News Articles

Successful ministers must adapt to the culture around them, York says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The faces in Southern Baptist churches should better represent the faces in America, said Hershael York, associate professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Speaking about the composition of churches during a Sept. 9 message at the Louisville, Ky., seminary, York used 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 to point out six principles that church leaders must do to “become all things to all men.”
“To be successful ministers of the gospel, we must learn to adapt ourselves to those we want to reach,” York said. “In other words, we don’t ask them to come and meet us where we are. Instead, we go and meet them where they are.”
The evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, he said, is that it “brings us together from every kindred, nation, tribe and tongue. The faces in our churches ought to look like the faces in our nation and in our culture.”
York told of a magazine he read while once flying in an airplane. The magazine had a list of do’s and don’ts for German citizens while visiting North America.
“They’re trying to adapt to the culture, which is a lot better than some Baptist churches I’ve been in,” he said. “[The Apostle] Paul knew nothing about singling out some stratum of society, and saying, ‘This is my target audience.’”
The first principle to reaching a diverse society, York said, is to “accept the stewardship God has given you.”
“What’s our reward?” York asked. “Paul says the reward is we get to preach. My reward is that I get to preach the gospel.”
York said the second principle requires “surrendering your rights.” Sinners are not the enemy, he said, but are the victims of the enemy. “That was the great accusation against [Jesus], ‘This man receives sinners, and even eats with them,’“ he said. “When’s the last time somebody said to you, ‘You know, I just think you’re ministering to sinners way too much.’? That’s what they said about our Lord.”
The next principle, York said, is “spending time” with the lost. He told of an incident involving his son’s little league basketball coach. The coach wanted York to become an assistant.
“Immediately, I began thinking, ‘I don’t have time for this,’“ York said. “But God said, ‘I want you to win this guy to the Lord.’ I knew the only way to do that was to spend time with him.”
York ended up baptizing the coach and his family, and “they became faithful, active, participating members of that church.”
“You have to get your hands dirty to share the gospel,” York said. “People say, ‘Yeah, but I think we ought to be separate.’ Biblical separation is from sin, and not from sinners.”
York called the fourth principle “thinking on the perceptual level,” and said that conversations and sermons should be on the same level with the lost person.
He told of an elderly lady in a church one time who, following one of his sermons, walked out the door crying.
“She said to me, ‘I love to hear you preach. I always understand,’“ York said. “That’s the greatest compliment I ever got. You have to meet them where they are. You have to think on their perceptual level.”
York said the fifth principle is “becoming the message.”
“This is evangelism without boundaries — to become all things to all men,” he said. “Jesus became something. He was the Word, but that Word became flesh.”
Prior to a church service several years ago, York said, an usher came up to him, reporting that a boy was in the sanctuary wearing a hat. The usher asked York if they should do something.
“I said, ‘No, let him go. … God might have brought him here specifically for this message,’“ he said. “And sure enough, when the invitation came, that young man came to the altar. God had worked in his heart.’“
York said the sixth principle requires “expecting success.” “[Paul] didn’t expect to win everybody, but he was willing to go to any length so that some might be saved,” York said.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust