Senior pastor at Chicago's Jesus People USA and founder member of the Resurrection Band, GLENN KAISER examines the "missionary culture".

Glenn Kaiser
Glenn Kaiser

It seems to me that there is a compound fracture in society today. Either there is a severe apathy that precludes one from interacting with the deeper problems of society at all, or there is an all-out focusing on a given need that nearly blots out all respect for those doing something good in any area other than that of the individual in question.

Sometimes, the culture we live in - and cling so tightly to - is the root of the problem.

The remedy for this is what I call the "missionary culture". One mark of such a life is that a person begins to have a stronger affinity to God and his character than to one specific human culture as THE cultural framework for their life.

He or she would learn to adjust to their surroundings. They would read, listen, ask questions, study as any serious student would in order to better SERVE those in need wherever they might be at the time.

Paul talks of "becoming all things to all men that by all means I might save some." (1 Cor 9:22) Space is too limited to thoroughly explore what Scripture says regarding an actual missionary "calling", but I do think there are those who have a specific calling to evangelise "tribes" other than their own.

Sadly, some are rather self-absorbed in a culture and lifestyle that in itself turns them away from others in need. For example, much of western culture is excessive in its consumption of consumer goods and services. We (Americans especially) now market such excess - specifically in "luxury" and non-essential items - to the world. The consequences are far and many.

I was once in Jamaica for two days. One of the hardest things I have ever tried to do was to witness the gospel to a group of people at a bus stop in Montego Bay. Stu Heiss and I had 50 dollars between us and tour (Rez Band) tickets from an airline that allowed us to spend those days there for no extra money. So we were fairly poor in terms of the US, even though we were in a tourist destination.

While waiting in the queue, I tried to strike up a conversation with a local guy who was certainly poor as were all the others waiting with us. As the bus approached I reached in my pocket and pulled out a handful of Jamaican coins.
Every eye in the queue instantly looked at my handful of change. Sure, without tourism, Jamaica would be in even more economic trouble. But never have I - a relatively "poor" BY CHOICE American - been more struck by the fact that money can be a great hindrance to the gospel. All I could do was cry and talk to Stu about the fact that money was a curse in terms of my desire to share Jesus with these dear people. There they were, threadbare dresses, barefoot (not by choice) and in obvious need.

Telling them we were living a sacrificial life in inner city Chicago meant little as they looked at those coins. What a terrible scene! Perhaps tears of shame were the best witness I had at the time.

Jesus clearly linked our love for God to our treatment of those among us whom we consider "the least". This must be faced as we think about what a "mission" to others really is. (Whose mission, ultimately, are we on?)

Years ago, I began thinking about bigotry on several levels: racial, spiritual, economic, cultural. If you look around a bit, you'll see evidence of all of this in everyday life right where you live. The word "prejudice" is actually a word that originated from the Latin "prejudicium". It literally means not having enough information on which to judge a person or group. Pre-judging. I think it's clear we all do this to one degree or another.

Jesus spent himself, took upon himself the culture of a Jewish male in a time when Israel was administered by the gentiles of Rome. He came at a time when much of the religious establishment was laced with all sorts of hypocrisy, racism and apathy for genuine worship and relationship to the true God.

He is our ultimate example of unselfishness and servant hood in the breaking down of barriers toward women, children, the elderly, the physically infirm, the gentiles, (check his attitude toward the Samaritans!).

Jesus exemplified the "missionary culture" of which I speak. He was equally at home in the city, the country, in small villages. He gave time to whoever needed it. A missionary lives a sacrificial life, not a self-centred one. There is a genuine respect for those being served. It is clear in the biblical account that Jesus demonstrated all of this and more.

We live in a time when the culture and customs of the west are being called into question. I think that's good. I know of no culture that in itself is intrinsically "holy". Imperfect mankind equals imperfect customs. I also think that culture and not Christ is Lord of far too many who consider themselves quite "Christian" indeed. Let us examine ourselves and where needed, repent.

As always, God has the last word: "They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought." (2 Kings 17:33)

The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself." (Gal 5:14) CR

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