I visited France as a teenager. It was my first taste of another country’s culture. The new language, foods, sights, sounds, smells and schedules fascinated me. At the same time, the experience was a little unsettling. Imagine trying to get a hot loaf of French bread without speaking French.
Since then, I have traveled to many countries. Each has a culture all its own. All are fascinating to explore and all have some aspects that are disquieting.
The Webster Dictionary defines the word “culture” as “the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group.” In other words, the culture is made up of shared beliefs, social habits, values and character.
Culture varies from country to country and even varies in different regions within a country. I experienced this as an adolescent growing up in the Philadelphia metro area and then spending two summers in North Carolina. The food was different, as was the way people sounded when they talked. Later in life, I discovered that West Coast culture is different from culture on the East Coast. I found that the culture at Rutgers University was different from the culture at Andrews University Theological Seminary.
I’ve encountered all these different cultural experiences in the same country. All have been unsettling at first, yet all have enriched my life.
Recently, global news organizations have been highlighting world cultural shifts. Those caused by rapid change produce fear, rejection and the building of walls to keep out that which is feared. The fear of change pushes people to lash out in order to protect themselves. It causes division, disunity and unhealthy use of force.
However, I’ve noticed that this negative downward spiral doesn’t always have to occur. A cultural shift may also produce acceptance and growth when there is an intentional choice to act differently. I believe this choice for positive culture change is motivated by the love of God.
Just one example of this positive culture change are the churches and communities reaching out to displaced refugees. They come to our country with shattered dreams and nightmares of mistreatment. With few financial resources, health issues and limited English language skills, they need a helping hand.
Do we erect larger barriers to keep refugees out, ease our fear and quiet our conscience? Or do we offer a large dose of Godly hope? The culture in our churches and communities will change for better or worse depending on our choice. Providing hope does cost us valuable resources we could spend on ourselves. Yet, God promises to provide all the resources we need when we reach out to make our Creator’s world a better place.
Another example of positive culture change is the intentional work being done in some of our Northwest churches. More than 100 Northwest churches have chosen to address the needs of our youth and young adults who are drifting away from faith. “Growing Together” is an intentional look at the current culture of the participating churches. (Read more on page 24.)
Participating churches seek to discover what needs to be adjusted to make their culture more open and welcoming to all. This intentional culture change places a high value on retaining and involving youth and young adults. Fully participating churches have had positive results.
With the holidays approaching, I’d like to invite you to join me and do something significant. Team up with family members or friends. Ask God to share with you His vision of a positive culture change that can be made in your church or community. Partner with Christ to reach out in love and faith to enlarge the Kingdom of God.
If this invitation feels daunting, let me share a quick story. I pastored a church that struggled to raise enough money for their budget for almost a year. Leading up to the holidays, several members came to me requesting to fundraise for several worthy projects.
I hesitated at first because of the budget shortfall. Eventually, we moved forward in faith. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we presented the projects to the congregation. God blessed us not only with the resources to fund all the projects, but also enough to balance the church budget! This grew our faith and belief in the power of God and His willingness to bless us. Our culture shifted to seek out and meet needs, even when the means weren’t immediately visible.
It is refreshing to live a life of faith and trust in God, reaching out in the love of Christ to enlarge His Kingdom. Scripture tells us that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18, ESV). The challenge then is to reach out in the love of Christ and with full assurance in our faith. We have a Savior who will provide just what we need, when we need it.
Step out today and be an influencer for positive culture change. The Holy Spirit offers courage, "do not be afraid! Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. He will be with you till the end.”