“Always Engage Culture With Questions”
We are interviewing bishops from around the Anglican Church in North America on engaging culture and best missional practices. Our second interview is with Bishop Steve Breedlove of the Diocese of Christ Our Hope, who attended the 2017 Intersection Conference. We asked Bishop Breedlove about why asking questions is important to our work of mission and how he’s equipping his clergy to engage culture.
With Bishop Steve Breedlove
Q. Why do you think engaging culture with the gospel is important?
Bishop Steve Breedlove: The ability to engage culture is essential to our work of mission. The gospel addresses the fundamental questions and longings of people — and those are the same questions and longings found in people in every culture. The questions and longings that Christians find most compelling in their own lives are the same questions and longings everybody feels. We’re not different. The same issues are meaningful to all human beings.
Unfortunately, culture tends to mask those longings. We have to learn to ask the right questions to reveal the longings there, giving us an opportunity to bring the gospel to bear on the heart.
Q. What kinds of questions do you find helpful to ask culture?
SB: Questions of purpose, meaning, hope, love. Like “What does love really look like?” “Where do you experience love?” “What’s at the heart of the universe?” One of the biggest questions people are asking us is, “How do I get free of myself?” They want to know how to keep from defaulting to it being “all about me.” People want to know how to address the dark side, the fears within them.
Q. What are the biggest challenges your diocese’s churches are facing as they engage culture with the gospel?
SB: The No. 1 issue is sexuality. People are asking, “What is Christianity’s view of sexuality and why does it have integrity?” People assume it doesn’t. They want to know, “How is it actually good news?” Our culture hears our convictions about sexuality as bad news. We must find a way to bridge that gap.
Another massive issue is: “Do we create our own identity or is it given to us, and how does that work?” We find people wanting to know if they are independent agents, or if they have to bow the knee to someone or something. Issues of independence versus dependence, self-creation versus “givenness,” and submission versus autonomy are big.
Q. As a bishop, what are your challenges as you encourage your clergy to engage culture?
SB: The temptation in our desire to engage culture is to be just like culture. We think that if we meet culture on its own terms, we can win culture. I don’t think that’s accurate. We can’t “out-culture culture.” So for me, the challenge is helping our clergy have the confidence and answers to confront culture. Not in a nasty way. In a winsome way.
How do I teach my clergy to both believe and communicate the gospel winsomely, with confidence and love? How do I give them resources to do that? It’s not just saying to people, “You need to do this.” No, you’ve got to give them real tools and resources. It’s not a pep rally; it’s got to be substantial.
Q. What are some of the tools and resources you’re using to equip your clergy?
SB: In Ephesians 4 and 5, we find 12 or 15 references to the mind—being alert, understanding, wise, thinking, putting on the mind of Christ. We need to do a serious job of engaging our minds with transformative, thoughtful discipleship.
The Diocese of Christ Our Hope holds a special 24-hour Convocation each year before our annual Synod. All clergy must come and all laity are invited. At these Convocations, we address an issue of culture from a substantial biblical perspective – we set the topic of conversation that we will carry on for the next year. The first year, we did human sexuality. We recorded the three messages, put them on our website, and encouraged people to use these materials, share the videos, create study guides, teach on them, and use them for discussion. The second year our topic was “transformational discipleship in a secular world.” This year our topic is immgrants and immigration – “the stranger next door”; next year, it is racial reconciliation.
Following Convocation, at each of our Regional Meetings, we ask a clergy or lay leader to recap the conversation we started at Convocation. We also hold workshops to bring it down to a practical level for people. For instance, at our Regional retreats two years ago, we had one workshop for parents of young children, discussing how to communicate about a biblical view of sex with their kids, another for parents of teens, one for people trying navigate gender dysphoria and same sex attraction, another on church discipline in the context of sexual sin and healing, etc. We have a phenomenal team of people who address these issues very practically in our Regional retreats. Through all these means we accumulate resources and create networks so that the topic under consideration is kept on the front burner in every church.
Looking ahead to this year’s Convocation topic, one of our regional “recap speakers” on immigration is a lawyer who was at the heart of developing immigration policy for George W. Bush. Another regional speaker will be an immigration lawyer who herself is an immigrant from Africa. We create conversations around these key topics that go on for months.
This is a high-level discipleship process for our diocese. As a diocesan team, we are trying to lead the conversation about cultural questions or trends, and engage and speak to them biblically, so there is a thorough, solid sense from the scriptures that we can stand confident in engaging culture with the Gospel. We have to do this. Otherwise, Christians say they believe something, but when challenged, they have nothing to stand on. They lose their confidence that there are real, believable answers in the Bible.
Q. How do you encourage a missional culture in your diocese?
SB: It truly is the culture of our diocese to directly engage culture with the gospel. It’s one of our values and philosophies.
We’re helping our people be on mission by naming the key topics. We also pray and listen to the questions people are asking. You always engage culture with questions. We also try to ask questions of the leaders in our diocese, like “What are you thinking, facing, and dealing with on the ground?” Most of the churches in our diocese are pretty serious about getting the gospel into the real world.
Also we try to help people realize that “expertise” comes from faithfulness in a local setting. We recruit local practitioners and pastors who are accessible and who can model this for their people. We aren’t looking for rock stars—you don’t have to publish six books with InterVarsity to do a good job for us.
Q. What do you see that Anglicanism has to offer our culture?
SB: Anglicanism communicates the gospel in a formational way. The way we think, act, live in our homes, work—the gospel shapes us in every sense of the word. That’s very attractive to our culture. This formational process is very personal, hands-on and relational.
Also, Anglicanism is not personality-driven. You don’t have big superstars. You end every service at the table instead of with the sermon, so it right-sizes preaching. And we don’t just have ideas or doctrines. Anglicanism is based on practices that mirror or reflect our beliefs or convictions. It’s values-driven Christianity, rather than technique-driven. Finally, Anglicanism puts worship at the center of humanity. Our worship literally shouts out the Gospel at every turn. It offers us so many ways to magnify the Gospel – what a joy!
Q. Where do you see God working in today’s world?
SB: I see him putting a wall of separation between corrupt politics and the Church, so people are disenchanted with the idea that politics is the answer. I mean, politics has become so toxic. There is more and more conflict, division, polarization, hostility. The separation between God and non-God answers is more and more stark.
I especially see God at work very locally. I see true transformation happening personally, in families and in small group communities—on a micro rather than a macro level.
I see individuals being reconciled to themselves and to God. There is a prayer we often use at clergy retreats in our diocese: “I return unto mine own heart and then, with my whole heart, I return to seek Thee.” We are split inside ourselves, so fundamental reconciliation is giving your heart back to God.
Q. What encouragement can you offer clergy who are on the ground engaging missionally?
SB: Study hard. Really think about the depth and meaning of the gospel in your own life—how it literally transforms your independence, your sense that you own and create your life. It confronts your individual desires. Let it stir you deeply, and then let the gospel soak into you.
Determine to “be rather than to seem.” Then, preach and minister out of that transformation in your own life.
Challenge your desire to do your own thing. When I was recently preparing a lesson, I was confronted by my own individualism, how much I want to write my own life and separate myself from others so I don’t have to be accountable. Many people go through life without a genuine sense that they are united with other people. But God created us to exist in relationship, not just have a beer and an hour of laughs together. The corporate power of the gospel and how it calls us into relationship is off the charts.
Q. Do you have suggestions for books or other missional resources?
SB: I think of the novels of a guy named Michael O’Brien. They open up the heart of people. Whenever you find fiction or stories that give you a true window to the heart of people, that’s helpful. Edith Pargeter’s The Heaventree Trilogy is amazing in the same way. Art, story, movies—they are asking the questions our culture is grappling with. They are a missional tool.
Bishop Steve Breedlove is the Bishop Ordinary of the Anglican Diocese of Christ Our Hope. He and his wife Sally have five children and 13 grandchildren. They live in Chapel Hill, NC. Bishop Steve was a non-denominational pastor for 29 years before becoming an Anglican in 2001. He and Sally planted All Saints Church in Durham, NC, in 2005. In 2012, he was consecrated bishop. Pastoring pastors, teaching God’s word, helping leadership teams unite and grow in strategic mission, developing next-generation leaders, and strengthening local churches in mission, discipleship and worship are all aspects of a bishop’s ministry where he sees God’s lavish kindness at work.