One of the most practical steps a ministry can take to embrace reconciliation is that of cultural adaptation; to recognize that culture shapes lives and willingly make the adaptations necessary to further the kingdom.
It’s not a foreign concept. Youth pastors, for example, regularly adapt Christian values, attitudes and beliefs to cultural forms that youth understand. For some reason, when it comes to race, social class or gender differences, we often do not follow the same principle. In those cases, we’re concerned that adaptation is instead showing preference.
Most differences, based in cultural backgrounds, are not inappropriate, just different. For example, years ago when I was a pastor, I noticed that most of the people we served in our food pantry wouldn’t attend our Sunday services. The whole point of us giving them bread was to introduce them to the “Bread of Life.”
After several interactions with these guests, I realized the reason. We were an urban white-collar congregation, and our food-pantry clientele was intimidated by that. So we made some changes.
We set up a “spiritual station” at the food pantry, staffed by members of our church. After receiving groceries, people were encouraged to go there for prayer and/or encouragement. Meeting someone face-to-face eliminated the fear factor, and after several months, our friends at the food pantry began to attend our worship services.
How did our white-collar church make a cultural adaptation? We brought two aspects of church life (prayer and encouragement) to them on their terms (at the pantry) rather than on ours (a worship service filled primarily with white-collar people). When we started building relationships, they realized, “Hey, these are nice people; I might visit their church.”
Cultural adaption is the art of building a bridge over the barrier of cultural unfamiliarity, supported by a long-term commitment toward knowledge gain, character formation and relationship-building. Are we so different that my social concerns cannot become yours and vice versa? Can’t we learn from each other and adapt to each other in the church?