Posted by: Brian Musser | July 3, 2012

What to do Cross-Generational Encounters turn Cross-Cultural.

Already Gone

Last Tuesday when I posted on the topic of churches connecting with students (A Cross-Generational Experience), I left us with the idea that our framing question needs to change from “How do we get more young adults to be part of our congregation?” to “How do we get our congregation to connect with more young adults?” We need to change from “How do we get them to come to us?” to “How do we go to them?”  This idea of going changes the question of reaching young adults from a church growth type of question into a missionary type of question.

This idea of going to the next generation might be daunting for a church.  We may understand that you are supposed to go.  But how do you go?  Take a moment to do a little exercise that will help you realize you are already more gone than you think.  On a piece of paper write down the name of every young adult and/or college student that you know.  Seriously take a moment to brainstorm some names.  Include the names of your relatives, co-workers, neighbors, family friends, people who you encounter in public on a regular basis and maybe even those service providers that you know by name.  If you know their name include them on the list.  There often is a cultural and social gap within our society but it is not necessarily a physical gap.  When you start brainstorming names you may be surprised by how many young adults you actually know.  Take the time to make a list we will come back to it later in this post and I may even reference it next week.

Missionary Experience

With this list we now have a group of names of young adults that we are in some way connected to.  We have a list of names that we can “go” to.  One idea that I have learned from missionaries is that we don’t go on mission to a place.  We go on mission to people.  So now you have a list of people to go on mission to.  But when we start to go you will quickly come to the realization like Bob from our story last week that you don’t understand young adult culture.  That is a good place to be.  Brad Baker’s, College Pastor–Saddleback Church, first of three tips for starting a college ministry is to think of yourself as a cross-cultural missionary.  What would be worse is to assume that you know exactly what you are doing and knew exactly how to reach young adults.  I can easily illustrate this by comparing two passages from the book of Acts.  (The comparison of these passages catapulted me into the idea that became my most popular post 10 Reasons Why Paul Failed as a Church Planter.)

Acts 3:2, 6-7; 4:4 (HCSB)
2 And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. … 6 But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” 7 Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong.   … 4:4 But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000.

Acts 14:8-11, 18-19(HCSB)
8 In Lystra a man without strength in his feet, lame from birth, and who had never walked, sat 9 and heard Paul speaking. After observing him closely and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet!” And he jumped up and started to walk around. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!”  … 18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them.  19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead.

Cultural Misunderstandings

In Jerusalem, Peter and John’s healing of a lame man brought about an awesome ministry opportunity that saw many come to Christ.  In Lystra the healing of the lame man brought about idol worship, strife and ultimately Paul being stoned and left for dead.  What was the difference?  I believe one “subtle” difference in culture was to blame.  In Jerusalem and Jewish culture, doing a miracle meant that you were God’s prophet and messenger.  People listened to you.  In Lystra and Greco-Roman culture it meant you were a god to be worshiped.  The Jewish culture contained a history of stories of prophets being given the power to do miracles by God.  Those miracles were a sign that those ordinary men were going to be speaking God’s word.  The Greco-Roman culture contained stories of gods coming to earth and doing great feats of legend and mingling with the people.  It is easy to see the importance of the difference in hindsight.

In Lystra imagine the people’s emotional roller-coaster.  They start with the shock of thinking that the gods are among us.  Then Paul and Barnabas try to explain that they aren’t gods.  You feel a little bit fooled and deceived.  You are good bit confused because this is different than all the other stories you have been told about miracles.  Then another group of people come and tell you a different story explaining why these ex-gods are liars and deceivers and it all makes sense.  Now we see how it was easy for Paul to go from being a god to being stoned.  He didn’t pay attention to the cultural differences.

Questioning Attitude

Paul learns his lesson in Lystra and in subsequent forays into Greco-Roman culture he pays closer attention to the cultural differences.  Athens is a good example of this.  We need to do this in order to reach into young adult culture as well.  We need to not assume that we understand the culture but approach as missionary and a learner.  When it comes to reaching across cultures we need to not only have the right message but we also need to learn how to accurately communicate that message within context.  What we say is of utmost importance.  But how we say it is just as critical.  You need to become a student of culture.  Whenever you connect with the young adults on your list ask them questions about their lives.  Think of some things you don’t know about the young adults on the list.  Think of some questions that you could ask to help you understand them and their world a little bit better.  Write those questions down and look for opportunities to ask them.  Questions are the key to understanding any culture don’t be afraid to use them.

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