A couple of our staff pastors and I had lunch this week with a Congolese pastor, one of his elders, and a translator. Our new Congolese friends have been attending E91 the past few months to “get filled up” before they have to “pour out” in their worship service every Sunday afternoon.
Recently, Dave Faust, our Senior Associate Pastor, preached for the Congolese congregation, and a couple of weeks ago we had their Congolese choir come and sing at one of our worship services. Dave shared with several of us on staff that his experience at the Congolese church was amazing, albeit extremely different. Their service started at 1:30 in the afternoon and didn’t end until 4:30!
Our folks also had a tremendous cultural experience as the Congolese choir came to E91 and sang with their glorious passion, rhythm, and zeal.
It made me wonder what our Congolese friends experience when they come and worship with us. We would say, “Wow, I can’t believe their worship services last three hours!” I wouldn’t be surprised if our Congolese guests tell their friends, “Wow, I can’t believe their worship services only last an hour!”
Our dress styles differ. Our music styles differ. Our preaching styles differ. Our languages differ. And this we celebrate . . . when we experience it cross-culturally. But what about within our own “American” culture? Do we celebrate our differences and give glory to God that we are not a homogenized group who looks the same, sings the same, or dresses the same? Do we expect people outside our community of faith to conform to our culture in order to be transformed by our Christ?
One of the ongoing challenges for any church and missionary is how to share the unchanging message of Jesus Christ within the changing landscape of various cultures … including our own. In The Celtic Way of Evangelism, author George Hunter III describes how St. Patrick defied the norms of the Roman way of “doing church” and started an Irish movement for Christ. He points out that a visitor from Rome would have most likely been shocked at the differences in worship and evangelistic methodology by the Celtic church. That Roman visitor would have heard Christ preached, seen the poor served, and seen the witness of the church, but it would have looked radically different. Maybe even as different as what we might experience if we were to attend a Congolese service…and vice versa.
We all have a role to play, and we all have a decision to make. How can we continue to be fed, to serve, to learn and grow within a particular culture while we join Jesus on mission to reach people in another culture?
That culture, by the way, might not be as far away as you think. It might even be that of the teenager living next door.