Culture Reveals What Is Truly Important

Since the 1950s, mountain climbers have traveled to Everest to stand on top of the world. They endure horrific conditions on a grueling climb to the top, including a difficult passage through the “death zone” where lack of oxygen leads to exhaustion and the extreme cold will cause frostbite to any exposed part of the body. Despite the risks, people continue to flock to Everest, some paying permit and guide fees of up to $25,000.

On May 15, 2006, tragedy struck the mountain climbing community. David Sharp was on his descent from the top of Mount Everest, and he sought shelter under a rock in an area known as Green Boots Cave. The cave carries that name because an individual wearing green hiking boots died there in May 1996, and his body remains on the mountain. Almost ten years later, David Sharp would sit exhausted and alone in the same location just a few feet from the man known as “Green Boots.”

As Sharp was sitting exhausted in Green Boots Cave, a group of 40 climbers were ascending the famed Everest. These climbers were close to realizing their dream of reaching the top of the world. But to get to the top of the mountain, each climber would need to walk past David Sharp as he sat there dying. In this moment, hikers were confronted with the choice of continuing toward the lifelong goal of reaching the peak of Mount Everest or attempting to help David Sharp (however futile that attempt may be). Every single climber walked past David Sharp on the way to the top, and Sharp died a few feet from the body of Green Boots. The climbers chose a fleeting moment on the top of a mountain over an attempt to save a life.

Some blamed the tragedy on the lack of safety messages and strategic systems. They pointed to the easy access regardless of experience level, lack of permanent rescue teams, and no formal contingency or evacuation plans. However, the first to summit Everest, the revered Sir Edmund Hillary, lamented the mountain climbing culture. He said,” I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top.”

According to Hillary, the tragedy was a result of was the culture underneath the surface. The top of the mountain was of chief importance. People would have never said that. No one at a base camp on the foot of Everest would have sat in a circle and said, “I value the top of that mountain more than human life.” But the culture revealed what was truly of chief importance.

In a church, the culture—more than the confession—reveals what is of first importance to the people. The apostle Paul wrote the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15 reminding the Corinthian believers of the gospel he preached and delivered to them was of first importance.

He wrote:

“Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it.”

Paul emphasized that the gospel was what the church was standing on, not merely what the church believed. If the gospel is of first importance in a church culture, the church does more than merely ascribing to its tenets. The church stands on the gospel. There is a great difference in merely believing the gospel for your doctrinal confession and standing on it for your church culture.

What does standing on the gospel look like for a local church leadership team? Here are a few examples…

The leaders of XYZ church are wrestling with the level of giving in their church. The data shows them some concerning stats: per capita giving is lower than before, new members seem to be consuming rather than contributing, etc. If the gospel impacts only their confession, they will limit their discussions to strategies, campaigns, slogans, and donor dinners. If they desire the gospel to impact their culture, they will prayerfully seek ways to remind the people of Christ who “though He was rich, for your sake He became poor so that through His poverty you might become rich.” The gospel will be the foundation for the discussion.

Another church might be wrestling with the lack of volunteers serving in ministry. The kid’s ministry is suffering and there are few greeters to welcome guests. If the gospel is influencing the culture, the leaders are troubled because it seems that the hearts of many are not being warmed and refreshed by the reality that Christ first served us—He knelt down and washed our dirty, sinful feet. They long to challenge people to serve because of His sacrificial service.

The people in our churches need cultures that are centered on Jesus, not merely confessions centered on Him.

Sections of the above post are taken from our new book, Creature of the Word.