Much has been said and written in recent years, offering up all kinds of criticism of modern day Churches for trading off adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for contemporary methods of communicating it. Interestingly enough the overwhelming majority of this criticism comes by way of other Churches. Typically it comes from Churches that are not growing criticizing Churches that are growing. After all, if a Church is growing, they’ve got to be doing something wrong don’t they?
I have a tendency to go the other way on this one. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if a Church isn’t working hard to be culturally relevant, it isn’t working hard to remain true to the Scriptures! You can’t be radically committed to the Scriptures without being radically committed to communicating the Scriptures in a culturally relevant manner.
It’s an easy statement to make because God has always communicated his message to people in a culturally relevant manner. Language, the time, place, ethnicity, gender, community, governance, and more has always been taken into consideration as the message of God was communicated to a particular audience.
The Apostle Paul, a master missionary, knew this about the heart of God and understood that the Gospel must be contextualized to each specific culture:
#1 Take time to understand the culture of your audience.
“…for as I was walking along I saw your many altars…” Acts 17:23
#2 Be positive, not negative, about the culture of your audience.
“So Paul, standing before the Council, addressed them as follows: ’Men of Athens, I noticed that you are very religious…” Acts 17:22
#3 Use the culture of your audience to connect with the heart of your audience.
“His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As one of your own poets says, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:27-28
#4 Relationally speak truth to your audience.
“For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31
About The Author
Paul Alexander is a Pastor, Leader, and Church Strategist. He has spent the last ten years of ministry serving in three mega-church settings as a Youth Pastor, Executive Pastor, and Lead Pastor. He has been married to his wife Lisa for 14 years. Together they have three children Kennedy, Mia, and Lincoln. You can follow Paul on Twitter or at his blog.
I had a strange dream the other night. I was sitting at a table in a McDonald’s restaurant. The room was filled with people of all ages, from children to senior citizens, married couples and singles, and teenager of all shapes and sizes. In all there were about 50 people in the room.
The smell of fries and happy meals and the sound of boisterous conversation and squeals of playing children filled the air. I had a sense of anticipation because I knew that in a few minutes I would stand up on a chair and begin to “preach” to this crowd of people.
In my dream I was turning over and over what I was going to say to this diverse group of people that would bring them to faith. I was turning words and phrases over and over in my dream-state mind, searching for just the right combination that would have the maximum effectiveness.
On another level, I thought about how my dream-character had obtained permission to preach at McDonald’s. Somehow it had been arranged. Somehow it was authorized. I don’t know the details, but it was O.K., in a minute I would stand and speak.
I moved to the front of the room, climbed on a chair, one of those plastic kind that is attached to the table and swivels and it was as I began to open my mouth that I moved from dreaming to the twilight zone between sleep and waking. I wondered about the dream as I lay there. What did it mean? What were the words that I was about to say? What would have been the effect on the crowd?
We need to bring the message to McDonald’s
So much of the program-based church is built on the assumption that people will come to us to hear the message. We spend hours preparing and then executing our weekend “services”. We are intentional (at our best) in attempting to communicate our chosen themes to the audience that will gather. But what of the majority of people who are making their way through life without ever taking advantage of what we have to offer. Is God’s message compelling enough that it can be brought into the marketplace, into the McDonald’s?
For that matter, is some form of preaching enough, or should we also be examples of what faith can mean in life? And is that preaching, that example, truly “good news?”
I received a letter written in response to one of the articles that has appeared in Next-Wave. The letter went something like this:
“I saw the… article [in Next-Wave]… and found it disgusting. Are you people so mixed up as to think that this is somehow reverence to God? Why don`t you just drive stakes through your hands and feet? It would follow your screwed-up logic. Only morons and depraved derelicts would do such things, not real Christians. [What] is the next step…? Please pray for wisdom before it`s too late. P.S. I give this counsel out of love for your soul…..Bro. Blank.”
Brother Blank’s disgust doesn’t feel like good news to me. And he’s writing in response to an article by Christians about Christians. I wonder what message he would “preach” if given the opportunity at McDonald’s.
Paul, of course, understood. He knew that religion can get in the way of trusting in God. He expounds at length on this subject in the letter to the Romans, chapter 10. He describes the dangers of trying to live according to the law code, religion at its finest, as Dr. Petersen says in The Message translation: “every detail of life regulated by fine print!” Unfortunately for most of us who have been alive for a while we’ve learned that “it’s not so easy”to live right before God in our own power.
Paul says, “Say the welcoming word to God—”Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simple calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: ‘God has set everything right between him and me!’ Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
My McDonald’s audience
I guess that is what I would have liked to preach to my dream McDonald’s audience. I would have liked them to know that you can live a life of faith, hope and love. You can draw strength and courage to face the trials of sickness, heartache, tragedy and death. God is more than willing to help if we will only ask. I would have wanted them to know that I struggle with “right-living” but that I have the confidence that God is with me in the struggle, guiding, teaching, loving and encouraging me along the way.
I would have wished that some of them would have been willing to give God a chance to help them.
Scriptural formulas don’t mean much to those who haven’t trusted God
I don’t think I could have used some sort of scriptural formula to persuade folks that trusting in God is a good idea. You see, people who don’t know the book, can’t be persuaded by the book. I probably would have had to rely on my own life experience, to tell them about how trusting God has helped me.
We need a different language
Somehow we need a different language to communicate God’s message to our friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow McDonald’s patrons. People are less willing to hear dogmatic diatribes that speak from a posture of disgust and superiority. The language and attitude of “winning” the “lost” should be abandoned. We should begin tell our stories without arrogance or pride and offer good news.
Years ago now,l I attended the Off-the-map Evangelism conference at the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. I got to listen to Steve Sjogren, Brian McLaren, and Leonard Sweet talk about the new understandings and language needed to help our fellow travelers along on the journey of faith. Their creative ideas inspired me to think about new and different ways to bring a life-saving message to my city.
Paul asked a good question in Romans 10: “But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?”
All of us Christ-followers are sent to someone, to tell our story, by preaching or example. Will you be sent to McDonald’s?