When preparing people for overseas mission reputable agencies train folk in cross cultural mission. To understand the language and culture of the place they are going to – and to understand their own cultural biases and background and the way they shape who they are.
To be effective in mission, longer term, you need to be comfortable adapting to the place you are and to be able to express the gospel in a way which is intelligible to people in that culture.
To reach out to a people you need to understand the language – not just the words, but the emotional heart of the people. To be able to laugh at the jokes, weep with the pain, to be able think and dream together.
To be an effective you need to be a cultural explorer – having the servant-posture of a learner, willingness to adapt and change, as well as the grace to accept and embrace cultural differences which reflect the creative majesty of God’s creativity!
All of us grow up in a culture so we see things a particular way, certain thoughts / behaviours are so normal to us they become internalised – we do them without noticing. In other cultures it is different and we need to navigate the differences
But our own culture is now changing so rapidly that we need to learn to employ the same skills to reach the UK.
20 years ago very few people were on the internet and Wifi and broadband didn’t exist. We watched films on video and maybe rented them from a shop, If you wanted to buy music you bought a CD. If you wanted to find an address you used an AtoZ map. But that world doesn’t exist anymore.
This is the generation which invented facebook – a social media platform that is used by 1 billion people per day. It’s the generation which revolutionised photos with Instagram, which is re-imagining hotels with AirBnB
So we need to think about our culture: In a book on creating missional culture J R Woodward suggests there are 6 elements to every culture (interview), that create a cultural web:
Language – the language we live in
Artefacts – the things we use
Narrative – what our culture believes; the stories it tells
Ritual – the practices, the things we repeatedly do
Institution – the structures and systems of a society
Ethics – the things we do and reflect on
For the church this can be a challenge. Not because churches don’t change, but because we often change more slowly than the culture around us.
We are here to worship God and to serve him in the world.
We are here to make disciples and live as he would have us live.
We are here to be good news and to share the good news of the gospel with others.
We need to do this in a world which sees Christianity and the Church as irrelevant. People are indifferent to any truth claims we might make – and many actually think we are a force for bad in society:
– Christians are bigoted, intolerant and out of touch.
– Christians campaign for injustice, rather than to right wrongs – particularly on the issue of homosexuality, but sometimes on the role of women as well.
– Christians are judgemental and hypocritical
– Churches are places where abuse takes place, both of children and adults.
In short, Christians don’t make the world a better place – they make it worse.
If culture is the way we do things, we need to think more carefully about what we say and what we do. We need to develop a culture of mission that pervades our lives and the life of our churches whilst at the same time being sensitive to the culture of which we are a part. Whatever the challenges we need to be a people:
Where our language is about God and what he has done for us
Where the things we celebrate are the things we see God doing in our lives
Where we constantly speak of the good news of Jesus
Where we repeatedly practice, building friendships, inviting people in
Where we travel light and adapt to the opportunities we find
Where the things we do are designed to reflect the character of a loving God – to show his glory and to point to his kingdom.