When my best friend came to the Lord and started attending our church, he had two culture hurdles he had to overcome. The first hurdle was that there was much to church culture he did not understand as a new believer. Things were very foreign to him, such as why we stood up at certain times during worship, what certain “Christianese” terms meant, even how we prayed. The second hurdle was that he was a non-Korean attending a Korean American church, which came with its own cultural nuances. Many of us church leaders were his long-time friends, so we had to explain many of these cultural differences to him.
Missiology is the study of missions, but generally speaking, it’s actually the study of culture. It looks at a certain culture and asks, “How do we take the eternal message of the gospel and translate it in such a way that it dovetails with this culture?” If you want to transform your region, that is the question to ask.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about this topic:
1. Do your homework and determine how you’re representing Jesus.
As a missionary to the culture around you, you need to sensitize yourself to that culture in order to understand two things:
- The culture’s barriers to the gospel
- How you can overcome those barriers to bring the Kingdom to bear
Many pastors enter an area completely unprepared, assuming they are like the people they’re trying to reach, when that probably isn’t true. If you’ve been immersed in “church culture” for more than a few years, chances are that you are actually more distant than you realize from the culture you’re seeking to reach. That is why it’s necessary from time to time to reevaluate the common “language” of your culture:
- Are you communicating Jesus clearly to people who don’t have any church background whatsoever?
- Will new people understand what you’re trying to tell them from the pulpit?
- Will new people be confused by what happens during your worship services?
Some of our church activities and Christian phrases could actually confuse people instead of helping explain Jesus. We just need to be aware of these things as we seek to bring Heaven to earth in the region.
2. Learn how to build bridges to influence others.
Help your people understand that the cultures around them are different than the culture commonly found inside a church building. They may have lost touch with the culture of the world around them. You can help them start to think more intentionally about relating to the outside culture and how to influence people in that culture.
To do this well, you will need to reacquaint yourself with your values as a church and what your calling is:
- Who are you as a church?
- What is your relationship to the world around you?
- What is the principal basis on which you gauge the relative worth of one thing or another as you seek to reach the cultures around you?
You need to explore your values, priorities and practices in order to see whether they dovetail with current secular culture or if you need to build a bridge. Bridge building is one of the key elements of reaching beyond your culture into another. As a leader, think about this and discuss it with your leaders. Begin to think in terms of how you can build these bridges, so you can cross over them and speak language the “natives” can understand.
3. Adjust what needs to be adjusted in your church, but use wisdom.
As you evaluate your values, priorities and practices as a church, begin to adjust your systems and lifestyle as necessary to support what you want to build. Do what you can to bridge the divide between the secular community outside the church and the culture you’ve built within the church.
Every change you make needs to be according to divine wisdom, prayer and discernment. We encourage you to consider your vision for cultural transformation and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading at the same time. Never neglect the full gospel you’re seeking to promote. If you can bring those two things together—cultural transformation and the complete gospel—you have an opportunity to build a church that is extremely in touch with the world around them and extremely committed to Jesus.