By Juan Acuna
District Youth Director – South Central Hispanic District
In the past ten years of working with young people, I have attended anywhere from one to three leadership conferences per year and the term “vision” has, for the most part, dominated the conversation of leadership. For many years, people have promoted the idea that the most important element within leadership is vision: the type of vision, the casting of vision, the time frame, and everything else related to that. However, the more I serve in leadership, especially one where relationships—not profit—is the main goal, one begins to realize quickly that vision does not really work without culture. Culture becomes a vehicle for vision to run; it is the foundation on which vision is built.
The thing with culture is that it cannot simply be put on a banner or promoted with a graphic. Culture has to be seen, experienced, and lived out. Culture is how we drive our day-to-day operations and the examples we set as we work. Jesus seemed to place more importance on culture than He did on vision. Jesus sets forth a vision to His disciples of what the Church would look like; He sets forth a vision of the multitudes that would be won and the power that the Church would eventually operate in. However, although Jesus speaks clearly of His vision, objectives to be achieved, and goals to be reached, He also spends three years showing the disciples what life looks like. He spends three years establishing a culture for such vision to flourish.
So, what is the culture of the Kingdom? To “love thy neighbor as yourself,” to forgive your brothers, up to “seventy times seven,” and to help the needy, for “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for [Jesus].” In considering this, it is clear that community involvement—serving the poor, feeding the hungry, helping those in need—is crucial for us to set the tone, to establish a culture for the gospel to be communicated fairly and in a healthy way. Still, there is a difference, because community involvement can simply become an element of vision, and not creating a sustainable culture within our church communities and youth groups. We have a generation who, many times, views social involvement and community service with more of a “what’s in it for me” attitude than with a real desire to help. We have been indoctrinated with heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Mother Theresa; however, it has become more about being a hero like them rather than actually helping others and making a positive change like they did.
Oftentimes, merely talking about community service redirects our eyes towards vision rather than culture and mission. It begins to be more about how many people we can reach, a means to an end goal, a simple strategy to “carry out” our calling. However, community involvement as a whole is much more than just vision. Community involvement is about culture. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not so much about Jesus wanting to reach the masses, or be the biggest religion in the world, but about establishing a genuine sense of caring for people. A real love. I feel the gospel is much better understood by this generation when we present it in the context of the Kingdom culture that Jesus promoted and lived by. As the Christmas season approaches, it is my hope that we can find a deeper sense in this season, something that goes beyond the vision of our individual youth ministries or church agendas. May we connect with the culture that Jesus called us to and demonstrated. This season of giving isn’t so much about how many people we’re going to “win” or how many more members we’re going to have. It’s about the culture and giving without expecting anything in return. It’s about promoting the culture of loving our neighbor as ourselves.