One of our core values in the Vineyard is to be a people of the kingdom of God who pursue culturally relevant mission in the world. Scripture highlights over and over again that God speaks to us in ways we can understand. He knows us and understands us and meets us where we are. Acts 2 is just one example—the disciples come pouring out of the upper room, full of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues that just happen to be the native languages of the foreign visitors from all over the Roman world who are hanging around outside. If God reaches out to us like that, we want to do the same for others!
The fact is, the gospel is both offensive and incredibly powerful and winsome all on its own. We want people to be able to hear and engage with it for what it is, without any unnecessary hurdles in the way. In order to prevent putting up those unintentional hurdles, we want to adjust ourselves as necessary to speak clearly to the cultures we are trying to reach. As much as possible, we want to echo Paul when he writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9.22b)
Becoming more culturally aware and relevant as we pursue God’s mission in the world takes some intentional effort on our part. If the Holy Spirit is prompting you to grow in this area, here are a few suggestions to try:
We can’t communicate clearly with the people around us until we learn who they are, what they’re like, what they care about, their history, etc. Try to, in a sense, read, or exegete the culture around you. Always be ready to listen to people, and to look for your common ground with them.
2. Be humble.
Don’t assume you already know everything there is to know about the people to whom you are bringing the gospel. Instead, come humbly as a learner—not as above or below them, but as a fellow human seeking to hear and understand. If you communicate respect and kindness, it will take you far. People will probably forget what you say, but they’ll never forget how you treat them.
3. Be flexible and creative.
Be willing to think beyond your own tastes and opinions in order to connect with others. This requires a heart change—to defer your own preferences to the sensibilities and needs of the culture you are engaging
When the Jesuits sent missionaries to China, other westerners were scandalized when the Jesuit brothers adopted the dress and manners of the Chinese scholars they were trying to reach, but thousands of Chinese people accepted the gospel and converted to Christianity as a result.
When you are willing to try these things, the fruit can be very sweet. Phil Strout tells a little of what pursuing cultural relevance has meant for him at the Pathway Vineyard in Lewiston, ME
“I live in a community that is historically French Catholic.
100 years ago many people poured in from Canada to be part of the textile industry. When I came to Lewiston,I thought that our Christmas service should be in French and in English, and it should be at midnight, because it was traditional—they used to have midnight mass. The first time we had someone read in French at the service, we just heard sobbing around the auditorium. Now, because we have increasing populations of people from around the world, one year we did the midnight mass in English, French, Tagalog, Spanish, and Dinka. Incorporating these languages has touched a deep chord here.”
What are your experiences with pursuing cultural relevance? What advice would you add? Let’s discuss how we can embody this value in our churches even better—comment below!