Culture Keepers

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, January 7, 2013

Culture Keepers

In all of the talk related to “culture,” I came across something that struck me as fresh.

The idea of culture “keepers.”

We know of culture changers, culture makers, culture adapters, culture… well, culture just about everything.

But culture “keepers”?

The idea is significant. There are aspects of culture – a nation’s culture, a church’s culture, a family’s culture – that must be “kept.” If they’re not, then they are not simply lost, they are replaced by something else.  Culture is not a vacuum. It’s a sieve. It will draw in whatever is most readily presented. 

A culture “keeper” is one who, in the words of Jim Collins, preserves the core but stimulates progress.  Vanguard leaders often get the progress part, but less so the core.

As churches grow, and in our day expand to multiple sites, the dynamics of “culture keeping” are becoming more critical than ever.

There are many ways to keep your culture intact:

  • hire from within
  • develop and implement a membership process that includes an introduction to your church’s cultural distinctives
  • reinforce cultural distinctives through weekend teaching and small group leader training

But perhaps the most important of all is to know what it is you are trying to keep. At Meck, we have ten aspects of our culture that we work hard to preserve and protect. They are non-negotiable. 

These are the hills we would die on:

1. The Bible is true and is the ultimate catalyst for life-change.

2. Lost people matter to God, and therefore they ought to matter to us.

3. We should be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.

4. It is normal for Christ followers to manifest authenticity and grow in their spiritual maturity.

5. The church should operate as a unified community of servants stewarding their spiritual gifts.

6. Loving relationships should permeate every aspect of church life.

7. We need other people to help with life-change.

8. Excellence honors God and inspires people.

9. Churches should be led by those with leadership gifts, and structured according to the nature and mission of the church.

10. Full devotion to Christ and His cause is normal for every believer.

Do you know your top ten “keep” list?

If not, there’s no way to protect your culture… because you don’t have one to protect.

James Emery White



“Culture Keepers,” Kevin Roberts, December 3, 2012, read the blog online.  

On the ten values, see James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). Our values are not wholly original to us. One or more of these ten, and even some aspects of the phrasing, can be found in other churches that came into existence long before our own.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Culture Keepers