Culture is man made.
When working with ministries in other cultures it’s important that we understand the cultural context in which to operate. Culture is man made, therefore culture will never be perfect. Understanding the culture we are operating in, whether we are ministries serving short term or missionaries invested in a culture for decades, will help us build strong and lasting relationships with the people we are serving. The beauty of the gospel is that it permeates all cultures. The gospel is, without exception, relevant to all cultures and people groups. That’s one of the things that makes Christ’s work on the cross so incredible.
Christ died for all people, for all time. He died, defeated sin, and rose again for the redemption of humanity. When we take our culture, attach it to the gospel, and call that package truth, it can be detrimental to our ministries. Understanding the culture in which your ministry operates is essential to sharing the gospel within that culture.
One of the things I love about Reliant Creative is that it’s given me the opportunity to travel the world. In those travels I’ve got to see a wide variety of cultures. I believe cultural diversity is a testament to God’s creativity. He created a humanity that is incredibly creative with different approaches to worship, work, food, art, celebration, architecture, education and government. I love traveling to new places to experience new food. I love architecture and everywhere I travel I see new ways of designing and building shelter, places of work and places of worship. Now, it goes without saying that everything man made falls short of what it could be because of man’s sin, but we can see remnants of the original design without looking too hard.
Cultural diversity is beautiful, but when we try to force one culture on another because we’ve made our own culture and way of life ultimate, it can be disastrous. This ignorance can render the gospel ineffective because we’ve attached our own truth and the gospel is no longer the gospel. We see the same thing happen with the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all because it’s a gospel plus something else added by a fallen man.
On the other end of the spectrum there are those who won’t experience new cultures because they have a fear of the unknown or believe that because they don’t know enough about a different culture they can’t possibly go and serve that culture effectively. This is equally disastrous because now we have people who won’t fulfill the great commission because they are crippled by fear. We are commanded to take the gospel to all nations, and we are set free from fear to do so by Christ’s work on the cross. Christ doesn’t just call those who are smart enough to understand another culture perfectly. He just calls us to go. But how can we go without being ineffective? We believe that the best way is to go with a heart to learn and serve.
The Gospel Permeates all Cultures
The gospel permeates all cultures. There is not culture that the gospel can’t reach. For some odd reason God chose us, a broken and sinful people, to share that gospel with the world. So, how do we take a perfect gospel created by God into imperfect cultures that are created by man?
We believe that the best way to go is with a heart to learn and serve. Everyone can remember a time in their teens when they knew more than their parents, right? No matter what experience’s my parents had, I felt like I always knew best. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that they were probably right more often than not. The same thing happens when we try and force our culture down other cultures proverbial throats. Our cultural ways are not always the best. In fact, they are rarely the best because they are built on a cultural history far different than that culture in which we are working.
When you go with a heart to learn it shows the people you are working with that you care deeply. We ask a lot of questions when we travel, and no one has ever been upset that we asked questions. We always find that people are more than happy to share about their culture and way of life. This heart of learning allows us to work more freely and with a better understanding in new cultures, but most importantly it simply helps us build deeper relationships with the people we are on the ground serving. The gospel permeates all cultures, we just need to go with a heart to learn and serve.
Christian Creative Agency
So why does this matter? Why am I writing this when there are thousands of resources saying the same thing? Well, I’m writing this as a reminder to myself and my team. I’m writing this so that ministries we haven’t worked with yet can see that we take this seriously. As a Christian creative agency we work with ministries and churches all over the world. We are working in different cultures with every ministry we serve. It is incredibly important that we understand the importance of operating with an understanding of the cultural context in which we operate, with every new ministry we serve. As a ministry one of our core values is to learn. It’s important that what we create is culturally relevant to the ministry’s we serve. We love cultural diversity, we love learning about new cultures, and we are hear to listen to your needs within whatever cultural space you operate.
A Quick Story
The image you see at the bottom of this post is one of my favorite experiences in all my travels. I have to be careful not to share too many details about this experience because it could endanger the people we were working with in country. But, during my most recent trip to India we had the opportunity to stay a couple nights with a family who has answered God’s call to go to the farthest reaches of the world to share the gospel. During our time with this family the hospitality we experienced was overwhelming, especially for how little they have when it comes to worldly possessions. The home in which we stayed is designed in such a way that the master bedroom and kitchen are the same room. During meals the entire group would sit on the master bed, using it as a dinner table. We didn’t do this because there was an absence of other places to eat, but we ate on their master bed because that’s what was normal.
Now, my culture would say that’s weird and you shouldn’t eat on your bed, you’ll get the sheets dirty. If I had listened to what my culture said was normal and avoided sitting on the master bed, I would’ve sat on a chair, alone, apart from the rest of the group. The result would’ve been a missed opportunity to build deep and lasting friendships with the people we were there to serve. We chose to go outside our comfort zone, outside what our culture says is normal, in order to build deeper relationships with that family. I believe that choice, more than anything else over those two days, is what allowed us to build deep friendships rather than just simple acquaintances. Oh, I also had to be careful what image I shared so this doesn’t show the scene as well as I would like, but hopefully you get the idea.
If you have a story of how you went out of your comfort zone to learn a new culture in order to build relationships for the gospel please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. We love to hear stories of how the gospel is permeating culture around the world.