When a Duck May Not Be a Duck.
Most of us know what a duck looks like when we see it. In fact, there is a common saying that states: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. In our culture, the reasoning behind this saying holds that the best explanation for a set of observations is usually the simplest and most obvious.
Along these same lines, most Evangelical Christians today probably feel they have a clear idea of what “Cross-Cultural Ministry” means. This term creates visions of faraway lands and of people who look and speak differently from us. Many would say confidently that going to different cultures for ministry means going to a different place, learning a different language, and finding ways to introduce the Gospel to these new peoples. This task is just as valid today as it ever was. Going to different places and to different peoples around the world with the Gospel is still a clear, inescapable mandate from God. In our changing world, however, this understanding of Cross-cultural ministry is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the implications facing us as the Church in North America. I believe there are two additional aspects of cross-cultural ministry that are crucial for us to grasp.
In addition to the divine mandate to go to the nations, we are confronted by the undeniable fact that those who were once far away from us are now our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Global economics, political upheaval, war, and other forces have produced migrations that have brought many of these different tribes and cultures to the USA. In addition, there are groups and segments in our own society that were once separate but are now sharing common spaces together. These movements of people are changing our neighborhoods, cities and regions in a permanent, irrefutable fashion. As churches, not only must we remain committed to sending missionaries abroad, we must also think and strategize as cross-cultural missionaries in our own communities – often for the first time. The churches who are on the front lines of these changes in our cities and urban areas are confronting important questions. What does a congregation need to do when it finds itself in the middle of a city or a neighborhood that no longer looks like or speaks like most of its members? How do churches respond with the Gospel to different cultures and peoples who may have come from a different part of the city or a different part of the world? The responses to these questions could determine whether a congregation thrives in its location, moves to a new, more comfortable location, or experiences decline and eventual death.
These are clearly very important questions. Yet, there is an even most important cross-cultural challenge facing every single American congregation today has nothing to do with language or ethnicity. Many of those around our church buildings who are farthest from the Gospel are those who may look the most like us. Some in this group may even be part of our own families. To be honest, the term “generation gap” has been part of our social reality for decades. There have always been generational differences that had to be overcome in passing the Gospel from one generation to the next. Yet, in spite of the differences, there were also shared cultural understandings as well as beliefs about truth, right versus wrong, and good versus bad that were similar enough to never call into question that these different generations were still part of the same “tribe”. If these folks walk like us, look like us and speak like us, then they must be the same as us. Isn’t that the most logical conclusion? That may not be the case in the coming years. A duck may not actually be a duck.
We need to recognize that we are beginning to deal with a different generational culture or “tribe,” Our children and grandchildren may speak the same language and be like us in many ways, but they also reflect the mindset, belief systems, and attitudes of a growing global community around them. That global community is very different in its orientation. It is fueled by almost instantaneous global communication, constant exposure to global news and anti-Christian agendas, and easy global social interactions. These younger generations think differently, they view truth differently, they judge worth differently, and they most certainly view right versus wrong/good versus bad very differently. In many ways, they have moved away from the basic Judeo-Christian heritage that characterized their parents and grandparents. They are a different “culture” in spite of multiple similarities. In essence, I am saying, If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, and runs on batteries, then it probably is not a duck. This new tribe requires us to engage it with the same level of intensity and intentionality that we have traditionally reserved for the “mission field”. The first question is, can our churches engage this new tribe effectively? The more important question is, are we willing to do it?
Being “faithful” is not just holding on to the Truth, no matter the cost, when those around us condemn it or invalidate it. It is also doing whatever is needed to ensure that this Truth – without dilution – is ignited in the hearts and lives of those who follow us. Can we do what it takes to not only reach the different cultures around us, but also reach the “cultures” coming after us?