Life and Ministry in a Cultural Tsunami

Rethinking Ministry through the Life of my 96 Year Old Grandmother

Grandmother’s World from her 4’4” entrepreneurial view…

In the small community of Lone Star in Southwest Mississippi, my grandmother Grace McRaney, “Mammy” as I called her, shared her living space with her business that she and my grandfather purchased together as a startup in 1930. For 74 years, the last 52 years by herself, all of her 4 foot 4 inch self owned and operated a gas station, grocery store, and something of a small general store with various essentials for living in her Southwest Mississippi community. She took up farming in her early 60’s to grow more food and to help several less fortunate members of the community find productive work. Side by side, often on their hands and knees, she would work with the African American ladies she hired, as well as with Doodle who could not speak because of a surgery that caused his vocal chords to be removed.

Grandmother’s World from her 4’4” entrepreneurial view

Until she was 96 and a half, she ran her business, completed and filed her own taxes and in many ways was the centerpiece for the small community of people around her. Every day, 365 days a year, Miss Grace, as the community called her, reported for duty to provide gas and groceries, but more importantly to be the cornerstone of life in that community, along with the two local churches that met every other week. The people would change churches each week depending on whether the Presbyterian or the Methodist preacher was coming to hold services that week. The only time she closed the store would be for her to attend church briefly on Sunday mornings.

Values Matter: Community Values in Lone Star, MS

Throughout her life many things changed, but most of the important things in life did not…the life shaping, values shaping role of the church, community, and family. Hard work, honor, friendship, and care for your neighbor were the norms. People knew one another for generations, so there was no fooling or much need for psychological counselors. Family and community discipline was expected. When someone was in need, the community came to their aid. Young men and women got some training in formal education, but most of their training for life came for working side by side with their parents and neighbors.

As a child on visits from our home in Florida I would sit on the top of a wooden Coca Cola case stood upright and swat flies and listen to members of the community. They would come in the store not just to buy something, but to engage in storytelling and life-sharing. One could learn a lot by just sitting and listening, actually that is one major way that values are communicated to younger generations. The community progressively had access to newspapers, telephones (started with a party line phone) and televisions, but most of their influencers, values and news came right there at Mammy’s store on US Hwy 84 sitting on a stool or RC Cola case. Additionally, on alternating weeks the Presbyterian or Methodist preacher would stop in their community to lead a worship service and attend to spiritual needs among the people.

Miss Grace is fondly remembered for so many reasons, including treating people fairly and with grace regardless of skin color, education, financial means or standing in the community. She often sold her goods on credit with a simple word or signature on a paper ticket for the goods purchased. While human nature has always been sinful, mostly in Lone Star a man’s word or a handshake was more binding than a legal document.

Today’s Cultural Tsunami: Something Feels Amiss

Something in America, something in the church in America, something in your community and church probably feels amiss to you. You may feel uneasy, nervous, anxious, maybe excited or unsettled in some ways. The reality is that America is in the midst of seismic cultural shifts and growing concerns in most areas of life. Enormous changes and challenges to our historic values and norms have put pressure on every aspect of society, including the American church and the American family. Both of these institutions are the bedrock for the Judeo–Christian framework which has impacted American life since its earliest days over 240 years ago.

Can I say what you already know and feel? America is radically changing, and not for all the better. You may get a sense that the family and the Christian church is under siege in various ways. Families are feeling pressures on multiple fronts: financially, work, safety and growing terrorism concerns, rearing children, not to mention the pressure of just dealing with all the changes.

Churches are declining all across America at a time when God has brought the world to our doorsteps. The behaviors of church attenders too closely reflect the behaviors and patterns of the general society. Pastors have a most difficult job and responsibility trying to navigate the cultural changes, help the church function and advance, and not let the culture or the church destroy him or his family in the midst of it all. Things…. they are a changing.

Cultural Tsunami: Radical Change and Challenges

Mammy died on January 2, 2006 in the small Covington Country Hospital in Collins, MS at the age of 98.   Along with her passing was the closing of her store and a way of life in that community. In different ways, places and timetables, that has happened all across America. There was a time in our country when the wisdom and values of community leaders were the primary shapers of culture for those in that community or town. The wisdom of elders has been replaced in the passing of time by values shared on the television, movies, music, the internet, and social media. People still get their values from the current storytellers, but unfortunately now grandmother’s wisdom has been replaced by the media makers. We look to Washington to solve problems, not inside our family, church and community. In essence, we are in the midst of a cultural tsunami.

In this current tsunami, the waves are powerful, enormous and most difficult to navigate. People are struggling to survive, find their way, keep their bearings, and live productive and meaningful lives. Yet, it seems most of the rules have changed. In days of old the good guys were easy to spot in their white hats while the bad guys wore black hats. Today, it is not so easy to distinguish what is good and bad, know who to listen to and follow, know what to believe, and to do so in a maze of cultural diversity and the globalization that is happening all around.

Spiritual Impact

People in a mess spiritually. They are…

  • spiritually confused
  • spiritually frustrated and conflicted
  • not impressed with what they are finding in the American church
  • indifferent to Christianity and many have stopped searching
  • increasingly resistant and antagonistic to Christians and the church

To a certain degree, there was a time when the church and its leaders were not only at the table of the community, but at the head of the table. We moved through a transition from the head of the table, to a seat at the table, to the child’s table, and for some now we, our churches and our values, are unwanted at the table of American life. Newsflash on the obvious: this will only get worse in the coming years.

According to a 2014 research effort by Pew Research, nationwide the number of people calling themselves Christians dropped 7.8% in the last seven years since their last similar polling. THIS SHOULD BE ALARMING! Those claiming NONE, or no religion increased to 56 million Americans, including 19% of adults in the South.

My tribe of Southern Baptists is declining at only about 1%, but are reporting a 70 year low in baptisms. Also, while prioritizing church planting, the SBC are starting some 500 less churches each year and those new churches are experiencing reduced evangelistic effectiveness compared to their past and some other denominations.

What are parents, Christ followers, and church leaders to do in the midst of the cultural tsunami?

We are in a cultural tsunami.

Different Context – Same Mission

This is not my grandmother’s community any more. Like the once popular advertising slogan, “This is not your father’s Chevrolet”, nor his church, nor his America. However, the church is still the bride of Christ. Parents still have the capacity to be the single greatest influencer in the lives of their children. God is still on His throne and the same yesterday, today and forever more. The mission of individual followers of Christ and collectively of His church HAS NOT CHANGED.   We are to love Christ and follow Him in the midst of the tsunami. We are to love neighbors and share Christ as we make disciples of those around us and around the world.

Since the mission field and the ministry context have undergone radical change, I propose that we need to rethink not only how we do mission and ministry, but how we train church leaders and how we train parents and children to navigate the cultural tsunami.   The mission or playing field is radically different, it will demand more and different parenting, child rearing, training of community leaders who follow Christ, engage our mission field, and prepare leaders for His church.

The Future

I believe it is going to take a different kind of follower of Christ, a different preparation model for the leaders of His church, a different training model for parents and children to navigate the cultural tsunami that is bearing down on American Christians today. 

I believe it is going to take a PECULIAR people as noted in 1 Peter 2:9 to survive and thrive in the midst of radical changes we are facing. While we should be culturally aware, we are His people, on His mission, for His glory.

While I have some insights I have gained from my walk with Christ and learning from others, I desire to learn along with you and from you. Much of my life has been focused on the training of leaders of churches, families and communities. I will be exploring these matters with you through this blog and through my work as a Leadership Strategist and Coach with the Ministry Enhancement Group.

I founded the Ministry Enhancement Group as a vehicle to provide helps to leaders of homes, churches, communities, and organizations. I have some areas of strengths, but to be of greater help, I work with several men who bring a variety of strengths and experiences.

I specialize in helping individuals, churches and organization develop contextualized and workable strategies to navigate these cultural waves and advance the mission of Christ. 

Decide to Wisely Swim Against the Cultural Tsunami and Advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ with your personal and church family

If these matters are of interest or concern to you, check back in with me through this blog or secure a resource or let’s talk about how to put together a workable strategy for you or your church. I would enjoy working with you on these and other related matters as we seek to live for Christ in our homes, churches, communities and world.

We serve a mighty God! We have a mighty call to lead our families, churches and communities toward God. May God find us faithful and fruitful as we serve Him.