Recently, a friend told me of a time when, just after they moved up from Texas to Colorado, they went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Texas, as you can imagine, has some incredible Mexican eateries that were truly authentic.
So they ordered an appetizer of some sort—giving the specific name (I wish I could recall it) and expecting what they would receive in Texas. Yet, the waitress brought out something else by that same name. The husband told her, “That’s not what we ordered. That’s a chalupa.” “No, sir. That is what you ordered.” After two or three rounds of this, the husband finally expressed rather firmly, “Well, that’s not what this is in Texas.” To which the waitress replied, “Honey, you’re not in Texas anymore.”
All of us as believers need to heed what Ed Stetzer once said at a Comeback Churches conference in 2008: “We need to be ministering our actual churches rather than the churches in our heads.” Every one of us brings our own backgrounds and ideas into churches and subtly (or not) interject them into the lives of others in that church. No wonder the apostle Paul speaks so much about unity—it doesn’t come naturally, but only by the Holy Spirit of God and by each member seeking that same Spirit of Christ.
So to ministers, I say: Be missionaries and live missionally not as you would from where you used to live or as you are pretending your church to be. Minister in the community you live in among the church members you live with, dealing out the unchanging gospel in that contextual setting. Preach the Word without compromise, and love the people that are actually around you—not the ones you only wish were around you.
And to Christian church members, I say the following:
- If you still live in the place of your upbringing, ask God to make you uncomfortable for the gospel. We know the ebbs and flows of the culture in which we live—after all, we may have lived there for 30, 40, 50+ years. Ask God to do what he did to the apostle Paul, to given you a burden for your “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3)—or in your case, your kinsmen according to your lifelong culture. Don’t assume anything about their spiritual beliefs. Begin conversations even with those you have known your whole life and with whom you have attended church!
- If you have moved to a place from your homeland, you will understand the ‘culture shock.’ You will be like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” No! And while we do bring that culture and that upbringing with us, we cannot expect those in our new home to share every bit of our ideologies imbedded to us from our former home. Missional living means you’re living on-mission for Christ where you are, not where you used to be. Have a missionary’s mindset. Don’t try and fit a square peg (the residents of your new place of residence) into a round hole (your sense of what a place and people should be like). We meet them where they are to be used of God to take them where they need to be.
Daily, I have to remind myself after almost six month here in Centennial, Colorado, “I live in Colorado. Not Virginia, not Florida, not Kentucky—Colorado!” So with this knowledge in my mind, and the gospel not only in my mind, but in my heart and in my mouth, then it’s “there by the grace of God go I!”
And I am content knowing that God has put me where He wants me to be (Philippians 4:10-19).
So be it! Amen! And praise God!