We just moved.
Three blocks down and one street over.
About a quarter mile as the crow flies.
And yet, I soon discovered a cultural difference taking place in the exact same neighborhood.
On my old street, almost everyone rolls their garbage containers out into the street.
At our new house, virtually everyone places the bin on the grass.
Which left me with a dilemma. Do I do things as I always have, or do I adapt to my new location?
When it comes to serving as a representative of Jesus, there are some things we cannot change.
We can never alter the message of the Gospel.
Our practice should match what is prescribed in God’s Word.
And we ought not employ sin to draw others to Christ. (sadly this happens more than we may think.)
Yet, in spite of the restrictions, we are given a lot of room to adapt to the culture that surrounds us.
Paul wrote these words to describe his practice of evangelism:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV)
Cultural awareness is why missionaries learn the language and customs of the people they want to reach.
The reason? To make relationships happen more smoothly.
When we adapt to the culture around us, we show respect for the practices of others.
Hudson Taylor was a British missionary to China. He was known as the the first foreign missionary to dress in the manner of the community in which he lived. Prior to his arrival, missionaries insisted hanging onto their own customs rather than participate in the practice of the Chinese.
And guess what? Hudson Taylor made inroads like no one who had come before him.
When we enter into a new culture, the customs and practice may not always make sense to us, but if there is no sin involved, there is no reason why we can’t join in with what is the cultural norm.
I don’t know why all my neighbors park their garbage containers on the lawn rather than the asphalt.
But I do know that if I insist on setting the container on the asphalt, I may draw negative attention toward myself.
Since its not a matter of morality, I’ll go with the flow of my new neighbors. No need to upset the apple cart or draw unwanted attention to myself.
So, from here on, my trash canister will find itself parked on the grass.