As the sweltering temperatures calm and make their inspiring turn to the cooling winds of a new season, the onset of another Texas fall is upon us. The Texas fall is like no other—it does not boast of fiery leaves of color like the North Carolina Blue Ridge or even the golden glittery hues of the Aspen trees in Colorado. No, the Texas fall is something entirely different. With fall comes a cultural phenomena: in the first days of September, although some leaves start to illuminate foliage with color, Texas cities boast of a different kind of light. You guessed it: Friday night lights.
Texas high school football is a culture all its own. The players and the game are the centerpiece, but there are a myriad of other elements that complete the picture. From the loud anthem of the band to the shouts of the cheerleaders to the howling roar of the student section to the quiet conversation of the school board members on the field, this is the essence of a Texas Friday night in the fall.
As I stood with my children at our hometown’s first football game of the season, I realized—maybe for the first time—that this small subculture offered some insight into our larger American Christian culture. There are men participating on the field while others are onlookers in the stands. Undoubtedly in the stands, along with praise for the team, inclinations bent toward critique—of the players, the coach, the referee, and the list goes on—can be heard.
From the moment we are born it seems that by learning good from bad, critique can become how we experience the world around us. In school, we are often taught to have a critical eye, weighing the best methods or outcomes for any given situation. In our jobs, we can be driven to the next promotion, account, or project by measures of competition and comparison through the pervasive lens of critique. Our churches are not immune as they house broken people. In fact, many men and women will not enter a church for fear of the judgement that might ensue the minute they sit in a pew.
There are whispers of critique within our own circles, but they become shouts when we come in contact with people outside of our circles—people who might not think, act, or believe as we do. For example, if you turn on the ten o’clock news for any amount of time, you will see a rolodex of stories of seemingly irreparable brokenness. Our American culture continues to drift further and further away from Christian values. Our knee-jerk reaction, most likely out of fear, is to critique and, dare I say, condemn the culture that does not believe as we do. Then, we move toward the protection of the huddle of those who are safe, provide a sense of comfort, and who inevitably share the same beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we have to draw on the richness and accountability of Christian community, however Christian community is a place for us to be encouraged, sharpened, and built up in the faith and then sent back out to the world around us on mission with the purpose Christ himself commissioned us into (Matthew 28:16-20). Critique has become our defense and is pervasive where God has equipped us with a plan of offense. We must not forget that we are a sent people and have been entrusted as ambassadors with the message of reconciliation for the culture around us (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). What if we were to lay down our tendency for critiquing and choose to live as Jesus lived? What if we left the critique-filled bleachers behind and began participating in the greatest joy on this side of heaven—leaning into culture as bearers of the Truth and cultivating Kingdom culture?
As followers of Jesus, it is crucial that we understand how God has equipped us from the beginning to be Kingdom Cultivators. In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, God created all things from a vast void. His final creation was creating man and woman in the imago dei: in His image. At the close of Genesis 1, we see God give direction and purpose to Adam and Eve through what we now know as the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:28-31). God sets up Adam and Eve as cultivators of Kingdom culture in the garden. In Genesis 3, sin enters and fractures communion between God and man. Cultivation of Kingdom Culture became difficult. The pages from Genesis to Malachi are nothing short of a catastrophe, a people set apart, tossed to and fro by the waves of their own desire, and bent toward idol worship in desperate need for the coming Messiah. God in His infinite mercy, when all seemed lost, made a way through His Son, Jesus, for men and women to have communion with the Father once more. Jesus lived the perfect life and died as the perfect sacrifice so that we might be reconciled (1 Peter 2:22-25).
In the Gospels, prior to the cross, Jesus shows us, through His life, how we are to live. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus preached, “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was drawing near through the person and work of Jesus. He did not shy away from culture or its social and political constructs but rather leaned into it and spoke the truth of the gospel which brought about healing and freedom. At the time He was on earth, it was considered uncustomary for a Jewish man to associate with those who were afflicted with illness or disease or were from another background or ethnicity; however seeing all men and women made in the image of God, He loved them and gave them the healing message of truth, the gospel. Jesus leaned into the customary culture of the synagogues and proclaimed the truth of the gospel in those spaces as well.
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Matthew 4:23
After speaking the truth of the gospel of the kingdom and leaning into often difficult, dark, diseased, and dangerous places, we see Jesus in Matthew 9 present a problem and then admonish and commission His disciples (Matthew 10:1-14) onto the so-called playing field.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38
These men were to speak truth and cultivate Kingdom Culture in the midst of an already existing culture that was desperate for truth, love, peace, and freedom. Answering the call as a laborer or participant can be scary; however when we acknowledge Christ as Savior and are counted sons and daughters in the Kingdom of God, we know there is no greater purpose and privilege on earth, “for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
As we answer the call to cultivate Kingdom culture, we can freely leave the bleachers of critique. We can lay critique down with reckless abandonment because the gospel levels the playing field—we have all sinned and fallen short and are all in great need of our Savior Jesus Christ each and every day. His grace and kindness spur us on to participate in the greater purpose of cultivating Kingdom culture. As we proclaim the truth and good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, healing and freedom will grow for those who believe, and together we can pursue peace, love, and joy amidst a culture that most often cultivates the opposite.
Rachel Joy is the Founder and Director of Sparrow Women, a catalytic ministry in Dallas, Texas connecting women to God and His heart for racial reconciliation. Sparrow exists to catalyze the next generation of reconcilers through the annual conference, Sparrow Resources, Sparrow Lead, & will soon pursue justice and mercy with the launch of The Sparrow Center. Rachel has lead and taught Bible Studies for almost 20 years. She is married to Trevor, a pastor at The Village Church, and they live in the Dallas area with their four children.