Matt Snowden has pastored for twenty-six years, most recently for thirteen years at First Baptist Church of Waco, Texas. He has served two terms on the Executive Board of Texas Baptists, teaches pastoral leadership courses for Truett Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program, and preaches regularly throughout the South in addition to his congregational responsibilities.
Joshua Hays has served on ministry staffs at churches in three states, most recently for six years at First Baptist Waco. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member for Truett Seminary’s spiritual formation program and is completing his doctor of ministry degree.
How did you come to write Soul Culture: Stewarding the Five Ingredients of Our Common Life? What was your hope laypeople will take away from this book?
Soul Culture began as a series of sermons during summer 2020 as we led our church to think about the elements that bind us together. Our return to in-person worship actually occurred midway through the series. The themes took hold within our own congregation and proved useful time and again as tools for considering our common life together. Around that same time, we received a grant from the Lilly Endowment through Baylor University’s Institute for Faith and Learning that allowed us to expand our ideas into the book that it eventually became.
Can you talk a little about the structure of your book? What are the five ingredients and how did you narrow it down to those?
We organized Soul Culture around the five ingredients beliefs, attitudes, values, goals, and practices. These ingredients worked together over time form the “dough” of our life together. Matt initially extracted these five ingredients from Colossians 3, and then we began to notice them throughout scripture. Once we had this working hypothesis, we took Dr. Larry Lyon to lunch. Dr. Lyon is a sociologist and chair of Baylor’s Graduate School. We scratched out the five ingredients on a napkin and asked him if they formed a fair working definition of culture. “Yep,” Dr. Lyon confirmed, “that’s about it!”
I was immediately drawn into your book through the metaphor of working with and making bread. Why bread? What is the power of this metaphor?
J. B. Gambrell was a Baptist pioneer in Texas over a century ago. He wrote an essay titled “Working a Batch of Dough” in 1917 to call his fellow ministers “so to culture our people as to bring them to a New Testament way of thinking and feeling.” We resonate with Dr. Gambrell’s call to culture our flock with active intentionality. Bread is also a rich biblical metaphor. Paul writes of the church as “one loaf” throughout 1 Corinthians. Bread is a potent metaphor because it is many things that become one thing, a complex recipe of diverse ingredients united by process, time, and temperature into something greater than the sum of the parts. So is the church.
What are the challenges of co-writing? How did your roles within the church inform your writing process?
Co-writing for us was a joyful expression of friendship. Matt generated early drafts of most of the chapters, Josh would read and revise, and then we would come together and hash out the changes in face-to-face conversation. Then we would incorporate the fruit of these conversations into a third draft. Along the way, we also exchanged cardboard boxes of source material as our own makeshift traveling library. (We wore out about six boxes over the course of writing!) As pastor, Matt brought the discipline of weekly preaching to generate a steady flow of material, and Josh used his role as discipleship associate to shape the study guides and group activities.
In your eyes, why is now the time for churches to transform and what is needed for that transformation?
The time is always ripe for transformation toward greater faithfulness. One of the mottos of the Reformation was that the church must be “always reforming.” Longtime Louisiana prison warden Burl Cain put it another way: “Nothing stays fixed.” That doesn’t mean that we should continually reinvent the wheel or innovate for the sake of innovation. But we should continually test our endeavors in light of the gospel and discern opportunities to live more fully and faithfully toward our calling to Christlikeness. Churches and leaders that see no room for improvement are prone to fall and fail.
What are some of the bigger misconceptions churches face internally and externally? How can we, as a people of faith, reflect on these misconceptions?
Soul Culture deals with the five ingredients of culture in sequence, which can foster the misconception that we can deal with any one of them in isolation. In reality they all interact all of the time. Our friend John Anderson is a renowned hospital administrator. When we asked him about his greatest leadership insight, he simply said, “Everything is connected to everything else.” Changing one ingredient changes the entire batch of dough, so we work all of the ingredients all of the time.
What part of Soul Culture excited you most?
We loved the chance to test our ideas with friends and colleagues in ministry. Throughout the writing process, we held formal and informal conversations with members of our own church. We also shared our thoughts with partners in other settings. Several of these conversations find their way into the book’s final chapter, which is a series of interviews with pastor friends in varied settings and stages of pastoral ministry. Discovering resonance with these co-laborers around the ideas of Soul Culture was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project.
When did scripture first come alive for you? What nurtures your imagination?
Both of us were blessed to grow up in the church and in Christian homes, so we can’t remember a time when scripture wasn’t alive to us. We learned the art of story from the great biblical narratives told on flannel boards in Sunday school, Mission Friends, and vacation Bible school. Stories continue to nourish our imagination. We love music, especially the story songs (so Texas is a great place to make our homes!). We love fiction. We love good TV (and some occasional bad TV too). All of these expressions of human art and creativity reflect our Creator and, interpreted in the light of scripture, point toward the good news of Jesus as Lord.