My written notes for the presentation I gave while in Fairbanks, Alaska:
Some thoughts on re-engaging culture:
We’re often caught in a bit of a dichotomy in how we set out to interact with our culture. We struggle to balance the idea of “meet people where they are” with “be in the world but not of the world.” If you’re anything like me you probably are constantly asking yourself what that even means in the context of your life. Am I being “of the world” if I go out to a bar to meet some friends or to the movies or to a rock concert? For me the answer is no, but the Christian community has often been very much the opposite. Unless it’s a Christian branded version of those things then you shouldn’t participate. Only do things with other Christians so that the world doesn’t drag you down. Stay inside the bubble. It may seem I’m exaggerating a bit, and probably am, but over the last 30+ years it really is how Christians in general have migrated and built this isolated culture that has grown to somewhat mammoth proportions. This sprang out of the ideas of attractional ministry and building programs and myriad methods for reaching the people once we get them through the door, but it was also reactionary to what was seen as a decline in the world around them.
This idea of a segregated individual pocket was not at all what was intended by the exhortation to be in the world not of it, and when we look at how Jesus interacted with the world around Him we can see that being separate and waiting for the world to come to Him was not at all what he had in mind. Word of mouth spread and lots of people heard about Him and were intrigued enough to look for Him to hear Him speak or seek healing, but Jesus wasn’t just holed up in a single synagogue waiting for their arrival. He was out traveling the countryside and visiting the region, teaching His followers and everyone He met about the Father and His kingdom. Jesus wasn’t looking to create a separate identity for those that followed and believed in Him but rather a fulfillment of their true identity. In the same way, He wasn’t looking to segregate the people out of their culture but to transform it from the inside. Jesus wasn’t afraid that the world around Him was going to infect Him….He was called a friend of sinners by the religious leaders. They were so caught up in their own rules that they missed the point of what God was after – relationship. It was this that Jesus came to model and He went to those that needed it; and then He commissioned those that believe to follow the same path.
So what does that mean for us? For starters, we have to put away the “field of dreams” mentality and stop waiting for the world to come to us – we have to go out to them. Does that mean everyone needs to abandon their work and dreams and ship off to another country to be a full time missionary? Not at all! I am in no way saying that being a missionary in a foreign country isn’t something worthwhile or amazing but I would challenge the idea that impacting those around you for Christ means being somewhere different from where you already are. In the same manner, it also doesn’t mean that you should all have to be a pastor or teacher at your church to be sharing the good news of the gospel. 95% of us are not called to be in “full-time ministry” positions but I would again challenge the idea that being in ministry means teaching at church or leading a bible study or running a prayer meeting is all there is to it. Those things are part of it sure, but you’re engaged in ministry every time you interact with the world around you. God is not expecting you to give up your dreams or careers or the things He blessed you with the talent to do; He wants to see you blossom in those things and use them to glorify Him! He has gifted you with those dreams and talents to provide you with ways to impact the culture you are a part of. He doesn’t need a separate pocket of people who are only interacting with each other and using a lure to try and entice people to join; He wants to see all people reconciled to Him and to be in relationship with them and that can only happen if we are making the effort to meet them where they are. That means going out to a bar to meet a friend who’s having a rough time or going to a family event to celebrate even though you’re the only Believer in the group. It means talking to your neighbors and coworkers even though their lifestyles are not the same as yours. We cannot sit back and wait for them to be ready. We have to go and we have to be a part of their lives….because, more than anything else, people want to feel like they matter and that they are valued. It’s not just random street corner evangelism or revival meetings…those things can be valid…but getting involved in people’s lives, no matter how messy, and loving them and pointing the way to Jesus by our actions and sometimes our words.
Bottom line: to truly impact your culture you have to be a part of it and influence it from the inside, you can’t pull up the stakes and retreat to the sanitized bubble and wait for the end to come.