In this “enlightened” day of missions and outreach, more and more western Christians understand that we are supposed to be “culturally sensitive.” Many of us even acknowledge that there is a difference between Christianity and our own culture. (Although our inherent mixing of religion and politics might suggest that we aren’t as clear on what those differences are!)
But when does “sensitivity” become “insensitivity?” Might we choose relevancy and risk missing being responsible… becoming partners… being fully engaged… even leading?
I recently attended a conference where a speaker was correctly applauding the vibrancy of the church in “the rest of” the world (outside North America). She gave the latest statistics on the incredible growth of the church in the global south, Asia and Africa as compared with the stagnation in the United States. She told firsthand stories of the powerful worship services she has experienced in churches around the world and the effective prayer movements she has witnessed in others, both of these spiritual practices being all-too-rare in the western church.
While I had to agree with her joy over the global church’s health, I heartily disagreed with her conclusion: “Western Christians have nothing to offer the rest of the world.”
While western Christians do have much to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world, I also believe we still have much to offer…if offered in a spirit of love and servanthood.
When we allow God to guide us in the appropriate and wise use of these gifts, they can be of great blessing to the church around the world:
- Our training (in education, psychology, sociology, technology, medicine);
- Our experience (in church leadership, government, family dynamics);
- Our wealth (both monetary and beyond);
- Our relationship with God (in our own uniqueness);
- Our lives (we often forget the best gift of all).
While history clearly shows that any item in this list can also be used in harmful ways (and has been), I suggest that it is time for western Christians to serve by leading as guided by God. Instead of waiting for people “over there” to tell us what they need, ask. Enter into a discussion that is mutual, not unilateral.
Even more importantly, ask God. Listen to God’s guiding about what to bring, what to leave home. Listen for what felt needs to meet, and what real needs to address (even if not yet recognized). Listen for what God has given you to give…and give it in love.