neither are they outside the realm of responsibility for God’s stewards. So, let us not look at these challenges with despair, but instead,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

~ Hebrews 12:2-3

Seek ways to be faithful stewards who make a start—somehow, somewhere and let our Master worry about the ultimate results.

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Jon Lewis is a Senior Associate for Partnership Advancement with OC International and focuses on encouraging global Christian leaders toward greater ministry effectiveness. With over 40 years of experience, he also served as an MAF mission pilot in Africa and CEO of Partners International.


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