LeBron James “decision” and the responses: Mining the cultural nuggets

As a “missions-guy”, pastor, and church planting connoisseur, I’m absolutely convinced that if we  want to be the most effective tool possible in the hands of our Missionary God, we MUST have a working knowledge of the culture that we are trying to reach with the truth of the Kingdom and then present that truth in a culturally acceptable and understandable form for maximum impact.  At the same time, I’ve also learned by experience that there are numerous sub-cultures within each culture that if understood, will equip us a little further for accomplishing the task and just might prepare us for the future.  Lebron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat and the two primary reactions it produced are two gold nuggets from the American cultural goldmine that most U.S. church planters work within.

Representing the majority culture’s perspective, was the reaction of Charles Barkley, Larry Bird,  many other retired NBA players, myself, and the majority of people over the age of 30.  Heads were shaken in disbelief and genuine bewilderment was expressed by raised eyebrows and tightened lips.  But, the response of the majority of teenagers and “twentysomethings”, (including my 24 year old daughter and her friends,) was overwhelmingly positive and thus provided an amazing insight into a growing sub-culture within our country.  These younger folks by and large think Lebron and Bosh should be commended for joining the Heat, and they believe they’ve been given a pattern that they themselves would follow if they ever had the opportunity to be in that position.

Here’s a very brief summary of a few of the things that might be worth considering:

1.  The widely accepted and thus predominant American cultural characteristics of individualism and independence are losing their appeal to those under the age of 30.

2.  With few exceptions, those over 30 have an extremely difficult time understanding why these younger people aren’t motivated by the same things they are.  To play alongside a few other elite players rather than against them and to do it for less money than you are capable of making and then to be willing to be just one of the reasons your team wins a championship rather than the main reason is well….as the Sicilian from “The Princess Bride” said, “Inconceivable!”

3.  Like it or not, because of their experience growing up in a world shaped by individualism and independence, generally speaking, those under 30 are  rejecting these two key American cultural traits, either consciously or unconsciously.

4.  This provides another opportunity for us old timers to examine ourselves and our ministries to see how much of what we accept as bible-based culture is actually just the acceptance of the culture of our country and upbringing and thus believed to be biblical.  We certainly come to Jesus as individuals, but the immediate result of our new birth is the reality that we are now one part of His body and thus an integral part of our spiritual brothers and sisters lives, which is best expressed by the local church.  His design for His body is clearly inter-dependence and our true identity is found first and foremost in Him and our identity is found in Him and being a part of His body contributing the uniqueness that He is has placed within us.  (1 Cor 12:12-26 etc.)

5.  I’m convinced that similar to the other cultures I’ve lived among over the years and especially the refugees I serve on a daily basis here in Phoenix, these young people’s rejection of those two key American cultural traits actually makes them much more open to the “Kingdom of God” culture and life that is presented in the New Testament.












16 replies
  1. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Jeff — great post, brother! You said so many things that resonate with me and my experience as an over-30 American living in Africa.

    “…how much of what we accept as bible-based culture is actually just the acceptance of the culture of our country and upbringing and thus believed to be biblical.”

    Spot on. I’m not even going to bother leaving one of my stereotypically long comments. 🙂 You’ve spoken for me.

  2. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Jeff Said “Inconceivable!” Awesome, man.

    I have just started picking away at a book entitled “The Millenials”. Kinda hits on this.

    Miles has often made the observation that his generation was the one that was encouraged into “Group Study” in school and that probably had a hand in all of this, Jeff.

    Brings me joy to know you are a part of this, Jeff. Blessings to you and Helen. 🙂

  3. Daniel Fusco
    Daniel Fusco says:

    As I further pondered this, you can also make a case that part of this is the delayed move into adulthood for people caused by doting boomer parents who coddled their children. LeBron just wanted to play with his friends. Kind of like 30 year old guys still playing video games. I know that the Millenials book gets into this.

  4. Ed Compean
    Ed Compean says:

    Dude, good stuff. It makes me wonder how I could come back to it.

    It seems not only for the sake of evangelism and reaching the pre-Christian/unchurched but for the sake of ministering to the young Christians of today it is good to acknowledge this. Talking with my daughter and her friends at UCSB made me realize how these young Christians are not my grandmother’s college and young adult group. They have a passion for God, for His glory and want to know Him more, but from that point they differ dramatically from much of the congregations they belong to. It makes me wonder how many churches will plateau or become gray as leaders continue to think of their congregation and community of one homogenous group.

  5. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Some questions and thoughts on this very insightful post…

    It has been suggested that the hippies were seeking for love. They certainly proclaimed that love was what they were all about. Some have looked backwards and suggested that the reason that the Gospel was so attractive to the Hippies, was because of the unconditional love of God for them. The reasoning was that they found what they were looking for in the person of Jesus. Therefore, their cultural predisposition made it “easier” for them to hear and receive the Gospel message. That may or may not be a true analysis, but it is interesting.

    Along came the ’80’s and the music scene that I was in. Though certainly not on the level of the Jesus Movement, we saw a bit of a second wave of revival, at least in Orange County, and throughout much of Southern California. Culturally, there was less of an overall theme. There was the punk element, the new wave element, hair metal, etc. Perhaps here was an less particular message, and more of a mosaic of messages. Maybe someone could give a brief overview of what the message of the 80’s was from the teens and twenty somethings.

    As has been articulated in this post, there is more of a sense of community with the Millennials, and less of a sense of individualism. I appreciate that insight, and as a pastor, I’d love to hear more from those that have experienced particularly open doors with the Millennials.

    How does the cultural predisposition of the Millennials endear them to the Gospel, or some of the more Biblical aspects of the Gospel? What about the Gospel is attractive to Millennials? I would hope that the attraction is the core of the Gospel.

    If what Daniel Fusco alluded true is accurate, that there is a delayed growth among Millennials due to parents perhaps overparenting their children, then might we expect to see a lack of willingness to lead among Millennials. I have heard that this generation’s young men are delayed in their willingness to lead.

    Is that the reason that some pastors and church leaders are playing the macho card, and trying to masuclinize young men?

    Can we discuss some of this a bit more?
    What cultural predisposition makes the Gospel attractive to Millennials?
    What predisposition makes the Gospel more difficult for them to embrace as a generation?

    Thanks guys. Good post Jeff.

    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      First, thanks for the feedback everyone. Here’s a couple of further thoughts to provoke ongoing thinking and maybe to challenge us to consider the “grid” that we are measuring things with. As of now, I’m thinking that I’ll give the reasoning behind these thoughts in my next post.

      Is it possible that when we define and/or describe a portion of the younger generation using terms like “delayed growth”, “unwillingness to lead”, “failure to launch”, and so forth, we are really just expressing how they don’t fit the American culture that influenced us and convinced us it is also biblical?

      And if so, then is it possible that those characteristics may actually be more biblically and “Kingdom of God” oriented than the grid through which we measure things?

      What if what we call “delayed growth” is actually an expression of a willingness to be dependent and inter-dependent?

      What if what we call an “unwillingness to lead” is actually a way of keeping a person’s identity and orientation as part of a group, rather than as an individual?

      What if what we call a “failure to launch” is actually a “failure to launch” into American cultural norms that actually make heart to heart relationships almost relationships almost impossible?


      If our American cultural views hought to be biblically based

      Is it possible that our perspective of they young

    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:


      We certainly do. The key is being able and willing to recognize that we do and then humbly beg our Missionary God for the ability and wisdom to put our grid/s on trial and see if what we’ve accepted as our practice is a valid expression of biblical principles.

      Also, my wife and I are headed up your way next Saturday and will be staying with some folks from your church, I believe. There’s a conference at Golden Gate seminary beginning July 27 for churches that minister to refugees.

      Bless you brother.


      • Bill Walden
        Bill Walden says:

        Jeff….looking forward to hanging out and meeting.
        I have been out of the loop re. your accommodations.
        I hope that that is all working out ok.
        See you soon. Can you, Daniel and I arrange for some time together?

  6. Daniel Fusco
    Daniel Fusco says:


    I think it’s important to remember that the sword always cuts both ways. These traits are both positive (when in the Spirit) and negative (when in the flesh).

    Agreed that, in one sense, the younger generations desire to do it as a team run against the boomer, hyper Englightenment secular individualism of the boomers (who ironically began communal and ended up hyper individualistic).

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