Last week, I attended Catalyst, which is a Christian leaders’ conference. While waiting on my friend to arrive I had the chance to stand at the back and take it all in. Or in other words, I people watched and made a couple snap judgements:
“The ambiance and attire of my initial impression of Catalyst are that christian leaders remain culture imitators and not culture creators.”
“What bugs me is the disingenuousness of championing authenticity when we’re singing secular songs in worship and everyone dresses the same.”
I’m not the only one who made these observations as a hashtag search of Catalyst tweets uncovered these two gems:
What was disconcerting was the attempt of both the leadership of Catalyst and many church leaders attending the conference to imitate culture without critique. In other words, through the use of a diversity of styles, from rap to rock to alternative to barbershop (seriously?), as well as through the use of pop hits (from Lorde, Pharrell, American Authors, etc), the leaders of Catalyst influenced those in attendance to attempt the same on Sunday mornings.
Conferences such as Catalyst and Leadership Summit have the ability to create culture and influence leaders to create similar culture in the local church. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between culture creation and culture imitation. Andy Crouch, in Culture Making, makes an astute observation of Christian culture imitation, “when all we do is copy culture for our own Christian ends, cultural copying fails to love or serve our neighbors” (94). Culture creation – particularly that which encourages beauty – is a means for Christian leaders to serve others.
We are designed to be creative – to be culture creators, not just imitators. Culture creation is a God-mandated expectation of his people since Adam and Eve were commanded to “fill the earth”. And the means to do so is the creation of culture. Tim Keller explains this point well in Every Good Endeavor, “We share in doing the things that God has done in creation – bringing order out of chaos, creatively building a civilization out of the material of physical and human nature, caring for all that God has made. This is a major part of what we were created to be” (48).
To be crystal clear – I am not advocating the further development of the Christian sub-culture. To be quite frank, I am not a fan of movies, tv shows, music, etc. that are marketed as “Christian” because each and every Christian is called to be a missionary, not to be a hermit in Christian sub-cultures. What I am advocating is for Christians to participate in culture creation – in their homes, workplaces, class rooms, communities (be they local, national and international) and churches.
In reading Culture Making by Andy Crouch, I was surprised to learn that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it” (67). This seems a bit counter-intuitive since “We talk about culture as if it were primarily a set of ideas when it is primarily a set of tangible goods” (10). Cultures, therefore, are more than a collection of ideas – they are a collection of cultural goods such as music, art, food, books, tv shows, movies, etc.
For example, an iPad is a cultural good and is a profound culture changer. One year ago, my boys would watch TV together. Now, since we have two iPads, the boys want to watch their own show on mommy and daddy’s iPad. This is a cultural change that my wife and I are figuring out how to navigate.
It is tempting to want to merely criticize Catalyst, but if I want to participate in my God-given calling to create cultural goods, I must make something new. I would love to be a composer, a painter or a poet but I am not. Potentially, my best means of creating new artifacts is through writing – albeit a meager attempt at best.
Writing is like a muscle – it (hopefully) improves with practice. Therefore, I hope to exercise by writing a new blog post each week. This is not in any way to say that I am a cultural trend setter. Instead, this is my means, as meager as it is, to be a cultural creator. Hopefully, I will have the discipline to write weekly and the humility to confess when I fall short.