One day I received a phone call from a physician administrator, “Hi Bob, I have received a complaint about you from one of your patients. He complained about you imposing your faith on him at his last visit.”
I was surprised. I remembered the visit and wasn’t sure what I had done. I reached out to the man directly: so that I could first ask his forgiveness and second, learn how to avoid offending other patients in the future.
He responded, “Look; when I go to see a doctor, I only want them dealing with my health issues. When you left the room, you said, ‘God bless you,’ and that offended me. If I want to be preached too, I will go to church.”
That patient’s unexpected reaction to such a common expression occurred more than twenty years ago. But it proved prophetic to much of the sensitivity (and even oversensitivity!) of today’s culture regarding Christianity.
Might As Well Not Share
As a result of this common cultural bias away from Christianity, many young adult Christians do not communicate their beliefs. Why? There are at least two contributing factors:
- Mature Christians are not mentoring younger Christians in constructive and attractive cultural engagement.
- Many believers have been bullied into silence or are fearful of being criticized.
Not An Option
But living as Christians in the world around us is not optional. Christ commands us to be both salt and light (Matt. 5:15)--meaning we are to live out our faith within our broader culture. But at the same time, we should never adopt beliefs and behavior against our Christian beliefs.
If we want to impact this world for Christ, we should be “in” but not “of” the world around us. That means we should participate in our surrounding society and not hide from it.
What is Cultural Engagement?
So, what is cultural engagement? For our purposes, a brief definition is “giving, creating, and speaking to influence the world around us for God’s glory and humankind’s good.”
Giving refers not just to giving our money but volunteering our time and skills beyond the four walls of the church (e.g., “time, treasure and talents;” see Matt. 6:21). We can:
- Volunteer at the local animal shelter
- Take meals to homebound people
- Foster at-risk children, or
- Be involved in local school activities
We can also give money to worthy causes like local community initiatives or more wide-ranging efforts such as ending human trafficking. These activities let us bump up against a variety of people. It’s surprising how quickly friendships develop between diverse people when you are working with shared interests.
Christians should be “creators” both of and within the culture. We should not just be consumers. This command goes back to God’s demanding that Adam care for Eden (Gen. 2:15).
Whether we are creating excellent products at work, beautiful art or music, or serving delicious dinners in an atmosphere of hospitality for diverse guests in our home, we are creatively engaging culture.
One current area that I feel the church can improve is with artistic young believers. They can feel unsupported, unmentored, and at worse unwelcome. When creative interests in the arts are not encouraged, the church loses valuable opportunities to connect with younger Christians.
Finally, we need to be truth-speakers. We should speak up for what is right and support other truth-speakers.
For example, we can write intelligent and polite communications to governmental representatives, newspaper editorials, school boards, or social media posts.
Speaking in Relationships
We want to share the gospel, but at the right time. If you’re going to earn the right to be heard, start by being a good listener. Friendship is the best soil for truth-speaking to flourish.
Here are a few guideposts for speaking the gospel in relationships:
- Focus on the other person: Relationships thrive when you focus on the other person and learn to ask questions while genuinely listening.
- Choose safe environments: Communicating in comfortable and quiet surroundings like homes, coffee shops, restaurants, or break rooms at work can facilitate exchanges of ideas.
- Introduce the Gospel wisely: Not every conversation needs to be about Jesus when you are creating friendships.
- Asking permission: At times you may need to ask permission to discuss personal issues like faith commitments. And if the other person agrees, start by asking questions about their beliefs rather than lecturing or criticizing them.
- Being non-judgmental is vital: When the other person knows that you have their best interests at heart, real communication is possible. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Speaking in Public
When the opportunity to speak in the public arena arises, be well-prepared, courteous, approachable, and brief.
To reach a broader consensus with your audience, consider using the “moral law” (Rom. 2:14) as your foundation. What does that mean? The moral law refers to the reality that almost everyone can agree that some things are right and wrong. While not compromising your Christian convictions, appealing to this natural intuition can make your statements more attractive and persuasive to non-Christian listeners.
For God’s Glory & Humankind’s Good
Christians don’t need to hide from or submit to an anti-Christian environment. Our message about Jesus is too important to ignore.
And ultimately, no Christian can avoid “engaging culture” because we cannot separate our spiritual life from our secular life. Our faith in Jesus affects how we see everything! As C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Christians are either influencing the world around us with a vibrant, non-offensive witness that doesn’t compromise our beliefs, or else a non-religious culture is shaping us. In this ever-darkening world, we’ll get ample opportunities to be like Jesus if we give, create, and speak into our surrounding society with love and respect.
Lewis, C. S. Lewis (2001). “Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory (p. 140) San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001).