Rethinking what could be “Christian.”
“I would never want to go to a normal bible study, but having a bible study in a brewery - that I could do.”
In ministry, Christians talk about “meeting people where they are at” and “contextualizing.” In the Acts Network, this often leads to creating community around affinity elements: parts of culture that people can enjoy and use to come together so that relationships might grow. One of our groups began to have gatherings and bible studies around a table at a local brewery. One night after their meeting, a woman at the gatherings went home and told her husband about the bible study. His response was something like, “I would never want to go to a normal bible study, but having a bible study in a brewery - that I could do.” Many people in our society don’t connect or feel comfortable with “normal bible studies” in a church setting with only “church people.” But if the gathering occurs in a setting that they can feel comfortable in, the openness increases and relationships flourish.
However, the tension occurs in moments where these Christian communities are built around affinities or activities that seem in opposition to Christian traditions and ethics. Gatherings in breweries where alcohol is present is one example. Dance, Yoga, and tobacco pipes are also examples of affinities around which the Acts Network has built community for the sake of Christ. These all can seem “un-Christian.” When we incorporate elements of culture into our Christian communities, it is necessary to discuss and pray about how to use these elements to honor God, rather than misusing them in ways which place our communities in unbiblical territory. A primary concern for us should be a misstep called syncretism.
Syncretism: From the Greek synkretizein, meaning “to combine.” Syncretism is the combination of different streams of thought, religions, or traditions which result in a unified expression. Syncretism “is a term currently used to describe both efforts to unite branches of Christianity, and attempts to harmonize Christianity with non-Christian thought.” (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 510). For Acts Network groups that incorporate facets of culture such as Yoga or meditation, it is important to be intentional in focusing the group towards God and His presence in all places, amongst all things.
The Christian endeavor includes the joyous opportunity to explore each facet of God’s creation and actively work towards the reconciliation of everything back to God’s Kingdom.
Scripture tells us that the whole earth is the Lord’s (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24), and Genesis tells us God has created everything. The Christian endeavor includes the joyous opportunity to explore each facet of God’s creation and actively work towards the reconciliation of everything back to God’s Kingdom. As you consider forming Christian community within a cultural context, guide it towards reconciliation by keeping the following in mind:
1: Do research and learn about the culture point you’re in.
One of the first and most foundational elements of starting an Acts Network group is listening to the setting--listening to the people. If you want to start a women’s group at a coffee shop or a bar, go there and learn about the setting, the people who own the place, the people who frequent, and learn what might be potential dangers (i.e. overindulgence) or points of interest (i.e. the science of brewing). If you’re starting a yoga group, do your research into the history and practices of yoga. So often it is the case that our misinformation or presuppositions mislead our formed perspectives. Know the land into which you journey; you have to notice the trees before you can see the movement of the wind through them. The Lewis Center for Church Leadership published a helpful article with guidance for listening: https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-take-church-to-the-community/
2: The intention of the group is to foster relationships with Christ.
It can be easy to get some people together and enjoy a dance, a drink, a hike, or yoga together, and enjoying God’s creation together is indeed good. Beyond that, an Acts Network group should be a safe, comfortable place in which to invite those who don’t believe, while also not shying away from Christ in your gatherings. Don’t be afraid to be upfront, but gentle, at your gatherings as you talk about why you’ve gathered together. This can take various forms, one example could be our Rugby group. The affinity around which we gather is the sport, but we are intentional to include a short devotional and prayer time as well, communicating that we are there to enjoy the sport, but also to be engaged and grow spiritually.
3: Ask yourself: is your group a place where flourishing and delight occurs?
Our groups must be a place where joy, laughter, friendship, growth, and delighting in life can happen. Periodically, talk with your team, take notice, and listen to the group and observe if blessings are increasing. Often, ministries will be really positive for a season and will eventually cease to be a place which bears good fruit; the ministry continues to operate because we feel committed to it. Give yourself permission to do something for a season and let it cease if your evaluation brings you to conclude that there is no more fruit. Take that time and energy and put it to something new, thus pruning our ministries.
My friend and fellow student, Donna, meets virtually every week for a Yoga session where the group stretches and exercises using yoga practices, combined with prayer and meditation on Christ. As Christians, we come together and reach new people who don’t know Christ yet through the redemption of culture, proclaiming to those who would use culture poorly, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)