Listen to the bonus episode of Redemption Walk, Meet Daniel, to hear more about Daniel’s experience.
For the nineteen years of my life I was raised in a fundamentalist cult.** Cults come in all shapes and sizes. The type of cult I’m referring to had less to do with what was explicitly taught, and more to do with what was implicitly practiced.
I attended seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School several years after my church disbanded to pursue a Master’s of Divinity. During my time there I took a course that changed the trajectory of my life. It was taught by Dr. Peter Cha and called “Developing a Healthy Congregational Cultural.”
In that class I discovered that a matrix-like code was governing and guiding all human interaction and behavior. It was undetected, unnoticed, and invisible to the naked eye. This operating system is called congregational culture. A church’s culture—more than it’s mission, vision, or strategy—is powerfully shaping all body life.
Dr. Cha argued that a church’s culture is made up of two forms of theology: explicit and implicit. The explicit theology is what is taught, written, and proclaimed verbally from our pulpits to our websites. It flows from doctrinal statements and the cognitive assent to certain beliefs.
Explicit theology, however, can be easily overwhelmed by implicit theology. Implicit theology is what is practiced, experienced, and felt in a congregational system. The implicit theology of a congregation is made up of habits, norms, traditions, vocabulary, and rituals, and if there is ever a disconnect between the explicit and the implicit, which do you think wins? Implicit theology wins hands down!
This implicit theology of a church is a way to describe the relational dynamics of a church. How a church does relationships with one another transmits and imprints a message. A relational dynamic is the messaging system that transmits and imprints emotional data about how to connect and interact with each other. The question the church must constantly ask themselves is “What message are we transmitting and imprinting through our relationships? And does it cohere with our gospel-based identity in Christ?”
Because here is the shocking truth. Jesus staked his entire ministry on the relational health of his followers! In the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed that his followers would transmit and imprint a message of love and unity to a watching world which would validate his Messianic claims and demonstrate they were genuine disciples (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23). The relational health of the church matters to Jesus. It matters because Jesus intentionally bound himself, and the completion of his mission, to the healthy relational dynamics of his followers.
Unfortunately, explicitly gospel-centered churches on paper can be implicitly gospel-less churches in practice. Our relational dynamics ought to transmit and imprint a message of love and unity to the watching world, not shame, fear, and division. This only occurs as leaders and congregation members experience healthy relational attachments with each other and God. As God’s people are attached by grace to the Father’s love, it unleashes a new type of relational dynamic. This new relational attachment rewrites and reverses the old operating system of our relational dynamics. Instead of shame-based and fear-filled messages, we transmit grace-based, and love-filled messages. Power dynamics are also functionally impacted. In unhealthy systems, power travels downward through coercion and fear. In God’s new community, power flows upward, empowering and enabling people to flourish.
Every congregation is transmitting and imprinting messages with how they do their relationships. Are you aware of what messages your church’s relationships are sending? If we were to examine the relational fruit of your community, what would we conclude is true about the gospel?
photo: [email protected]