Most churches seem boggled by the dynamics of our secular, multicultural, multifaith society. How do churches develop Great Commission values in the face of such diversity?
It’s not uncommon for me to meet students who have received limited exposure to multiple perspectives on faith, politics, education or any number of other subjects. These students can become overwhelmed and intimidated when they encounter new ideas, divergent opinions and varied perspectives.
Church members can be in much the same boat. When we’ve spent many years surrounded by other believers who think like us, hear the same preaching and teaching, and all live in the same place, we become comfortable in an environment where people look and sound a lot alike.
Perplexed and overwhelmed
Much like those college students who first come to campus, it’s easy to see why church members are perplexed and overwhelmed by our broader culture—filled with secular ideas, many cultural differences and broad faith perspectives, both among Christians and adherents of other religious systems.
When my students become overwhelmed by diverse perspectives as they seek to stay faithful to their kingdom mission, I remind them of the Apostle Paul. If anyone lived in a diverse, secular, multifaith society, it was Paul. Consider that during his travels to spread the good news and to make disciples, he spent time in cities with temples for Apollo, Artemis and Aphrodite. He encountered people who spent their time in fortune-telling and the practice of magic arts as well as those who clung to their Jewish traditions.
Paul discipled churches in which the people struggled with every imaginable temptation. He gave guidance to churches filled with faithful believers who still struggled with cultural issues like marriage, slavery and the role of women.
Paul’s words speak to us
Perhaps because he lived in the midst of a diverse society, Paul’s words often speak directly to what we ought to do while living in this world as followers of Christ. He encourages the Philippians (and us) to press on toward the goal. He urges the Colossians (and us) not to be taken captive by hollow philosophy. He even goes so far as to call the Corinthians (and us) ambassadors for Christ.
Ambassadors are authorized messengers, usually from one kingdom or nation to another. Paul recognized we are kingdom citizens who are sent to live and communicate in a world full of diverse ideas. Some of those ideas are simply different and aren’t a threat to our kingdom values. Some of those ideas will be completely contrary to the values we have adopted as followers of Christ. Either way, we are sent as ambassadors to share the message of the good news.
One of the clearest pictures of Paul as ambassador to a society that believed quite differently is presented in Acts 17. Paul stood up at the Areopagus, and although those people believed quite differently from him, he found something they had in common. “I perceive that in every way you are very religious,” (Acts 17:22) he said.
It might not have been much, but Paul found common ground and spoke to the Athenians in language that directly met their needs and in language they could understand. Paul didn’t waver in his beliefs, but he did find common ground in a diverse society.
We are called to do the same. We must hold firm to our beliefs. And we must consider the world around us and find ways to communicate truth in a diverse and changing world.
Emily Row Prevost, director & assistant professor of leadership development
East Texas Baptist University
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