How Far to Mar's Hill?: Pastors and Culture

LifeWay recently released a body of research that reveals pastors are less informed than people in their churches about the culture in which they live. Researcher Ron Sellers gave the following analysis in The Baptist Record:

The data show ministers are, generally speaking, not all that informed about the culture in which they seek to minister. The people in the pews feel much more informed about the Internet, movies, videogames, and other expressions of popular culture than do their pastors.

It is clear that Chrisitian leaders are doing a very poor job of reading the culture. How can we reach a world we don't care to understand? Instead of building a massive sub-culture for evangelicals maybe we should revisit the missional passion of the apostles. I know the agrument, "We'll become worldly." I submit that there is another danger. Ed Stetzer notes, "Every missionary path has to find the way between these two dangers: irrelevance and syncretism."

I think we may have done the amazing work of embracing irrelevance AND syncretism. In an effort to be "Christian" in the world we have our own stuff. As we went shopping this past weekend I saw a board game based on a book by a popular television preacher. I saw Christian t-shirts that looked like the Starbuck's logo. I saw Christian breath mints. We have both embraced and rejected the culture and we look goofy doing it.

Maybe we should pay a visit to a real coffee house and eat a worldy mint afterward. Maybe we should read a novel, see a film. We could look for hints of spiritual hunger and the thin silence of God's grace speaking in art and culture. We could live the gospel in a world we are in but not of. What do you think?


jasonk said...

The funny thing to me is that Lifeway had to commission a study to determine that pastors are out of touch with the culture around them. Had they asked me, I could have told them. No charge.

I remember the last summer I spent in the ministry. I went on a bicycle tour. Seven days, 450 miles. 2000 people, most of whom I had never met. I went to dinner with some of my new friends. I even went to a local tavern to help celebrate one man's birthday. I did my best to maintain a good witness, but it felt really good to be out in the world. Later that same summer, when I went to church camp with the youth, I was very aware of the reasons why we aren't effective in reaching the lost. We are too far removed from them to do any good.
After camp, I resigned my church to take a secular job, and the fact that pastors are out of touch has been very real ever since.

Matt Snowden said...


Thanks for your story. I have often felt the same way.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Matt, I totally agree with you here. Since I resigned in August to enter into church planting, I've been slowly coming out of my Christian culture cocoon. I don't think I really had a disconnect. It's just that I was so occupied with the church internals that my time outside the walls was severely limited. Now, without the bedside visits for broken fingernails, (not really, but almost) I have more time to actually engage the culture.

Matt Snowden said...


Great to hear from you. I pray that all is well and that God is blessing your efforts.

Perry McCall said...

Hey Matt,
I don't know how far it is to Mar's Hill but I do know that I now have DSL!!!! I have been awol for a week. We were out of town and our phone lines were out.

Matt Snowden said...


Glad to hear from you. Congrats on the DSL. My Dad ran into Robert Delk. He has been reading this blog thanks to you.

Perry McCall said...

Hey uncle Bob!!

Anonymous said...

I wrote this once already. The cyberwolf ate it.

I appreciate your good post. You said some things that needed to be said again and again.

Ministers do tend to isolate themselves. I think that it's more than an isolation thing; I think it is an insulation thing. They tend to find solace and strength (albeit an incorrect source) in the culture of church life. In short, Christian leaders are as all people; they look for their comfort zones.

I agree that the many "Christian" items out there are pretty goofy. They may mean something to us Christians; but they have little significance to the world around us.

My fear, Bro. Snowden, is the syncretism in the American church. Missionaries have to create a worldview of their target audience. They have to learn those cultural things that can stand in the way of a clear understanding of God's word. The missionary then understands what method to use to proclaim the truth. The message NEVER changes; the method probably will.

How do we apply that to the American pastorate? I wish I had all the right answers in 25 words, or less. One thing is certain: we cannot allow the cultural values where we live to shape the church or the message of the kingdom of God. We are the ones who should be shaping the world around us! Your topic should be addressed in a wider community. I hope the word gets out about what you wrote.

Matt Snowden said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am looking to Ed Stetzer and reading Newbigin in an effort to flesh out these ideas in my own mind.

I think we have a problem in North America because we have a very fuzzy idea of mission and evangelism.

Check out this quote from Eugene Peterson, "When evangelism is retooled as recruitment, then marketing strategies for making Jesus attractive to a consumer spirituality begin to proliferate. Words and aspects of Jesus that carry unwelcome connontations are suppressed. We emasculate Jesus." Wow!

We have "fixed" the Lion of Judah rendering a saintly old Garfield. This, I think, is the heart of our problem.

Anonymous said...


I remember Peterson's comment. We have, indeed, emasculated Jesus to make him palatable to the world! It's more than that, though; we have gutted Christianity to make it fit our worldview, and not vice versa.

One man said he left the pastorate and took a secular job because he felt too far removed to do the masses any good. I don't think I could travel that road. As Peter told the Jerusalem Christians, "We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of word."

That being said, how does a pastor keep the right perspective regarding that world he is not a part of? First, by right praying. Second, by being willing to spend time talking with that foul-mouthed (or some other unpleasant habit you can think of) neighbor that you prefer to avoid. Third, by spending a little less time in his comfortable office, surfing the internet; spend a day sitting in a shopping mall, or some coffee shop, listening to those around you. That will be an enlightenment for many.

Those are a few of the things we have to do down here to keep perspective and to find chances to share the great news of Jesus. Maybe they will work up there, too.

Matt Snowden said...


Great insights. I just got back from Border's Books. It is one small way I exegete the community. Prayer walking helps as well. Great ideas - keep 'em coming.

Perry McCall said...

Borders??? Too busy to come meet me for coffee:) I am crushed. You even used your child as an excuse. Shame! shame! shame!

Matt Snowden said...

I'll see you next time.

Matt Snowden said...

I'll see you next time.

Kevin said...

Matt, I just come across your blog. This article caught my attention. Hey, you know what, yes! The world gonna run us down. I, for one, always feel closer to God after eating a testamint. Also, I am filled with sarcasm and regret that we have allowed in to get to this point. We (ministry types) will find ourselves in the hot seat while trying to motivate a church to venture outside the safe confines of our cushy sub- culture. Fun times.

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