Last summer, I went to Ethiopia with my family. It was an eye opening experience for all of us. We saw things most Americans can't even imagine. As a part of our preparation, we went through an orientation before we left on our trip. One of the things we were taught was to remember that we would be living in a different cultural context. People who live in different cultures think about certain things differently. One way of doing things is not necessarily better than another, they're just different.
Difficulties arise when we forget we are in a different culture and expect everyone to understand what we are talking about, or why we do things a different way. For example, in Ethiopia people are very relational. It's all about relationships. Family is very important. In fact, family and friends are more important than time. Here in America, we are alway in a hurry to get to our next appointment. If while traveling in a foreign country that is more event oriented than time oriented, we may become frustrated with the people who aren't in as much of a hurry as we are. We have to be aware of our culture, and be willing to change our way of thinking in order to adapt.
The American church has done a terrible job of contextualizing over the past 50 to 100 years. We have thousands of churches all around us. Most of them tend to do things as though the year were 1939. We play hymns on organs. We pray in King James English. We do and say things that make no sense to the culture around us.
What if I went to Africa and expected everyone I spoke to to just understand and convert to my way of living? I would not be very successful in my mission. Very few would be interested in my message. But we have done this very thing with church. We have taken something that was relevant 50 years ago, boxed it into our little brick buildings, and now we sit and wait, hoping someone will be interested enough to come through the doors and join us.
I am not advocating that we change our message! But we MUST change the way we present the message. The gospel is relevant to ALL generations. But the way we present it will not reach the people of this generation if we present it the way it was presented last century.
Trying to bring friends to non-relevant church services is like trying to fly people from other countries to America to teach them 'the right way' to live, as if the way America lives is the right way.
No. We have to change our way of thinking. We have to study and understand our culture. We have to go into the world and get to know people and love them and share Jesus with them in a culturally relevant way (which does not mean watering it down).
Are you culturally relevant? Are you living in the world, or have you isolated yourself behind your red brick church walls?