Slaves to Culture

This week, I’m participating in the Summer Seminar for Missions. The guest speaker is Dr. Sherwood Lingenfelter, provost and senior vice president of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. I’d like to share a few thoughts from yesterday’s lecture (I missed today’s because I have been sick). The title of his first message was “Is Culture Positive, Negative, or Neutral to the Gospel?” His major thrust was that everyone is a slave to his or her culture. Individuals, corporations, and especially churches and missionaries are slaves to their culture. For instance, many missionaries to Indonesia simply package the view of church they’ve always had and simply transplant it into their new culture. (Remember seeing pictures of African Christians standing to sing in churches, lined up in rows and on pews, wearing European clothing and headwear?)

If this is true on the foreign mission field, then isn’t it true on the domestic mission field? When was the last time you heard of a group of church planters moving into an un-reached area of the U.S., and instead of reproducing all their pre-conceived notions of what church looks, feels, sounds, and smells like, began by developing relationships in the area? I can tell you that this isn’t the trend in North America. In North America, “church planting” means creating a satellite version of the mother church somewhere else, maybe wrapped in a thin layer of indigenous culture, but mostly resembling the culture of the church planters.

This is happening here in Abilene. A large, upper-middle-class white church in town is planting a church in a predominately Hispanic part of town. The church is making minimal efforts to meet the neighbors in the barrio, but only after creating a list of ministries and programs it is sure will be a “hit” in the neighborhood. My fear is that this new “church plant” will simply be “Big Church #2”, resembling the likes and dislikes of the upper-middle-class white people that began going to church there. I would like to see a few families from the large church develop leaders of some “people of peace” in the neighborhood, then let those people reach their friends and family. No amount of effort on the part of the upper-middle-class white people from Big Church #1 will be able to truly reach the people of the Hispanic neighborhood in an organic, indigenous way.

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