“Church is not an event we attend, church is a family we belong to with the gospel at the center. The gospel forms our culture.”

Over the last 20 years I have had the chance to live in many different countries and cultures, and I’ve had lots of challenges from learning languages to trying different foods. But, many times I got shocked or I shocked others with my transformed culture.

What’s the meaning of culture?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, culture is the way of life of a particular people, especially as shown in their ordinary habits, their attitudes towards each other, and their moral and religious beliefs.

I’ve been in churches with people who, when they realized the speaker for the day was from the Middle East, stood up and left the church. There have been moments when people have asked me if I had camels back in my country (maybe you think there are, too!)

As an Iranian-American pastor sometimes I don’t want to turn on any news channels, especially in the most sensitive moments in history. Sometimes when I am outside and people ask me where I am from, I hesitate for a few seconds and wonder if I should mention where I came from. Life can be hard for people like me!

Even after thousands of miles traveling and visiting many churches, as I looked at the culture of many churches, I just kept thinking: church is hard. Church is hard for the person walking through the doors, afraid of judgment. I keep thinking church is hard for the lost soul returning home, broken and battered by the world. Life may be hard for people like me. But, the church may be hard for all sorts of other people.

The church is hard for the couple who fought the entire ride to the service.

Church is hard for the single mom, surrounded by couples holding hands and seemingly perfect families.

Church is hard for the widow with no invitation to lunch after service.

Church is hard for the single women and single men who are praying God would bring them a mate.

Church is hard for the sinners.

Church is hard for you, and it’s hard for me.

It’s hard because from the outside things can look shiny and perfect. Sundays are often adorned with the best behavior and dress. But in reality, under those layers we can find a body of imperfect people, with selfish motives.

But here is the beauty of church: Church is not an event we attend, church is a family we belong to with the gospel at the center. The gospel forms our culture. Church isn’t only a building - church is a body, a group of sinners, saved by grace, living in fellowship as saints who see others as better than themselves.

Church is a body of believers bound as brothers and sisters by an eternal love. Church is a refuge for broken hearts. Church is a family. A family coming together, setting aside differences, forgetting past mistakes, not paying attention to what world is telling us, but loving one another in our accepting family. 

That is what creates our culture, and what needs to be at the center of it. And when it is, maybe church will be a little less hard for the new people that walk through the door.

To learn more about how the Gospel forms church culture, you can listen to the audio from our seminar, "Creating a Gospel Culture".

Ara Torosian

Ara serves as a pastor with Cornerstone Farsi.

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