Third, exegete the culture.
If you are going to take the steps to walk through what it looks like to engage a culture wisely, then you need to exegete the culture. Exegeting a culture helps keep your preferences at bay. You need to step back and consider, “What is the culture we’re trying to engage, and how can we engage it?”
Think about the context of your church and what expressions of biblical practices will most appropriately engage your cultural context. For example, how would the people you are trying to reach in your community best engage in worship that is both filled with Spirit and truth? This is not always going to be comfortable, because the contextualized preferences are not always going to align with what your preferences are. That’s okay because Scripture reminds us to sacrifice for others and to hold onto our vision.
Of course, some will object to this, but generally not if they’ve been on a mission trip. They have probably already seen what such applications look like.
Exegeting your culture means loving and learning about the community around you, deferring your preferences to see others come to Christ and be changed by the power of the gospel.
Finally, be a model for preference deferral.
It can be a lot easier to tell everybody else to defer their preferences rather than giving up your own. But to lead well, we need to lead by example. We must be willing to sacrifice our favorite worship style or style of dress so that our churches will be most effective for the gospel. Instead of asking yourself, “What do I prefer?” ask yourself “What’s on mission?”
Too often, pastors create churches with their own style preferences. Instead, root yourself in Scripture. Remind yourself continually of your vision. Exegete your culture. Use these tools to help you give up your preferences. Lead by example.
Let’s follow in the Apostle Paul’s example when he says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23,
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Giving up your preferences and reminding your congregation to do the same is not an easy road, but it is worth it for the sake of the gospel.
Eventually, you’ll have people say, “You know, I’m not about my preferences. What’s better for the church and the gospel and the kingdom?”
That’s where we want to be.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.